August 18, 2016
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you so much, Linda. I really want to thank Linda and all of the residents of this community, everyone in Mott Haven and everyone in the broader South Bronx and said this park should be world class. This park should be wonderful for the people of this neighborhood at we’re going to fight for it. And they did not accept a long history of unfairness and inequality, in which St Mary’s Park didn’t get its fair share. They didn’t accept the years in which the South Bronx was overlooked. They did something about it, and we here today in large measure because people in this community stood up and organized and now because of your efforts, this park is going to get the investment it deserved. Let’s thank Linda and all the community leaders who did this.
And it was a joy to meet these wonderful young people from parks all over the city who will benefit from this initiative. Let’s applaud them, and you can applaud yourselves.
This is about fairness. We talk about fighting inequality. This is one of the most basic ways to do it. Let’s remember that for so many New Yorkers, parks are not just a place they go for a little exercise or a walk. For a lot of New Yorkers this is where they spend their summer vacation. For a lot of people who can’t afford to travel, a park is everything to them. It’s where they get to see nature. It’s where they get to relax. It’s where they get to be with their families. And even though parks in less advantaged communities were even more important to those residents, they got the least investment. Talk about something that was fundamentally unfair. The people who needed it the most got the least. And we all know that for years and years our city government didn’t look at all five boroughs equally, and the way our money was distributed didn’t reflect where the people lived. So here’s a chance to right some wrongs, and this initiative aims to do that, and there couldn’t be a better example than this park – someplace important, as Linda said, 100,000 people in this immediate community, living in one of the communities that struggled the most for decades. They deserve this investment, and we think it’s going to change people’s lives fundamentally. The initiative we’re talking about today – $150 million – to transform five anchor parks – one in each borough – and we call them anchor parks because they play such a big role in their communities. You know, in the past we’ve put a lot of resources into very small, very local parks that are also crucial to so many communities. The difference now is these parks that we’re working on really reach so many people, and they have the kind of facilities that smaller parks just don’t have. Again, all of them have been waiting for this kind of investment.
The young people behind us represent all five parks that will benefit – St. Mary’s here, Betsy Head in Brooklyn, Fresh Kills in Staten Island, Astoria Park in Queens, and Highbridge Park in Manhattan – all have needed a lot of investment for a long time. When you add those five parks together – this is an amazing statistic – three quarters of a million new Yorkers live within walking distance of those five parks combined. Almost a tenth of our city lives within walking distance of those parks. So you talk about bang for the buck, think about how many people will benefit because these parks will be updated and given much better facilities for their communities. I want to thank everyone who’s here with us today, some of whom you will here from. I also want to thank Councilmember Costa Constanides who represents the area of Astoria Park and Assemblymember Linares who represents the area of Highbridge Park – thank you for your support and your advocacy on these issues. And, you know, these are large parks. They’re parks that offer so much opportunity, particularly for young people, and the kinds of spaces we’re working on here they need a lot of work. I told you these are major investment these parks have needed so each park will receive 30 million for major improvements. And we’re going to work with the communities on these plans, on the specific design to really figure out what will serve the communities best. Starting in the fall, the Parks Department will hold community meetings. We already know what some of the biggest needs are, but we want to hear from the community how to go about it best. There’s a lot that we can alter according to what the community needs and wants. And I’ve seen this happen before in my beloved Prospect Park – hello, Tupper – in my beloved Prospect Park when playgrounds were reworked, the community got deeply involved and the community’s ideas made those playgrounds better and you’re going to see it here with all the investments that we’re making. Big facilities as I mentioned – things like soccer fields and ball fields, things like running tracks and forested areas where people can really enjoy nature. These are the kinds of things that will benefit from these resources.
New York City – we’re the biggest city in the country, we’re one of the most densely populated, but we still have something extraordinary – 29,000 acres – 29,000 acres of parkland. It’s one the saving graces in this city. It’s one of the things that makes it livable, but it’s not livable enough if there isn’t fairness, and there isn’t investment in the parks that need it most. And we’re going to continue to make sure that investment is done in a way that doesn’t just favor communities that already have had a lot of resources. As I said, we started with 60 smaller parks with our community parks initiatives. We invested 285 million in those parks. This is the next big wave, and we’re going to continue in this vein to create more fairness in terms of what people can enjoy in parks all over the city. Finally, I want to say – we don’t think of this in isolation. I can say as a parent, I didn’t think of parks as just a place to go once in a while. I thought of it as part of our life in so many ways – where our kids played little league, it’s where we took them to the playground from their youngest years, it’s where kids got together for birthday party. There’s so many ways the park was an important part of our life, but to life up a community you have to think about everything – the schools, housing parks – all it has to go together. So when we think about a community like this, we think about all the things we have to do and certainly have had an extraordinary partner in that work in speaker MMV who has always urged us on to right those wrongs in the past and invest in a lot of different ways. For example, in addition to this investment in St. Mary’s we just completed the Randall’s Island connector a mile and a half away from here - another important amenity for the community. We’re financing 75 affordable apartments on Underhill Avenue, we’re building 300 low income apartments at the Saint Barnabas developments, and we’re rehabbing nearly 150 affordable apartments on Olenville Ave.
All of this works together to keep a community affordable and livable. One other thing I mentioned – how important education is in the equation – this is one of the communities that’s going to benefit from one of the most powerful elements from our Equity and Excellence agenda for our schools, and that’s the Single Shepard Initiative. This is something that’s never been tried before in NYC, we’re convinced it’s going to make a huge difference. Every child in the school district – 6th grade through 12th grade, every child – gets a Single Shepard who is a combination of a guidance counselor and a life coach and a support system, not just for that child but for their family, and the same individual works with them from 6th grade all the way through 12th grade. This is the kind of intensive investment into children in this community that we think is going to make a huge difference in terms of getting kids better educational outcomes, helping them avoid problems, showing them they can and will be on the pathway to college, etcetera. So there’s a lot going into this community, and we expect it’s going to have a very big impact. I want to say just a few words in Spanish before turning to the Speaker.
[Mayors speaks Spanish]
With that, again, an extraordinary partner on many fronts and someone who believes in fighting inequality in all she does, but she is specifically focused on this part of her district where these needs are so deep and so historic, and the importance that parks places, and I know St. Mary’s Park is something very precious to the speaker and something she’s fought for. I want to congratulate you today as we make this step forward. Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito: So, good afternoon to everybody and thank you so much to Mayor de Blasio for choosing to have this press conference. This is an awkward kind of set up, I am just going to say it feels a little weird but okay, we are working with it. To really talk about this initiative here in St. Mary’s Park, and I am sure maybe my advocacy maybe had something to do with it – making sure that we were one of the identified parks. I really appreciate the leadership to make that a reality and I am very committed. St. Mary’s Park is relatively new to me in terms of my district. It was not within the boundaries of my district in my first eight years in office so my level of investment and commitment to this park, although it did surround my district before, is more recent and really putting in a lot of effort and resources into it. I have my Bronx district office just a couple of blocks from here as well and I really want to appreciate and thank all of the community leaders that are here because as the Mayor mentioned, it is through your advocacy that we have really been able to arrive at this point. I want to thank the Parks Committee Chair Mark Levine that is with me to my left and also Councilmember Costa Constantinides as we celebrate the Anchor Parks initiative.
If it were not for the leadership of the representatives here today, obviously alongside the Mayor this Anchor Parks initiative might not have happened. It may not have been realized and it may have remained an unrealized dream. So we are really proud that we are announcing $150 million in capital improvements coming to all parks in all five boroughs and $30 million right here to St. Mary’s Park. It is going to make a world of difference as those that live here know $30 million goes a long way so the renewed focus of this Council and this administration on Parks funding makes clear that every New Yorker in every neighborhood deserves access to quality outdoor spaces. This is about equity just as the Mayor indicated and that every community regardless of whether or not they are low income or high income, deserves quality services and attention from our government. That’s why as Parks Committee Chair, I was the former chair before Mark Levine and as Council Speaker I am proud to have invested already, your taxpayer dollars, $4.5 million over the past three fiscal years to this park in particular through the community planning process engaging with community. Some of those sessions were very lively, very engaged with members of the community. We are going to be able to add new playground spaces, drinking fountains and accessible comfort stations right here to St. Mary’s Park. And so, the additional $30 million dollars will take us even further.
In a city like New York it can be easy to forget the escape that parks and green spaces offer us as a release from urban congestion, as sites of recreation and as civic meeting spaces like what we are doing right now. And, obviously more importantly for the young people behind us. Although most associate New York City Parks with Prospect Park and Central Park, nearly every neighborhood has a green space just a short walk away. Whether or not those spaces have been well maintained has been another story. And obviously the level of community investment or government investment in it has wavered as well but today that begins to change. Today we celebrate a better future for our neighborhood parks as we commit to investing in a long- term vision that will restore parks in every borough and ensure that every resident and visitor alike has access to the open spaces this city provides. So this is a great day with even more to look forward to as we continue to work together with the administration on a robust community engagement process that will define and prioritize where this funding will be most effective. And these anchor parks were not randomly chosen: St. Mary’s Park is the largest park in this neighborhood and one of the most used parks in the South Bronx but it does not receive the funding today solely because of those facts. This park was chosen because the city sees that the future of the Bronx is only growing brighter and knows that as this occurs places like St. Mary’s Park will become even more of a vital resource for the communities they serve. And it was indicated because we are such a dense city these spaces even become so much more important. I really want to thank everyone, I know some of our public housing resident leaders are also here and thank them for being here as well.
Also a few words in Spanish:
[City Council Speaker speaks Spanish]
So again thank you Mr. Mayor, it’s really a great day for the Bronx and for all five boroughs, since all of the other boroughs are also getting this level of commitment. We are very proud here that St. Mary’s Park in my district has been chosen. So thank you.
Mayor: Thank you very much. I want you to hear from our Parks Commissioner Mitch Silver who has a lot on his plate, and this is going to give him a lot more work to do. That’s a very good thing. He’s going to tell you how we’re going to go about this, and what it’s going to mean for these communities.
Commissioner Mitchell Silver, Department of Parks & Recreation: Well thank you Mayor, thank you Speaker, thank you Linda. I have to first say I am so proud to work for this administration and to work with the City Council and so many community partners. They are dedicated to park equity. You may not know this but this past budget has seen probably the largest increase in our park operating budget in recent memory – $56 million was added to the parks budget and for the first time it is over half a billion dollars. So I want to personally thank the Mayor and the City Council for showing his commitment because I have to say this is a parks Mayor and this is a parks Council. And all of you are going to be the beneficiary of that huge investment. It is $150 million for anchor parks, $285 for the Community Parks Initiative, and $50 million for the Parks without Borders. I also want to thank a lot of individuals here in the room joined by commissioners, staff, I see a number of park administrators, other partners such as – New Yorkers for Parks, the New York Restoration Project as well as many of the other friends. Without you we could not make the beautiful park system we have.
We are here today to bring new life to some of our most beloved parks. These five parks are jewels of our park system. They have open spaces that play a special role in each borough and their names suggest that they are neighborhood anchors, green spaces that serve as focal points for the community. Green space is wonderful but it’s not enough for these parks to realize their full potential as community anchors unless we activate them with the proper investment that these new assets and resources can become. And that’s what today’s announcement is all about. These five parks are finally getting the big support they need and we will work with the community to address those plans and visions to make it a reality – $150 million will fund new resources such as soccer fields, baseball courts for neighbor leagues, pickup games, water features for kids to cool off on hot summer days and forest hiking trails so people can explore the green nature – because parks are not just for physical health, they are also for mental health. These are the major assets that will make a major impact on New Yorkers in every borough. The possibilities are big as the parks themselves and our next step is to talk to you about imaging the future together with the people who use these parks at upcoming sculpting sessions.
So thank you Mayor, thank you Council, my good friend Mark Levine, who chairs the Parks Committee and has some intense conversations. We are so excited to start this process and I am so pleased to work for both a Mayor and a Council that is committed to Parks but also parks equity. Thank you very much.
Mayor: Thank you very much, Commissioner.
Mayor: In a moment we’ll do questions on this topic, and then we’ll do questions on other topics. I just want to offer to young people – stand up for a minute. Stand up, stretch, stand up.
[Children behind the Mayor stand up]
As a parent, I don’t want to do cruel and unusual punishment to them making them sit through this the whole time. Now you can sit back down again.
[Children behind the Mayor sit down]
Your blood is flowing? Okay, good, that will help with restlessness. This is the fun part though, the question and answer. This is the cool part. Questions on this topic first. Yes?
Question: Mr. Mayor, given the need and the population growth in New York City that you’re anticipating seeing in the next couple of years, do you have any plans to build new parks?
Mayor: Absolutely. So, Mitch can talk about details. We were just comparing notes but in the last five years the City has acquired about 260 new acres of park land, and that’s amazing – and credit to Mitch and his colleagues before him. And that’s going to keep happening because in a lot of the work we’re doing in specific neighbors where there’s development, we’re also adding park space as part of the development process. So, one – with the parks we have we have to treat them more fairly and we have to invest in them which is what today is about. Two – we’re constantly looking for opportunities to add to it because you’re exactly right – everyone knows we’re on a pathway to nine million people in this city. So, we want to grab every opportunity we can to create more open space.
Questions on this? Yes, Marcia.
Question: Mr. Mayor, I wonder why [inaudible] concentrate on Freshkills Park. Park advocates say that there’s so many parks that need things that are [inaudible], and they wonder why that [inaudible] as opposed to some of the other parks in the other boroughs [inaudible].
Mayor: There’s a lot of needy parks and we’re going to keep trying to reach more and more. You know, between, as we said, the Community Parks Initiative has already reached 60 parks. This will reach five more. But I believe in borough equity. I really believe that it’s important to help all five boroughs. And we all know the history of Freshkills. This was something that was very painful Staten Island, and thank God it is now a park. But it’s a park that doesn’t have a lot of the facilities the community needs. So, in real terms for a lot of residence in the surrounding communities, it’s a park they can’t use much until we put in ball fields and other things that families can actually enjoy. So, that’s why we thought it was important.
Mayor: I’ll start and Mitch may want to add more detail. But the bottom line is yes. We – Freshkills, again, is an example of when there was not fairness to all five boroughs, and certainly wasn’t fairness to the outer boroughs. The good news is the park is something the community can enjoy but it has to be a park that actually works for families and the community. It can’t just be open land that doesn’t work for them, and isn’t usable by then. So, yes, this is an important first step. There’s certainly going to be more investment needed over time. It’s a big opportunity to serve a lot of people on Staten Island. Remember, there’s over half-a-million people on Staten Island, a lot of people who need park space they can enjoy.
So, Mitch, you want to add to that at all?
Commissioner Silver: It was always deemed as a long term plan because as you know it’s now being transitioned from its former landfill to a park-like setting. We have to be very carefully how you put the infrastructure in to capture any methane gas. We’re working the Department of Sanitation, and then you have to the [inaudible] with the fill. So, we know it’s going to be a long term plan but there is a commitment as funds become available to develop those portions. The East Park will be the first that will open up – currently, in pre-design; soon, in-design. And they’ll be followed with other elements.
But this is a long term plan. This is not just regular land. It was a former landfill, and so, there are certain steps and [inaudible] that have to take place. But there is a commitment, as those lands become protected [inaudible] to start to convert them to park land.
Mayor: Anything else on this topic. Yes.
Question: [Inaudible] –
Mayor: Okay, we need to finish this and go on to others. So, just quickly on remediation –
Question: How long will the remediation take, so that you can then turn it into a park?
Commissioner Silver: Again, the long term is – this is a long term plan until 2035, and so we’re working on, right now, the East Park to move forward with design, to get that forward through remediation and capping –
Commissioner Silver: So, it’s 2035.
Mayor: We’ll get more to you. Go ahead.
Question: You said in the [inaudible] the Parks Department will hold community meetings. Are you going to be reaching out the community as well coming in the fall and in the future?
Mayor: Yes, I mean, the whole idea is – we think, for particularly big investments, there have to be community meetings to hear what people think work. And by the way, because of the community, we’re here today. The community fought for these kinds of investments. So, they have to be a part of deciding how we use the money, and that starts, literally, in the next couple of months, right?
Commissioner Silver: Right. Every design that we have, we have a scoping session, regardless of the size, whether from a one-acre playground to a large park.
Question: Speaker, can you explain the Council’s role with us?
Speaker Mark-Viverito: [Inaudible] obviously, through negotiations with the Mayor through the budget process, we definitely advocated for certain initiatives. And obviously, there was a level of interest on the Mayor – he’s done it through the Community Parks initiative. This is kind of along those lines of creating equity with the Parks system. Mark has really been a really strong advocate on that front as well. So, we’re all aligned philosophically in terms of wanting to see government treat all communities more equitably. So, this was something that really just fell in lines with that, and we’re really excited about the level of money that we’re seeing invested in these parks that have, for many years, been neglected –
Speaker Mark-Viverito: I’ve seen that personally, obviously, representing East Harlem and representing the South Bronx. So, really excited that the Mayor has seen this is as a staple of his administration.
Mayor: And, you’ll remember when we announced the executive budget, we talked about some of the things we put in there that were Council priorities – other parks-related stuff including some of the seasonal workers and the additional expense investments. This has always been an area, under this Speaker, that the Council has made one of their big priorities.
Question: This is two-part. The $285 million that was allocated back in October with the community parks, have the specific projects been selected yet? I know that that money is going to be –
Mayor: Okay, let’s do that part, and we’ll give you the second part. Let’s answer that first –
Commissioner Silver: Yes, we did them in phases. So, the first 35 have been selected. It was announced in October, 2014 and we broke ground on the first one in July. The next round of 12 are now moving – those should be completed, all the 35, by 2017. The next round should be completed by 2018. They have been selected and now are going to round three.
Mayor: Oh yea, you had a second one. I’m sorry.
Question: This $150 million – is that also a multi-year time frame –
Question: How long will it take to –
Mayor: These are big capital projects, so, definitely a multi-year time frame. But the good news is once they’re done, they’ll last for many, many years and serve a huge number of people – think about ball fields, for example, tracks – things that are really going to have a huge amount of usage. You got to get it right but then once it’s built you’re – what’s the typical – when you build a track or ball field how long does it usually have for immediate life?
Commissioner Silver: Depending on the asset, synthetic turf has a ten-year lifespan. Some ball fields can be a lot longer. But 20 years is when you want to put some investment into most of the assets. But they vary. So, this is something where you have to just make sure you maintain it. It extends the lifecycle of any asset that you install.
Question: When do you anticipate being done spending this money? Is there a 2019 deadline –
Mayor: I’m going to take this one but can I just to all of you – you got to – one question and a follow. But if everyone’s doing like three-part questions it becomes a problem. So, let’s just finish on this. Go ahead.
Question: When are you going to be done spending this money?
Commissioner Silver: Right now, typically, we’ve got our smaller parks down to three years. We’re now focusing on about four years – a little bit further for the large because they may be at multiple locations throughout the park rather than one fixed location. But our goal is by 2020.
Mayor: We are joined by Councilmember Darlene Mealy of Brooklyn who is a big believer in this initiative. And Betsy Head Park is going to be – in your district – going to be a great beneficiary. Welcome. We thank you for being here.
Question: With all the crimes happening lately in parks, any plans to [inaudible] or cameras, police?
Mayor: I think the situation in the parks is like in all of New York City. We’re in a very strong position in terms of safety. We always have more work to do but I want to give you a fact that is a shocking fact – park visits by New Yorkers. How many times do New Yorkers go to a park in this city? 137 million visits to parks. How many substantial crimes are there? About 1,000 a year in all our parks combined. Now, look, one crime is one crime too many but the fact is the NYPD has driven down crime all over the city and driven down crime in the parks in an extraordinary manner.
I remember vividly when you could not go into Union Square Park. Literally, in the day people didn’t go into Union Square Park. And that’s – I’m dating myself – but it was a known park. Central Park – there were all sorts of areas of Central Park people didn’t feel safe in during the day. So, it’s a whole other world now because of efforts by people all over this city – a lot of people in this room who fought to protect parks, and obviously the NYPD.
We’re going to keep driving that number down, and under neighborhood policing, wherever we see any kind of area of particular problem like we had a robbery pattern in Staten Island recently in Clove Park, and they went right at that, caught the people involved. Now, we don’t have that problem.
So, you’ll see enforcement, you’ll see pinpointed policing activities. But the overall picture is – our parks are safe and I think we’re going to be able to make them much safer.
Mayor: Yes, Rich.
Question: What was it that gave rise to this program? Was it a particularly egregious situation in one park? Did you see it? Did someone else see it? Was it a chorus of complaints? What actually –
Mayor: I’ll start and I’m sure Melissa and Mark want to add. When you talk about inequality, this was one of the most glittering examples. We saw a chosen few parks primarily in more well-off areas that had big conservancies and big budgets, and the rich got richer.
And then we saw a lot of parks like St. Mary’s that served a huge number people and just weren’t getting investment. And this was historic. And so, from my point of view as we thought about an equality agenda, this was one of the areas that was crying out the most, and investment can make a huge difference. We also heard from a lot of great community leaders and advocates who said this was something that they needed. And the Council, as I said, had made a particular focus on it.
So, it wasn’t like – there wasn’t one eureka moment. It was sort of – if we took the question of equality and how do we address it, this became one of the most glaring examples of how resources actually didn’t flow in a fair and equal manner.
Speaker Mark-Viverito: So, just to add to that, and – you know, obviously, we, as elected officials, we always are gathering in [inaudible] from those that we represent and the advocacy groups do a good job but also we did include this initiative in our budget response – in response to the budget, obviously, and then we started, obviously, engaging in conversations. It’s aligned, you know, along the lines of the Community Parks initiative. This is kind of the same concept at another level. And so, all of the alignment happened, and the Mayor has made it a staple of his administration about equity for all communities and throughout the city. So, it really was, kind of, a no brainer.
Mayor: Mark, you want to add?
Councilmember Mark Levine: Just very briefly – Mr. Mayor, Councilmembers Constantinides and Mealy fought very, very hard for their parks to be included in this initiative. So, the residents of their district should know this, really is partly their victory as well – an incredible partnership with the Parks Department, the City Council, the Mayor to deliver, in big ways, for communities that, for too long, been left behind.
Mayor: Okay, on this topic. Anyone else on this topic?
Mayor: A little louder.
Question: [Inaudible] did you have to cut elsewhere in the department budget to –
Mayor: No, as you saw in the last budget process, we found a lot of savings across City agencies, most notably the healthcare savings, but a lot of other savings as well. We had a good revenue picture although we all are watching that very carefully in terms of the future. So, it was not a situation where we had to cut elsewhere. And again, this is capital funding too. So, this goes in the context of what our capital priorities are among the priorities, this time of course, for more new school seats, more repaving of roads. But this one we thought we would really make a difference and, in the scheme of the capital budget, it was a reachable dollar figure.
Last call on questions on this topic? Do I see a hand? Wow, you are really back there, man. Okay, what’s up?
Question: Are you guys still considering [inaudible] park conservancies or is that a dead idea?
Mayor: We’ve made progress in that area. I think there’s more that can be done in the future, but we certainly made some progress. And I think – I think the larger conservancies got the memo that we needed them to help those who had fewer resources and share resources in a variety of ways. And we’ve seen some real progress on that front.
But I think there’s more we can do going forward.
Councilmember Levine: Mr. Mayor –
Councilmember Levine: Very quick thing – we couldn’t forget to mention the fact that New Yorkers for Parks, and Tupper Thomas have been advocating for these kind of mid-sized parks, smartly and forcefully, for a long time now, and were critical to, I think, my understand of this issue. And also New York Restoration Project has talked a lot about St. Mary’s Park in particular. So, as usual, or advocacy partners have just been so important in this process. We really thank them.
Mayor: Look, what – again, so far we’ve managed to make some real progress in getting the larger conservancies to help less advantaged parks. So, we’re going to continue on that path. And it’s like everything else in the world – you’ve been in a lot of the different press conferences so you know, for example, when it comes to fighting climate change my message to the private sector has been – join us in doing it, we won’t have to put mandates on you. And so far, we’ve made some progress on that front as well. Well, it’s the same thing.
The conservancies are doing some of the right things now. There’s more they could do. I want to keep pushing them to go farther because there’s so many parks in desperate need. So, I’m going to choose to be optimistic. Last call on this topic. Oh, you want to add, please.
Commissioner Silver: There was a question about acquisition, and I wanted to make it clear that the new Parks Without Borders initiative is doing something that’s quite creative and innovative – it’s looking at existing City-owned land such as sidewalks and is making parks more accessible. It’s reprogramming land the City already owns. So, the park doesn’t end on the fence line any longer, it ends at the curb line. And we’re reincorporating and reprogramming land we already own. It’s all throughout our city. It’s making inaccessible park land more accessible, and so that is another key approach with the Park Without Borders initiative, and we’re seeing it transformed throughout our city.
Mayor: Okay, seeing no more. We are going to other topics. Rich. Off topic, okay?
Question: Sort of another on topic.
Mayor: Same topic? Whatever you want.
Question: This is in Union Square Park where a very revealing statue of Donald Trump was placed today.
Mayor: This is breaking news – tell me.
Question: Let’s put it this way. He’s not wearing much in this statue.
Mayor: That is a frightening thought, Rich. When he’s wearing clothes I don’t like him. I can only imagine what he’s like without clothes.
Question: Apparently the statue has been removed by the Parks Department, presumably by the Parks Department, but it was exposed there –
I was wondering whether – are you glad that it was removed or…?
Mayor: You’re the first to tell me it existed. It sounds like I’m really glad it was removed. Of course, we’re not going to let people put up ad-hoc statues. Do you have anything to add, Mitch?
Commissioner Silver: As you know, we had a similar experience in Central Park. It is against our park rules, so whether it was Union Square Partnership who works with us to maintain Union Square or Parks Department, the mayor is correct. You have to get authorization to put up such a temporary art. I’m glad to know it was very temporary, maybe a few hours.
Mayor: Alright, exciting news. Go ahead.
Question: Mayor, I have a question in six parts.
Question: I just want to ask you, the Bronx Borough President had this project for Orchard Beach that would involve revamping the pavilion. He was a little disappointed it wasn’t funded. Some guess maybe politics played a role, and he’s talked about maybe challenging you –
Mayor: I was down at Orchard Beach with Chief O’Neill the weekend before last and had a wonderful experience, but I heard from a lot of people on the beach that they’re really concerned about needing better facilities and wanting to see some of what used to be there decades ago revived. And I really appreciated hearing directly from my constituents on that. The Borough President has been very supportive of that. The Parks Department was already working on a bigger plan to increase the amenities at Orchard Beach. So having been inspired by the admonitions of my constituents, I called the Budget Director and told him this is something I really want to see progress on in the January ten-year capital plan. So we don’t have an announcement for you yet, but it is very much on my radar. Nothing like walking on the beach to put something on your radar. In the back.
Question: Regarding the imam killing, a lot of people in the area were blaming Trump’s rhetoric for the Muslim bias here. How do you feel about that?
Mayor: I think Trump’s rhetoric has been very, very damaging – by the way, Ted Cruz’s equally. I think every Muslim has a right to feel that those voices only made the situation worse and created a fearful atmosphere. Because here are people running for President of the United States trying to blame American citizens – loyal American citizens – simply because of their faith and excluding people because of their faith. Think of it – any one of us would feel betrayed and undermined if it was directed at us. In this specific case – so the atmosphere of fear is unquestioned – and was it fomented into a larger atmosphere of fear that is being felt in Muslim communities is real, and was Donald Trump a big part of that? Absolutely. As we’ve said every day since this tragedy occurred, the NYPD is working constantly to figure out the motive, and they still don’t have a motive. And it’s perplexing. I talked to Chief Boyce who you’ve all gotten to know Chief Boyce very well. He’s an extraordinary thinker. They’ve looked at every angle. They’ve looked at as much evidence as they can find. They cannot find a motive. We obviously believe we have the person who did it, and I think he’s going to be put away for a long, long time, but we’re going to keep working until we figure out why. And we have to be honest with the Bangladeshi community and the large Muslim community that we’re not going to ascribe a motive unless we know the motive. I think that’s really a standard we need to hold in all situations. You’re absolutely right about the backdrop, but in this case until we have the facts we can’t give people all the satisfaction they’d like.
Question: Can you give us your response to the proposal that Governor Cuomo has put forward for reviving 421-a, this new minimum wage for construction projects below 96th Street. What do you think of this? Is this a good idea that [inaudible]?
Mayor: The negotiations are ongoing and obviously primarily between the Real Estate Board and the Billing and Trades Council, and the governor and his team are obviously playing a role. Nothing definitive has happened yet. It’s good that negotiations are speeding up and intensifying. It’s good that people are realizing that the absence of 421-a is starting to really hurt in terms of the creation of affordable housing definitely. There’s a lot of affordable housing that would’ve been started already if 421-a was still there. Jobs are starting to be affected. So I think there’s a real pressure starting to be felt by everyone to get this done. In terms of the particular compromise on the table, it’s not baked yet. If the State wants to subsidy wage levels for affordable housing, god bless them. If that’s what the State thinks is the right thing to do with state money, of course we can work with that. What’s not acceptable to us is to add to the cost of the City’s affordable housing program, which is already stretched very thing trying to reach half a million people. We welcome – there are many different ways to get things done. We’re thrilled that there’s some progress, but if the state’s going to put a wage mandate into it, then they have to account for where that money’s going to come from.
Question: [inaudible] run this idea past you or anybody in your team before it became public?
Mayor: I have spoken to some of the participants from REBNY and from the Building Trades. My staff has been talking to some of the people from the State side. I don’t think it would be accurate to say run it by us before. It is an ongoing negotiation. We’re obviously quite aware, and we’ve made our views known.
Question: So Governor Cuomo has been dismissing audits of his economic development program by the State Comptroller as the State Comptroller just expressing his opinion. He had a similar reaction to another report by the Obama administration about New York mishandling hurricane relief funds. What are your thoughts on Governor Cuomo?
Mayor: I don’t know – in the second instance – I don’t know the facts. I do know, and the City certainly has had the same experience as the State, that the federal government burdened us with a very cumbersome approach to dealing with Sandy relief. But I don’t know the specifics, so I can’t comment specifically. On the Comptroller’s report, I haven’t seen it, but I can tell you I know Tom DiNapoli very well. He’s a very serious public servant, and he’s asking a question we ask ourselves all the time. Did our economic development programs get the kind of bang for the buck that we hoped they would? I think it’s a very valid question, and obviously the State Comptroller should be respected.
Question: There was a press conference on [inaudible] with a picture of the homeless, and they said that the NYPD sometimes says to homeless residents that they’re not welcome, that they should get off the bench if they’re sitting on public benches, and they said they’re just sitting down. What is your response to that?
Mayor: Commissioner Bratton has spoken to this very clearly, and I hope all of our officers understand it, and maybe it’s something we have to help people understand a little better. There’s no law against sitting on a bench, and we do have to respect individual rights. That’s an American value. At the same time, with our HOME-STAT program, anyone who is homeless on the street – meaning they’re living on the street – we’re going to very aggressively approach and try to get them off the street permanently. We’re going to offer substance abuse services. We’re going to offer mental health services. We’re going to offer ultimately supportive housing. So we’re going to be very hands on, and we already are through HOME-STAT. But if someone is harmlessly sitting on a bench not bothering anyone, and they’re not there overnight, and they’re not living on the street, they do have a right to do that.
Question: Mayor de Blasio, thank you so much for this funding for –
Mayor: Wait a minute, I want to clarify. Media question?
Question: No, it’s –
Mayor: I meant media questions. Press conference. My apologies.
Question: Do you think it was the right decision to have festival rides and games to commemorate the Crown Heights Riots?
Mayor: I think the Crown Heights Community over a quarter century has achieved a miracle in terms of binding a community back together. I’ve spent a lot of time in Crown Heights and it’s extraordinary. It’s one of the best good news stories you are ever going to find so I really trust the community. If people want to celebrate their unity and how they’ve accomplished coming together after so much pain was felt all around – I think we should respect that their choice is their own choice. And look this is – if you go back to 1991, I think it would be very hard to believe the kind of communication and respect and sense of everyone being in it together that you find typically in Crown Heights today. So let’s honor what they’ve achieved.
Media question –
Mayor: I don’t know. Mitch do you know this one?
We have some parcel in the area near Yankee stadium. The plan for the parcel, again we may have to get back to you with the information, the plans for the parcel was related to the work that happened at Yankee stadium. I don’t know what commitments were made for Mill Pond parcel itself. That’s something we can certainly get back to you and get that information.
Mayor: I hear you. I don’t know the answer. Mitch will get you the answer. Yes—
Question: You said you wanted to fix the mandatory inclusionary housing situation in Washington Heights. What can be done at this point?
Mayor: At Broadway Sherman site? Well, that now needs to be resolved. Again, I think it was really a lost opportunity. I said this morning on the radio, there was a chance to get I think 67 affordable units for families in the community. Now we have zero affordable units. Someone tell me why that’s a victory. But the developer can go and develop luxury housing because that’s what the zoning says. So, this makes no sense to me and I am going to be very straight up with people in this community and every other community. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. I get of course people are so fearful of displacement and I share that fear. That’s why we have a huge affordable housing program; why we are funding anti-eviction legal services and all of the other things we are doing— but this one just doesn’t make sense. If people are frustrated by gentrification and development and then turn down an opportunity to create affordable housing, brand new affordable housing that does not make sense. Now the developer is free to do whatever he wants. The good news is, it will take a real effort by the developer to come back around with a new plan. In that meantime we are going to try and pull back towards an affordable housing plan. If we get this 421-a deal resolved that actually will encourage that developer and many other developers to do rental housing and that will put us back in the affordability column. So that’s what I hope is at least one of the ways forward.
Mayor: I believe that one is 100 percent affordable. I am going to have a polite but firm conversation with the Councilman who I know very well and respect greatly. That’s a blessing for the community. If there are other issues we have to work on, we’ll work on it with them. If there’s other things, we will push the non-profit developer in that case. But if someone is going to build all affordable housing for your community and the number one issue we are hearing from our constituents is they want more affordable housing. Every community has valid concerns but, don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Don’t lose the chance for a huge amount of affordable housing.
Question: I think your administration wasn’t communicating well with the community–
Mayor: Then we will go and communicate better.
Question: I don’t understand why it is a problem for a reporter to ask a few questions about an initiative.
Mayor: There are a lot of people who are going to ask questions. I think one follow-up is fair, sometimes two but, I just don’t want to get with anyone into a back-and- forth too deep on any issue. We have to pass the ball around. Yes –
Question: I don’t know where the Speaker went but she was talking a little bit before about –
Mayor: I think she went to another engagement.
Question: —about how ideologically in sync she is with you and you know you guys do have this ideological alignment. Would you expect her to play more of a role in cases like the Inwood rezoning in terms of lifting support from members or from Ydanis Rodriguez to vote in favor.
Mayor: Look, the most important vote, probably of the entire administration was a mandatory inclusionary zoning vote, and she was in the forefront of putting together support for that. So there’s no question that she has stood up strong for affordable housing. Now, to be fair on Broadway Sherman it was a single site. It was not a neighborhood rezoning, it was a single site, not typically the kind of thing I think a speaker would put a lot of time into. And, I have to be honest, I think we are all a little shocked at the outcome. So I think now we are going to look at it differently. I think she may have the opportunity to look at it differently as well. Again, valid community concerns need to be addressed and can be and the fears that community residents have are very real and have to be addressed and you really have to communicate with people but turning down affordable housing— I can’t follow that I can’t understand that. So now we see a new reality where some people want to turn down free affordable housing and we are going to work very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Question: [inaudible] Opportunity for her as a member of representative democracy to exercise her judgement and try to win the vote.
Mayor: Of course but, there are some very valid reasons why there is a deference to members in their home districts. It’s perfectly good history there and there are sometimes where that needs to be challenged. Again, I think part of what happened here is, I don’t think anyone expected this outcome. I am going to be very straight up with you. I think we as usual thought there would be a lot of give and take and a lot of back and forth but in the end given how good the positives were that something would be achieved. It’s a wakeup call and we are certainly now going to look at other ones like this differently. Last one –
Question: You kind of alluded to it briefly but, in this case and traditionally in the Council [inaudible] do you think that should change now [inaudible]?
Mayor: I think it’s a good foundation. I obviously was a Councilmember for eight years. It’s a good starting point. Obviously who knows the community better than the elected representative of that community? I don’t think it’s a hard and fast rule in that case. The vast majority of the times I think that is both the operational rule and the right way to do things. I think there may be some exceptional circumstances. But this isn’t even that. This is – we have to have an additional conversation about the value of affordable housing with communities. This is – we have got to help people understand. If they are frustrated by gentrification; if they are fearful of development; if they’re fearful of displacement there are two options. Do nothing and the development process will continue and the rents will keep going up and people will keep getting displaced. Or do something, and at least create new affordable units and preserve affordable housing in place and create some balance in the equation. And that this one, where it’s so illogical, I will go into the community and happily say this to people: it’s not like they turned down development and now the land is going to be some other public use. This is a private site where the developer controls the outcome. If we don’t get those 67 affordable units, they end up with zero affordable units, just luxury housing. Someone tell me why that’s a win for the community. It is not a win for the community. And I am happy to go out and talk to people about that. Thanks a lot everyone.