August 2, 2021
Errol Louis: Welcome back to Inside City Hall. The City is urging New Yorkers to resume wearing masks indoors, even if people are vaccinated. But Mayor de Blasio stopped short of issuing a mask mandate, saying that the push to increase vaccination is the key to success. Mayor de Blasio joins me now from the Blue Room inside City Hall to talk about all of this and more. Welcome, Mr. Mayor. Good to see you.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good to see you, Errol. How are you doing?
Louis: Very well, thanks. And, you know, our viewers can't see this, but when you came in to sit down, I noticed you were wearing a mask, and that's like, maybe, 20 yards from your office over to the Blue Room. You’re wearing the mask just around the building?
Mayor: Yeah. I mean, the guidance from our health care team, obviously, based on the research from the CDC is wear a mask indoors, even if you are vaccinated. Now, the exception is anyone who's around only other fully vaccinated people – that's a condition where you can feel more comfortable in having a mask off. But when you're in a public place like this, different people coming in and out, you don't know everyone who's around you, it makes sense, and that's what we're saying to our employees. We're saying, it makes sense to be cautious, careful, safe, and wear the mask indoors, even if you are vaccinated.
Louis: Okay. So, then, even with these rising cases, an average of nearly 1,200 cases over the last seven days, and the concerns that you just described, why not simply issue a mandate, telling people that this is what you do have to do?
Mayor: Because we fundamentally believe – I've been working with my health team on this, and we fundamentally believe the key to defeating the Delta variant is absolutely vaccination – unquestionably, vaccination. Masks have a role to play, but, strategically, our focus is on vaccination. And we think it is so important to make clear that if you are vaccinated, you get to benefit in all sorts of ways. You get to live a better life. Besides your health in general, you get to participate in many, many things. And if you're unvaccinated, they're going to be fewer and fewer things that you're able to do. That is the way things are going to be. That's where things are moving. And so, to remind people, if you're fully vaccinated, it does mean, for example, if you're around other fully vaccinated people, you have more freedom. We really want to keep that front and center, because masks are helpful, but the whole ball game at this point is vaccination.
Louis: Isn't there an issue though, Mr. Mayor, with – the message you just described will reach the people that, I guess, you're intending to reach, but there are a lot of people who are just passing through the city, not all of them even speak English. I mean, isn’t the idea of a mandate that it just creates a standard so that everybody knows and you don't have to kind of assess or gauge whether the person understands it, whether they're a New Yorker, whether they heard your message and so forth?
Mayor: Valid points, and I would emphasize, as I was asked this morning at the press conference, you know, we're not taking any tool off the table. We have to follow the data and the science and find out where this Delta variant is going and how we can best defeat it. So, all tools are available. But, for now, I think very much the right thing to do is to keep a singular focus on vaccination. I think there's a counter-problem, Errol. Your point you raised is a good one, but there's a counter-problem with people saying, you know, oh, I'm wearing a mask, that's good enough. You know, you've heard many people, none of whom happen to have medical degrees, telling you with great conviction why they don't need to be vaccinated, how they're going to be okay even though they're not vaccinated. I'm not saying that to be disrespectful to anyone, I'm just reminding folks the body of evidence here, what the scientific community, the medical community is saying is abundantly clear. The only way to truly protect yourself is with the vaccination. So, I don't want a situation where people say, oh, I'm wearing a mask, I've done enough. No, if you really are going to be safe, keep your family safe, keep your community safe, you need to get vaccinated. There's no compromise. There's no, you know, next best thing. The only thing that matters here is vaccination.
Louis: Well, the hundred bucks seems to be helping. What are the numbers on that? The people who take cash in exchange for getting a shot.
Mayor: Definitely, it's helping. We're waiting for detailed numbers. We know thousands of people came in quickly to take advantage of that. And look, that's available for all New Yorkers who have not been vaccinated yet, including our public workers. And we're also seeing some good uptake at Health + Hospitals already of public workers coming in, getting vaccinated. I hope and I believe these two pieces are going to synergize. The new mandates we've put on for public workers, plus the incentive – I think those two pieces are going to go together nicely. And look, we keep climbing that ladder, as I say. Today, we made very clear, anyone newly hired by the city of New York for public service, you know, they will not be able to start that job and collect that paycheck until they're fully vaccinated. So, we're going to keep using each and every one of these tools to reinforce each other.
Louis: On that latter point, Mr. Mayor, is that a question that will be asked of applicants or will it be a matter of a document that has to be produced?
Mayor: They have to provide evidence. They have to provide evidence before they can start work and before they can start collecting pay.
Louis: There's – the big question, of course, for a lot of our viewers – what's going to happen after Labor Day when it's time to go back to school? And, you know, I guess it's really the same question – can we expect a mandate or not? Are there metrics that will tell you which way we will end up going in the fall?
Mayor: Right now, based on everything we see we have the formula that we need. We've got a high percentage of school employees who are vaccinated. We've seen great results with kids in the 12- to 17-year-old range. These are the kids who are, you know, the newest eligible of folks who can get vaccinated. We've seen really good pickup, well over 200,000 kids in that category already vaccinated. We think you're going to see a surge of vaccinations. And we're creating a whole new drive we announced this morning with Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter to reach parents and say, hey, you're starting to think about back to school? And you're going to buy school supplies and all, we got something even better for you – go get your child vaccinated if they're 12 years old or up. I think you're going to see the vaccination levels in schools, staff and kids, increase intensely over these next few weeks. Plus, that gold standard of health and safety measures we put in place by the end of school, you saw that COVID positivity is almost non-existent in the schools. Even with Delta, we've got so many layers of protection here, I feel very, very good we're going to be good to go full strength in September – on September 13th.
Louis: I’ve got a question from a viewer about whether or not one layer of that protection can really be maintained, which is kids staying three feet apart.
Mayor: Look, we are going to be working with the latest guidance and school is still far enough away that we don't have the final guidance from the CDC. But if that were the standard, we could utilize that standard right now, we can make it work. In a lot of schools, we already had that effectively, even in normal times. In some other schools, we'd have to do some moving around, but we can meet that standard. And that standard – remember we add to that the cleaning, the ventilation, all the other actions we've taken – masks on everyone, adult and student alike in our schools, that's going to continue, that's going to be across the board – and a high level of vaccination. So, you know, when you see the CDC guidance and you see the other kinds of information out there, a lot of them are not accounting for the conditions we have here. Here, we have layered all of these pieces one on top of another. Our schools are absolutely going to be safe as a result of that.
Louis: Okay. Before we go to a break, let me switch topics briefly. Do you support the City Council legislation that would curb those loud dirt bikes of ATVs that are out there? The idea is to dramatically increase the fines. Right now, it's like $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for additional offenses. This would increase the fines to $750 for a first offense and $1,500 for additional offenses.
Mayor: You betcha, Errol. You know, I know as someone who for years as a City Councilman heard from people about the quality-of-life concerns they have, and I still hear it as Mayor – noise pollution, huge issue in this city, and, in some ways, it’s gotten worse. We need to address it with tougher penalties. That's definitely something I would support.
Louis: Okay. Stand by, Mr. Mayor. We are going to take a quick break here. We'll be back with Mayor de Blasio in just a minute. Stay with us.
Louis: Welcome back to Inside City Hall. We are speaking with Mayor de Blasio. He's joining us from the Blue Room. And Mr. Mayor, you appeared with Eric Adams at his general launch and kickoff event today. I wanted to ask you though about some business, in addition to the politics. He is calling for a joint guns and gangs task force to stop the proliferation of illegal guns in New York City. Any thoughts on doing that?
Mayor: Look, I think anything that leads to more cooperation between different levels of government is a good idea. Right now, we have a very close working relationship between the NYPD and the ATF – Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms – that regulates guns in this country. And we had, in fact, a press conference a few months back right here in the Blue Room with the head ATF agent for New York City, talking about how that collaboration and connection with the NYPD has gotten very, very close. And they're constantly working together, sharing information strategies, acting together, housed together even at the NYPD. That's the direction we need to go in, unquestionably. Going deeper, I think is great. The more the federal government could help us stop the flow of guns into the city, the better off we'll be. And with the Biden administration, you have a federal government that's actually willing to do something we haven't seen in a long time. So, I'm hopeful.
Louis: Well, I mean, what about that other agency that New York is famous for not cooperating with, which is Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This mass shooting over the weekend where ten people got shot reportedly included the Trinitarios and they may or may not be citizens. Are you interested in bringing ICE into the mix?
Mayor: No, I'm interested in getting to the root of the problem, and it's a gang problem. And we have a very clear law in this city about what happens to folks who are arrested, prosecuted, convicted of certain high-level crimes and violent crimes. That's where there is an appropriate and narrow protocol for working with ICE after the fact, but not ever proactively. So, our law is a good and balanced law. No, this is about addressing problems on the front end, reducing the flow of guns. We'd love help from the federal government on that. We need more. But also let's be clear, that was a horrible incident, and it just points out how clearly we need major prosecutions of gangs. We have a number of gang takedowns that have happened now. We're getting better cooperation from prosecutors and the court system acting on those gang takedowns. It is crucial that every time the PD has a case ready with a gang takedown, we need the court system and the prosecutors to act urgently because you stop a whole lot of violence every time one of those successful prosecutions happen.
Louis: But I mean, but seriously, if ICE came to you and said, we happen to know about this network of people, we were tracking them for different reasons, but they happen to be bad guys, they have guns, they do things like organize the mass shooting we saw over the weekend, you would take that information and act on it, I would hope.
Mayor: Look, the NYPD is going to take information on criminal activity, of course, from other agencies. I don't know the nuances of it, but, of course, if there's criminal activity, if there's violence, we need that information. That's a very different question than the enforcement of immigration law. When it comes to enforcement of immigration law, and where it interconnects with criminal acts, our City law, I think, is the clearest in the country about how to strike a balance, how to protect public safety, how to respect the vast majority of undocumented immigrants who don't do anything wrong at all. I think we struck that balance properly.
Louis: Well, I mean – but these ten people got shot. Like would you – I mean, again, I'll make it a hypothetical because we don't know all of the facts in this case. But why give people a first crime, right? Why spot them a first crime, if you can get them and deport them and you know that they are part of a criminal organization called the gang –
Mayor: Yeah, Errol, respectfully, I think – I would just urge you to look at the law. I think it does exactly what you're saying once there's been due process, once there's been a trial and a conviction, which is an American value, obviously.
Louis: Okay. All right. Let's move on. I wanted to ask you about the outdoor dining sheds. The critics say that the sheds were approved without really consulting the community boards and is now sort of working backwards to try and figure out how to include them through regulation, as opposed to figuring out whether or not communities really want them.
Mayor: Look, we are still in the throes of a crisis. We're making a lot of progress with our recovery, but outdoor dining was one of the things that sustained us. It helped us save 100,000 jobs. It helped give people hope. It is helping to bring back tourism and life in the city. Of course, we need to keep it going. And look, I respect community boards and I respect local quality of life concerns, but let's get up at 30,000 feet. Right now, it's about bringing this city back. Outdoor dining has a crucial role to play. That's where we need to focus. The other concerns we can work on over time, but nothing compares to the positive impact. And since we've had the recovery start to get underway even more and more of those jobs are coming back and outdoor dining is one of the reasons why. So, no, that's something we have to protect.
Louis: Okay. I wanted to switch – there's a question on the table about solitary confinement. The official policy is that solitary confinement has been ended, but AM New York is reporting that advocates say that individuals, instead, are being held in a kind of a two-room cage where inmates are shifted into a small adjacent cell for an hour, and that's being called their recreational time. So, in effect they're basically being held in solitary in all but name.
Mayor: No, I couldn't disagree more. Actual solitary confinement, punitive segregation, had a devastating, negative impact on, unfortunately, you know, generations of New Yorkers who were held in confinement. Kalief Browder is the one that so many of us know well because of his horrible, painful story. But there were many others who we don't know the names of. It was the wrong thing to do. It was counterproductive. We, in successive actions, ended it. And now what we have is something very, very different. You still, of course, need a way to address behavior that's unacceptable towards fellow inmates, towards officers. There still has to be some ability to have a sanction, but not one that cuts off people in such a profoundly harmful manner. This is not solitary confinement. This is something that was worked through very carefully with correction experts and with our Board of Corrections to get to a very different model. If this became the model around the country, we would have a much more humane correction system while still achieving the kind of balance we need to keep correctional facilities orderly and effective.
Louis: Okay. We may have to leave the particulars of that for another time. I wanted to ask you about a series that we're doing this week on Inside City Hall. We're talking about climate change, the impact on the city, the steps that New Yorkers can take in their personal lives, as well as the larger policy issues. This was, on one level, not really quite covered as well as it might have been during this last election. What concrete challenges do you think the next administration and City Council should focus on first?
Mayor: It's understandable, Errol, because of COVID, it didn't get the attention it deserved, but this is now going to be the much bigger issue. COVID will eventually be defeated and limited. Climate change is the clear and present danger. So, right away, one of the things that we're going to be working on is banning fossil fuel connections by 2030 in New York City. I think it was one of the most profoundly important things we can do. Cut the cord. And by the way, when New York City acts – you just saw this in the last week with the actions we took on COVID and mandates and incentives – the entire rest of the country started mimicking the work that we were doing here in New York City. If New York City follows through, says no more new fossil fuel connections by 2030, everything has to be based on renewables, it will force the hands of industry. It will set an example for the rest of the country. And many others will follow. We have got to get to renewables urgently. As you know, 2030 has been identified by a lot of experts as a crucial break point for the Earth as a whole. We have got to be more aggressive. So, it's that. It is, of course, everything around going green. We are moving the whole city fleet to electric vehicles, putting up electric charging stations all around the city. I absolutely embrace the Green New Deal. All of these pieces need to be moved very aggressively in the next administration.
Louis: Okay. And I guess before I let you go – after you leave in January, do you intend to get an electric or a hybrid vehicle as your personal car?
Mayor: I intend to get no vehicle.
Louis: No car –
Mayor: As my personal car. I think that's the best of all options. I'm going to use mass transit. If I need to get a car, I'll get a Zipcar or something like that. But my overall goal is mass transit and, you know, my own two feet as the way to get around.
Louis: Okay. Well, wish you the best of luck with that. Thanks a lot for joining us. We'll see you next week, Mr. Mayor.
Mayor: Thank you, Errol.