October 1, 2021
Katty Kay: New York City public school teachers and staff will need to have had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine before returning to work on Monday. And one group of teachers is asking the Supreme Court to block that mandate. The group argues that thousands of public school employees will be forced out of work if the vaccination mandate remains in effect, thereby violating their fundamental right to pursue an occupation. These teachers say the order is unfair because it doesn't apply to other city employees who routinely deal with the public and who are allowed to keep working if they submit to weekly COVID testing in lieu of getting vaccinated. Joining us now is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Mayor, thank you very much for joining the program. Do they have a point that other public city workers are out there having contact with the public and not getting vaccinated, so why point the finger at teachers?
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Katty, let's look at the facts, first of all – what our teachers, what our school staff have done. Here's some breaking news for you. As of this morning, 90 percent of our Department of Education employees are vaccinated, at least one dose, 93 percent of our teachers, 98 percent of our principals. The bottom line is this mandate has worked and the goal was to protect kids, including our youngest kids who can't be vaccinated yet, and to ensure that families knew schools would be safe. So, this is – look, our schools are precious, our kids are precious. There's nothing else in our society that is as central to everything we hope for as our schools, and parents, when they send that child to school, that is entrusting our schools, the safety of their child. This is what we had to do, and it worked. And the other thing I'll tell you, mandates work. We put in mandates for public employees. We put in our indoor dining mandate over the last two months, vaccinations in New York City have gone up 45 percent. And in New York City today, about 83 percent of all adults have had at least one dose. So mandates work, they make us safer. I would urge every mayor in America: do it now, get those vaccine mandates in place ahead of the cold weather, when things are going to get tougher. Do it now, or you will regret it later. We need these mandates to keep us safe.
Kay: Yeah, and 7,000 New York City teachers vaccinated just last week. But the teachers union, Mayor, as you know, saying this is going to lead to shortages of teachers. If you’re mandating people to get vaccinated and some of them don't want to, are you going to have gaps in classrooms where kids aren't getting the teaching they needed?
Mayor: No, Katty. We are 100 percent confident, and I'll tell you why. We have thousands and thousands of high-quality substitute teachers, especially young folks who come out of schools and education, they're looking to get into our school system permanently, they're vaccinated. They're ready. They're really pumped up to have the opportunity to serve. And we are not going to have a shortage, I told you, 93 percent of teachers, as of this morning, already qualify under our mandate. They had until the end of the day to get vaccinated, it only takes a few minutes to get that first dose. That's all we required. Get the first dose, get the second one later when the time comes. But here's the bottom line: had we not done the mandate, a lot of people would have held back, and our schools would have been less safe and our city would have been less safe. And there's so much noise when you put a mandate forward, but whether it's the one we did for schools or the one we did for indoor dining, the bottom line is when the dust settled, a huge number of people went out and got vaccinated. And then those environments became safe. And what I hear from New Yorkers is thank you that we know what we're dealing with now. We know we have environments where we're not going to have the same problem with COVID because it's all-vaccinated reality.
Reverend Al Sharpton: Mr. Mayor, the other side of that I think is not discussed a lot. And you and I both have a lot of respect for Michael Mulgrew, to the union president for the teachers. But I know from my work in National Action Network and our chapters around the city, a lot of parents wanted to see vaccination, and we're talking about keeping their kids home if there wasn't a mandate. I mean, talk about that side, and certainly we respect the teachers, but we ought to talk about parents saying, “wait a minute, I'm not sending my kid to a school, and I don't know that the teachers are vaccinated.”
Mayor: Rev, you hit the nail on the head. We had a lot of folks saying, “wait a minute, it's not safe. I want to keep my child remote.” And one thing President Biden has done brilliantly, and I really thank him for this, saying, “no, no, no, all our kids in America have to get back in the classroom.” I want people to think about that child who for a year and a half, never saw the inside of classroom, missed out on education, on physical health support, mental health support, nutrition. When kids aren't in school, a lot of bad things happen. We had to bring our kids back and we knew we were not going to do remote again. It just is not the right path. So having an all-vaccinated environment for the adults was crucial. And that's exactly what parents said to us, prove to us, it's going to be safe. The day I said, every adult is going to be vaccinated. I heard from parents all over New York City that that gave them the confidence to get their kids back in school.
Reverend Sharpton: Well, and as you have done that, I think the balance is certainly trying to deal with the teachers that are still concerned with the overwhelming majority of vaccinated. But as you've done that, you've relaxed a lot of the parents, and it also encourages a lot of the parents that were hesitant to also vaccinate as well, because you can't be concerned about the teacher being vaccinated, if you're not doing that at home.
Mayor: It’s a virtuous circle, you're right. Look, when people get vaccinated, it creates momentum. When we put those mandates in place, we also put the $100 incentive in place – that worked like a charm too. So, we saw a huge uptick in vaccination that continues now. When the person in your life, you know, your brother, your sister, your cousin, or someone you work with, someone you worship with – if they got vaccinated and they had a good experience, that word of mouth has a huge impact. So, by creating environments where everyone's vaccinated and it works, it encourages everyone else to keep moving forward. And parents also are hearing from their kids. Rev, you'll appreciate this. We've heard a lot of this around the city: the teenagers, the 12 to 17-year-olds, almost 75 percent of them are vaccinated in New York City. A lot of them are convincing their parents and grandparents that it’s time they see it, they feel the urgency and they're moving the older generations to get vaccinated.
Now, what we need is the FDA though – that five to 11-year-old group, we don't have the vaccine yet. This is something I'd say, if there's a national priority out there, we're all talking rightfully about the reconciliation bill and infrastructure, we need both of those. But if there's a national priority, it’s get the FDA to approve the vaccine for the five to 11-year-olds. Our healthcare leadership believes that should happen at the end of this month. So, we can start vaccinating our youngest kids in November, and then our school system could be absolutely airtight.
Joe Scarborough: Hey, Mr. Mayor. Good to see you. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions a year. Your terms are coming to an end, and want to ask you to look back at first of all, and tell me why do you, what do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment and what do you consider to be your greatest disappointment, the thing that you wish you could have made more progress on?
Mayor: So, Joe, you guys have been great about really raising this conversation about kids and early childhood education. I want to thank you for that. My profound joy is that we could do Pre-K for every child in New York City for free, universally. And now we're on the verge, over the next couple of years it's going to be available – early child education for free for all three-year-olds. And that has revolutionized education in this city. It's also helped so many families who are struggling to make ends meet because here in and in a lot of America, to send a kid to preschool it's $10,000 a year or more that families just don't have. So, we made it a universal right. It has given every child the opportunity to start at the same starting line. And that's really what this country's all about.
The thing I've struggled with – I've been honest about it, Joe, and we finally are making some more profound progress, but it’s homelessness, but I'm happy to say that after some absolute early misunderstands and missteps on my part that I've owned up to, we found some new strategies that are working much better to get people off the streets. Our shelter population has gone down greatly – it's lower, much lower than when I took office. We're getting people off the streets with intense engagement that we didn't realize how to do previously. And I think we figured out how to do it going forward, but that was a tough learning curve for me, I have to be honest with you, and Joe, the other thing I'd say is, you know, over eight years, you better be learning something. So, I understand a lot more today than when I started. But I have to tell you, I have faith that you can do big and bold things, that's what I learned with Pre-K, set the bar high and go for it because everyone, a bunch of naysayers said it couldn't be done. Guess what, had happened? And now we're doing the same thing for three-year-olds.
Scarborough: Yeah, but you know, what an extraordinary achievement, congratulations on that. And I'm so glad you brought up homelessness, because that's what I hear New Yorkers talking about the most. So, what I hear about people on the West Coast going, “boy, we really, as far as quality-of-life issues, we really need to work on homelessness. I think in the past, Mr. Mayor, there's been this, I don't know - I don't want to call it a progressive fantasy – but some people would snap at you if you talked about trying to get rid of homelessness as if helping – as if it were a positive thing to have somebody with mental health challenges sleeping on grates in 15-degree weather. That's – there's nothing humanitarian about that. There's nothing liberal about that. There's nothing progressive about wanting that in New York or San Francisco or any other city. So, I'm so glad you brought that issue up and talked about some improvements that are being made, but that does remain a great challenge for our cities, doesn't it?
Mayor: Yeah, and Joe, I agree. You know, you and I have talked over the years, and I think we see eye to eye on a number of things, and one thing I want to say to you is I think we have to be honest about the point you just raised. With all due respect to our colleagues in the West Coast, the idea there that you have large numbers of people living in tents or tent colonies when in fact they need affordable housing. One thing we do in New York City that does work is right to shelter, right to housing. We make sure if someone's on the street, that we offer them a place in a shelter. Now we've got to keep making our shelters better. We got to make them environments that folks are willing to come into, but you can't start with the notion that it's okay to have thousands of people living outside. And you're right, a lot of folks who live on the streets, it's either a mental health problem, a substance misuse problem, or both. What we found, and it took us a while to get there, but we got there, is send out caseworkers who are trained to work with people, not just for a day or two, but for weeks, for months to figure out what that thing is that will bring them in. A lot of times, it's a person that needs to be reconnected to their family, or they need to feel the environment they'll go into is acceptable and safe, or they just need to have the trust built with someone that they're going to go someplace that's going to be respectful of them. You can then get people off the street. We've done it by the thousands now and kept them off the street. But one thing we should never accept, anyone living on the street is an unacceptable reality. It says we're not doing something right as a society. We shouldn't explain it a way. We shouldn't act like it's normal. It's not.
Scarborough: Amen. Mayor Bill de Blasio, thank you so much. And it's not normal, and there's nothing humane about it, there's nothing liberal about it, there's nothing progressive about it. People on the streets shouldn't have to sleep on grates in the middle of the night, in the winter, and they shouldn't be living intense in the middle of cities. It's not safe. It's not healthy. It's not good for them. Thank you so much, Mr. Mayor.