August 24, 2021
Willie Geist: And joining us now here on set in New York, the Mayor of this great city, Bill de Blasio. Mr. Mayor, great to see you.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: It's great to see you.
Geist: So, we want to talk about the school vaccine mandate and some other mandates that you're looking at and talking about and pushing the FDA on. But first let's talk about the new Governor as of, what, eight and a half hours ago, of this state. What do you know about Governor Hochul and what do you hope to work with her on?
Mayor: Oh, there's no question we can work together. Willie, from what I know of her, a good human being, cares about people, works with people, listens. We've had a number of good conversations already. We have to fight back COVID. That's what we have to work on together. Fighting back the Delta variant, figuring out the way to build this recovery. New York City's coming back, New York State's coming back. We have a lot of work to do together, but imagine doing the work together, which wasn't possible – Willie, I know this will shock you. This will shock you. It was not possible with the previous incumbent.
Geist: And he did not miss a chance on his way out the door to say in praising the incoming Governor, that he looked forward to a new level of competence in the mayor's race, when he was talking about Eric Adams coming in, potentially as the next mayor. What did you make of the Governor's remarks last night?
Mayor: Well, when someone disgraced takes a shot at you, I guess inadvertently that's a compliment, right? The bottom line is it's very sad that Andrew Cuomo could have had a moment of grace, could have talked about the women he wronged, could have talked about the seniors we lost in those nursing homes, could have brought it to a human level, but there's a narcissism there that doesn't allow him to see anything about himself. And in a way I'm very sad for his family – there’s a lot of good people in that family, but in a way, maybe it's a message to people in public life. If you get that much power, if you think the world's all about you, something bad's eventually going to happen to you, because it's actually supposed to be about something bigger. And we're turning the page now in New York now, thank God.
Geist: Let's hope the personal drama has been sucked out of the relationship and just focus on getting back to work.
So, let's talk about the mandate inside New York City schools – didn't waste any time yesterday when the FDA gave its formal approval of the Pfizer vaccine of saying anybody who works inside of a New York City school, an adult has to be vaccinated. What brought you to that decision?
Mayor: First of all, I was thinking about our kids, Willie. Our kids have been through a level of trauma, dislocation. Nothing like we've ever could have imagined. Every one of us who's a parent – we try to make sure our kids have a good life, but for a year and a half, a lot of kids have never even seen the inside of a classroom. They are being held back in every way. We cannot let that happen again. So, we are bringing back New York City public schools, full strength, and to ensure that that can be safe, we need all adults vaccinated. It's time. The FDA gave the full approval. It's time for adults to step up. We care about our children. We say we care about our children. Well, here's a way to actually honor our children and their futures. Everyone get vaccinated. And so it's a really straightforward rule. Everyone in our schools has to be vaccinated by September 27th. That's the bottom line. You got to be vaccinated so we can have an environment that everyone could depend on. I've heard from parents already, Willie – it's reassuring to them. It makes them feel that their kid's going to be okay.
Geist: And a big step was getting the support of the teacher's union in getting teachers vaccinated here. But have you received pushback? Do you expect to lose some teachers because of this – who've said I have an, you know, an objection on religious grounds. I have an objection on other grounds to getting this vaccine, I'm not going to do it?
Mayor: I'll never be surprised by any individual choices, Willie, but overwhelmingly, what I expect is that the adults who work in schools actually do love kids – the vast majority of them are there because they care about children – that they'll ultimately do the right thing. Now look, human beings do well when they have carrot and stick. So, a mandate helps people to realize it's time, FDA final approval on Pfizer said it's time.
Now, the Biden administration could do something else that would really help us all move forward. Speed the approval of the vaccine for the five to 11-year-olds. It's time for that. Look, if we can get that last piece done, because right now we can vaccinate kids 12 and up, and we're having a lot of success in New York City getting that done, but we need that last piece and we need every child in America back in school. So, I know Joe Biden cares, to his great credit, I know the team's working nonstop, but they've got to make this a central priority. Get that vaccine ready for the five to 11-year-olds. And then there's not even a question anymore about our schools. Everyone in the school building at that point could be vaccinated, should be vaccinated.
Geist: We just talked to an hour ago on this show to Dr. Fauci about that. And he said, he hopes this fall and into the winter that they start to expedite that process. He also said that within a matter of weeks, he expects the Moderna and J&J shots to be fully approved by the FDA as well. So that's good news. So, what is the snapshot, as we head back to school here in New York City, of where New York is? So much of the story of what's happening in this country began here in New York City with, as terrible as things were, and I don't have to remind you when there refrigerated trucks in Queens and field hospitals in Central Park – where are we now in terms of vaccination in this city? And in terms of what school will actually look like when parents send their kids in a couple of weeks?
Mayor: There's really a story of redemption here. You described very vividly what those first weeks of COVID were like. And I remember that pain. I remember a lot of people I knew that we lost and then we started fighting back. And this is why I love the people of this city so much. We fought back. And today in New York City, 75 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine. So, we're one of the most vaccinated places in America. The life of the city is back. The schools are going to be back a hundred percent. Last year, we proved that schools could be safe. We decided to bring our kids back. A lot of cities were not ready, but we decided it was time for kids get into the classroom, had about 200,000 kids. We made it safe. Every conceivable health and safety measure, layered on the other, and it worked – the gold standard of health and safety. This year, we're going to have over a million kids back, and it's going to work because of the high level of vaccination first and foremost. And because we're going to do everything it takes to make it a safe environment.
I'll tell you one thing, for folks saying, “oh no, no, let's go back. Let's think about remote again.” That is damning our children. It really is damning them to fall behind, not just educationally, but humanly, emotionally. These kids have been in isolation. It's we can't do that to the future of this country, of this city – we can't do that to our kids, Willie. We need them back in school, that's where they thrive.
Geist: Do you see any scenario, Mayor de Blasio, where kids do have to go back to remote? Is there an infection rate? Is there some metric by which you could say yeah, unfortunately it looks like we do have to go back to at least hybrid or maybe even remote?
Mayor: I do not, and I'll tell you why, because of the level of vaccination. In the end, there's only one thing that matters, which is offense. And that's vaccination. We get into these discussions about what if, what if, and those are valid concerns, but we're a city that is proving right now, if you just lean into vaccination, including those tough mandates, it makes a difference. We're saying to folks, you want to go to a restaurant indoors, you want to go to a movie theater or a concert indoors, you've got to be vaccinated, or you're not going to get to enjoy the fullness of life. Well, a lot of people responded to that and we've giving a $100 incentive. Every time someone gets a new vaccination for the first time, carrot stick, both. But in the end, there's only one strategy is vaccination. We should stop playing around as a country, we should stop having all these side discussions. There's one strategy, vaccination. You do enough vaccination, you'll never see restrictions again. And then we're going to come out of the COVID era. We could be out of the COVID era by next year – if we can really move the vaccination levels to where they belong, we will be out of the COVID era. I don't know why anyone wants to debate about that. Let's just get it done.
Geist: Mr. Mayor, Mike Barnicle’s got a question for you. Mike?
Mike Barnicle: Mr. Mayor, you are term-limited, and you have probably in the bottom of the eighth ending in terms of your service to the city that you love and have served. It's a city that to my eye, to my mind, isn't really New York City without the service industry that supplies so many needs to people, and the people look at them as if they're kind of invisible at times, but that service industry sector has suffered five times the loss, the job losses, of businesses that could function remotely during this epidemic that we're all living through. And of course, the remote work has changed the way people, consumers participate in the economy. So, five times the job losses, that's thousands of people in the service industry left jobless and remain jobless. What's to become of them and the that they serve?
Mayor: Mike, such an important question. And look, we saw the essential workers across the board were the heroes of this crisis and they still haven't gotten their due. We had a beautiful parade a few months ago to honor the folks, the unsung heroes who brought us back – but there's so much more to do it, to get people jobs, good jobs to keep going forward. And the way to do it is vaccination. I don't mean to be a broken record, but I got to tell you when you fix the COVID problem, you fix the economic problem. This city today, as the Census Bureau proved to us a couple of weeks ago, is the biggest it's ever been – 8.8 million. There's an economy here that will grow on contact. You can already see us coming back strong, but we need to end the COVID era. So, the demand is there. There's a huge amount of pent-up demand. You know that, there's a huge amount of spending ready to happen. There's a huge amount of jobs we can bring back, but we got to defeat COVID, and I got to tell you something you're going to like, Mike. We decided to do an incentive, as I said, $100 for each person who gets their first shot for the first time. But also, these additional mandates, what do we see? The last two weeks we had over 100,000 New Yorkers, each week, come in for their first shot, for the first time, 60 percent people of color. And what we're finding is a lot of the folks in the service industry who had been hesitant are now coming forward, getting that shot – that is going to open up a world of economic rebirth for New York City. You can see it, it's right on the verge right now. We keep driving vaccination, all things are possible.
Geist: The end of the COVID era. Sounds good to a lot of people. Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for being here. Can even you, a Red Sox fan, celebrate the Yankees 10 game winning streak?
Mayor: That's a challenge, Willie. I need Barnicle back for this one. I need some support here, come on.
Geist: It's America's team, you just have to deal with it.
Mayor: America's team? Willie, Willie.
Geist: Here and there, you’re the Mayor of the city. Get on board.
Mayor: America's team? I need to come up with a better – we need another team to be America's team. We'll see how long this lasts for the Yankees.
Geist: He’s the Mayor of the city for—
Mayor: Let's talk about the Mets, they're a hell of a good team.
Geist: Mayor de Blasio. Thanks for being here this morning, good to see you.