November 12, 2019
Errol Louis: Welcome back to Inside City Hall. Thousands of people honored military veterans at our city’s annual Veterans Day Parade today. President Trump was the first sitting President to attend the event and was there alongside other elected officials including Mayor de Blasio, who joins me now for our weekly conversation. Welcome, good to see you.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you, Errol.
Louis: Were you surprised that you didn’t have to sort of do any kind of back and forth with the President?
Mayor: No, you know, it’s unusual to have a President of the United States in the open air like that for a meaningful period of time. So there was a very, very, intensive security dynamic around him and he basically didn’t connect with anyone else who was there. That didn’t surprise me at all on a logistical level. He, you know, stuck to the script, that did surprise me –
Actually stayed to his teleprompter –
Louis: Tell me about the status of veterans. You – didn’t you make some history by creating the Veterans Services as an actual agency as opposed to an initiative of the Mayor. Where do things stand? I think you are about two or three years into the Department of –
Mayor: Yeah, and we have a new Commissioner, Lieutenant Colonel James Hendon, who I think is going to be outstanding and a combat veteran. Look, let’s be blunt that if the federal government was doing its job, you would not have to think about a city starting its own Veterans Services Department, and in fact it’s a real sad statement on this nation, it’s something we have to fix. It should actually be a uniting thing that people could come together on that. We’ve got a lot of homeless veterans in America, we’ve got a lot of veteran’s who can’t get health care, can’t get a job, that’s an American crisis.
But I am proud of New York City for doing something different and I think the good news is we’ve had about 25,000 veterans who have been engaged by the department in the last few years. We see a real impact in terms of reducing homelessness, that department was a big part of the policy to end chronic veteran homelessness that worked, also to promote mental health services. This morning at Gracie Mansion we had a reception for veterans. We talked about additional initiatives to provide mental health to veterans and to destigmatize that. But here’s another one, where it shocked me to find out, in fact Chirlane made this announcement earlier on behalf of the Mayor’s Fund, they are going to be funding additional dental services for veterans. I didn’t know this but it turns out that the Veteran’s Administration doesn’t really provide dental care. It’s a strange American thing, you can get all sorts of things but not dental –
Louis: Yeah, right, this is the time of year where we rediscover that somehow vision and dental are somehow different from health care.
Mayor: They’re not part of your body actually, it turns out, right?
Louis: For teeth and eyes, you’re on your own.
Mayor: Right, you’re on your own. But with our veterans’ that’s particularly painful to think about. You know these could be really big problems, very expensive problems, and we’re leaving the folks who served us out on their own. So New York City once again is going to step up and do something about.
Louis: One of our viewers who is a loyal viewer who is an active advocate for vet’s suggested to you – I want to get your feedback on this – that there should be more hearings, more initiatives for entrepreneurship by vets. Says that they haven’t have had sort of a sit-down since 2015 on that particular topic.
Mayor: I think that’s a great idea I think we - look we focused a lot today on employment for vets. Frist of all this city did something hasn’t been done around the country, banned discrimination against veteran’s – combat veterans – we actually started to hear of a trend of combat veterans being turned down from employment out of fear on part of the employer that they might have PTSD. Now I can tell you my dad unquestionably had PTSD when he came back from World War II, they didn’t call it that back then but he was deeply, negatively, affected. He did however go on for decades and have a successful career before unfortunately, things got worse and worse for him.
So – and there is plenty of folks who have been in combat who manage whatever they’ve been through and let’s say even if someone had a challenge, the answer is to get them the help they need, not to deprive them of employment. So this is really problematic, we have a law banning discrimination. We talked also today, we announced a new initiative to connect vet’s to civil service jobs more. We have a lot of vets in uniformed services but there is many other opportunities. But I think entrepreneurship fits in that category so I think that’s absolutely something we should work on.
Louis: By the way, is it discretionary by department, I know you get a few extra points on the police exam if you are a veteran. Does the fire department or other agencies, do they get to decide that on their own or is that coming from City Hall?
Mayor: I – we’ve certainly said to all agencies to prioritize veteran hiring. I honestly don’t know how each has structured their policies but it’s one of things as we announced today that we want to tighten up and make it clear mandate. So any of the things that get economic opportunity for vets we’re certainly going to focus on.
Louis: Okay. I want to switch topics and ask you about the viral video of the arrest of the churro lady. We know that you can’t – well if we were just going to allow anyone down there, it would just be open season.
Louis: That is not the case, there are restrictions, there rules, there are regulations. Is it – does concern you I guess how the whole thing went down –
Louis: I mean, this happens all time because we have a screwed up system, you know, we froze the number of permits decades ago and there aren’t enough to go around, it puts people like her and others like her in a very tough situation. What are we supposed to do?
Mayor: Well okay, let me say this quick. I mean, your original point there, one I’ve said if we’re ever going to increase the number of street vendor permits that would actually not be pertinent to the subway because you’re not supposed to be vending in the subway, that’s a MTA rule. But let’s just say that you said the core of this is that we need more street vendor permits. I’m open to that if and only if we have geographical restrictions on where street vendors can be because I don’t want street vendors to overly undermine brick and mortar retail stores that are hurting very badly right now. A lot of neighborhood stores we all know, mom and pop stores are hurting. I don’t want to see us create one policy that helps one group of people, hurts another immediately. There have to be much tighter enforcement rules because a lot of what happens with the vendor licenses is pretty loose right now.
So you could talk about doing that, there might be a way to do that. But this is a different issue. This is to me about where you started. You know we do have limited space in the subways. There is a reason why we need to keep those spaces open. It’s just not allowed. Now, do I want to see the day where no officer ever has to affect an arrest in a situation like this? Of course. And if we keep building on neighborhood policing, I think we might there because I think - take the woman in question, she had been five separate times engaged by police asking her to no longer sell there and she kept going back to the same locations. I wonder if we can create more of a community dialogue to help her and others know that, you know, that’s situation where it’s inevitably going to lead to an arrest and that’s not something we want to see for anyone. It’s just not ever going to be tolerated. You can’t just keep coming back and expect it to be okay. So yeah, we actually need – you know, talking about subway stations, they’re really crowded, people who need that space to move around, and I am a believer, you set some rules and you stick by them, but how you go about enforcing – the officers as far as I can see did things properly but I’d like to see additional work to never have to put the officer in that situation.
Louis: [Inaudible] I mean we do sort of have a template with the musicians underground. That used to be a little bit more wild west scenario but they have now designated it, and you apply or audition or whatever and your designated a spot and you can go make money for a few hour so forth. And maybe that’s the way we should do it?
Mayor: Yeah, that’s a really valid point. Let’s say we say - the MTA it’s their operation - but let’s say that there is agreement that there is a certain space that could be given over to different kinds of vendors. Great, you live by the rules, but people can’t just make it up as they go along. There has to be some consistency. And by the way, if you say, oh, to the lady, you know, she’s a nice person, well let’s this one go, then someone else can come along or next person, next person, and say, well you let her do it why can’t I do it? So these are the kind of balances that our cops have to strike.
Look there is a parallel here to stop and frisk. We got rid of stop and frisk the way it was being used. Our cops didn’t like having to stop and frisk people. It wasn’t good for their relationship with the community. A lot of times it was totally counterproductive. I don’t want to see a situation where this is where cops have to put their time, but you know we have to try and get to a set of rules that makes sense and then people actually have to honor the rules and if they don’t, inevitably you need some kind of enforcement.
Louis: Why do you think this went viral? Why do you think this sort of a struck a nerve with you?
Mayor: Oh, look, she is a very sympathetic character. No one, again, you don’t want to see – who would want to see that end up with an arrest. I don’t blame the viewers that they didn’t know that five previous times she went the exact same site and was told you can’t be there, right? And I get it that I’m sure she is trying to make a living and all, but again the problem when we’re trying to keep a balance in a city of 8.6 million people is, if you say yes to one person you have to say yes to the next, to the next, so then if you say, oh wait I don’t want that, I just want to be nice to her – that doesn’t work. You can’t choose favorites if you will, we have to treat everyone the same way.
Louis: Does it make you think at all about the wisdom of, again, 500 new State cops or MTA cops –
Mayor: I think this is a qualitative question. If the quantitative question I don’t have a lot of concern about meaning, I stay very close to the people of this city in lots of different ways and I spent a long time representing people at the grassroots level, City Council School Board, guarantee you, let me go on a train and ask – you know – a hundred New Yorkers on a train do they want to see more consistent police present for their safety, I’ll say 75, 80 percent would say yes.
Louis: Those people are not on Twitter though.
Mayor: Correct, but I’m talking about I mean I know the people I represent and have represented for years. Clear majority would say of course we feel reassured when there is an officer around. With that said, the qualitative, the MTA cops are not NYPD cops. They have not been trained in neighborhood policing and de-escalation and they need to be tightly aligned and coordinated with what the NYPD cops are doing and follow the lead of the approach. We’re the lead agency down there in terms of safety. We welcome additional support but they’ve got follow the lead of what we’re doing.
Louis: Okay, let’s take a short break. Stand by Mr. Mayor. We’ll be right back with more from Mayor de Blasio in just a minute.
Louis: Welcome back to Inside City Hall. I’m joined once again by Mayor de Blasio. And Mr. Mayor, I – last time I talked to you was the day before Election Day, so, a lot of us had already voted but the results were not known. So, all of the charter initiatives passed and the first one, the most meaningful in a lot of ways, is ranked choice voting. You actually have some experience with that because you grew up in a jurisdiction, Cambridge, Massachusetts, where that’s how they voted for what? Just City Council or for Mayor –
Mayor: And the School Committee, I think.
Louis: School Committee.
Mayor: Yeah, and the City Council chose the mayor.
Louis: Chose the mayor. So, ranked choice voting is something you’ve probably done. I don’t know –
Mayor: Yeah, and it’s – look, I’m hopeful that it will be engaging to people because it really does allow you to think about – you know a lot of times you think I like this candidate but I like another one too or like something about them, it really does give you the opportunity to express more than one thing. And the great blessing of it is not needing to put together runoffs in the age of early voting. I love early voting. I’m thrilled about early voting. But early voting also costs a lot of money and runoffs typically were low turnout, bad combination. So, now everyone’s voice gets heard upfront and you avoid –
Louis: So, even having been through a contentious runoff in 2009 and having won that runoff –
Mayor: Yes – yes I did.
Louis: You’d rather not have to do it?
Mayor: Look, I want to tell you I thought about this and I do want to be honest that I never got to a point of feeling the kind of intensity for ranked choice voting that some did as a reform because I didn’t see enough evidence around the country of any particularly different outcome. I do think the initiation of early voting does change the economics and again I absolutely believe in a lot of cases you would get the same results with the ranked choice voting and as if you held a runoff and it would be a much more [inaudible] –
Louis: Well, that was my next question was –
Mayor: But this isn’t the ambivalence I did feel. There’s no question that even in a few weeks between a primary and a runoff, events can change. The debate between two people is different from – than from a larger field. I have to say honestly, I don’t think it’s a perfect one-to-one. I do think sometimes you might get a different result and I certainly can tell you that you know for the folks who did vote in the runoff I was in for public advocate, you know, it was a different discussion for them, that is true. But I think practically speaking, look, the people have voted for it. I think it could be a virtue. I’ll be very interested to see if it increases turnout or not, if it increases diversification of leadership or not. I just can’t say if it’s going to take us that far but if it saves us some money that is certainly a good thing.
Louis: If it were 2013 all over again when you were running against like eight or nine people, you think the outcome would be the same?
Mayor: Well, I will remind you I didn’t need a runoff in 2013 –
Louis: I know you got over [inaudible] percent –
Mayor: So, I think yes – I do think the outcome would be the same.
Louis Okay, fair enough. Also in the realm of politics, Mike Bloomberg says he’s – well, he’s taking steps, he’s getting on the ballot. Now you have said that you don’t think it’s a good idea for him to run, that he’s not the future of the party. But if he’s not the future of the party, you know the voters will let him know that and that will be the end of it.
Mayor: Well, I’m not telling – it’s a free country he can do what he wants. That’s not what I’m saying, I’m saying I don’t think he should be the nominee of the Democratic Party. I said earlier today, look, I can tell you some things he did well here and I can tell you some things he does as a philanthropist I agree particularly on things like climate change. But the central issue of our times is inequality, and on inequality he had very little ability to understand what people are going through. He wasn’t sympathetic. Look, he governed during the recession and the aftermath, and wasn’t willing to change policies to actually address one of the seismic events of our lifetimes, and continued to stay as close to Wall Street as possible, legendarily went to Goldman Sachs one day to give them a pep talk when someone wrote an op-ed criticizing them.
That’s not the Democratic Party of today. Again I could tell you things he did right, things he did wrong. Is he better than Donald Trump? One-hundred percent – but the Democratic Party of today is squarely focused on all issues of equality, income inequality, racial and ethnic equality, gender equality. This is the party of today. This is where our country is going and Mike Bloomberg is a status quo guy.
Louis: He famously – he’s not doing this by the seat of his pants. He famously throws a lot of money. He’s a numbers driven guy. He’s got all the money in the world to buy all the analytics and polling and targeting that money can buy. He seems to think, perhaps – maybe not a hundred percent sure – that he’s got a path. Is he –
Mayor: I can’t read his mind. I would say he has wanted to find a path previously and veered away and maybe this is the time where he sticks with it but the point is I am not a believer that early projections and analytics tell you what’s going to happen in battlefield conditions of an election. If they did there would not be a President Donald Trump, you know, we would have never seen what Bernie Sanders did last time. I mean there are so many things that we have now been taught about the unpredictability of politics. But the energy on the ground – and I got to see it and experience it – the energy on the ground is intense and it is progressive, and I just don’t think he fits the moment.
Louis: Got it. You were at the SOMOS El Futuro Conference in Puerto Rico, and in addition to soaking up some sun I understand there was announced an enhancement of the M/WBE program which by the way also got an enhancement or is bumped up to a higher level thanks to the referendum. What’s the new initiative that you announced?
Mayor: And I would say, seguing, that this is an area where Bloomberg was not strong, by the way. He and Giuliani before him really did not focus on developing robust programs to help people of color and women-owned businesses. We started with a $16 billion commitment of city funds for contracts for M/WBEs. We raised it to $20 billion and then because of some great changes in the law in Albany that were achieved – and thanks to the Legislature – and also because we just kept certifying more and more companies to get opportunity we’re now at a point where we’re going to have a $25 billion program. This is over the course of a 10-year period. $25 billion that will be put in the hands of businesses in the five boroughs that will recycle that money in neighborhoods, that will hire from communities, that will give others a chance to get the skills to start their own business. I mean this is an incredibly virtuous opportunity that really the City of New York was not engaged in for 20 years and now we’re finding the more we do, the more we’re finding we’re able to do. And it’s very, very exciting. So, it was very well received at SOMOS and we’re talking about Latino businesses, African-American businesses, Asian businesses, we’re talking about women. There’s so many people benefitting here.
Louis: Okay, very good. In our last minute, I want to give you a chance to respond – there was a front page story in the Daily News you might have seen saying that one of your biggest political contributors won the air rights for a public housing development, the Ingersoll Houses in Downtown Brooklyn. And the process of selling air rights, there’s some people who don’t like it and there’s some people who do – there’s this question, though, strongly implied by the article that the winner of this particular auction to buy the air rights had a political connection that might have helped them.
Mayor: Look, it’s not only outrageous, it’s absolutely inaccurate, unfair journalism. It’s hard to call it journalism, it’s so bad. All the reporter had to do was ask, did I have anything to do with the process, did I have any knowledge of it, did anyone else who had any desire to affect it politically? It had nothing to do with me or anyone in –
Louis: No deputy mayor approved this?
Mayor: No, this was a process at NYCHA consistent with a policy that we announced two years ago to sell air rights which were going unutilized for money to fix NYCHA buildings for public housing residents. This is a virtuous policy because it involves helping working people, helping folks who live in NYCHA to have a better life. And the sale had nothing to do with me or any of the people in my administration in City Hall. It’s just, you know, I’m totally – I get when a journalist says “here’s something where we have valid questions or here’s appearances” except that you literally could follow this one and there is no appearance question because there was no involvement. And I just think it’s actually not fair to the public to try and create everything as a negative when in fact some things are being done – many things are being done exactly the way they’re supposed to and for a policy goal that’s necessary for all these folks in NYCHA who deserve a better life. So, that one – that’s way off base.
Louis: Okay, alright – thank you so much for coming by, we’ll talk some more next week. Thanks.
Mayor: Very good.
Louis: Good to see you.
Mayor: Thank you.