December 18, 2017
Errol Louis: We are back on the Road to City Hall. With the City announcing the closure of 14 public schools today, Mayor Bill de Blasio is facing questions about his Renewal Schools Program which provides support and extra funding to struggling schools around the city. Nine of the schools that will be closing are part of that program. Now, at the same time, the Mayor is taking a trip to Iowa tomorrow to speak at a fundraiser for a progressive group. But with Iowa holding the nation’s first presidential nominating contest, questions are naturally being raised again about the Mayor’s ambitions for higher office.
And on top of everything else, we’ve got a poll about that and many other questions. So, we are glad to see you, Mr. Mayor. We got a lot to talk about.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Jam packed –
Louis: In fact, something else came up as we just heard from our Zack Fink. There’s some Albany news we didn’t think was going fall on your plate as the year ends. Minority and women-owned enterprises – the State has made commitments to steer more of its procurement dollars there, you have made the same. And there is a State law that would apparently enable you to do more.
Mayor: Correct. Look, Errol, we want to hit a goal of 30 percent of all of our procurement going to minority and women-owned businesses. And we’re making a lot of progress as a city but we need State law changes to help us do it. The State is very flexible with its own contracts. We’ve asked for some of the same right here.
A piece of legislation was passed in the legislature that’ll give us a lot more flexibility. We think it’ll result in hundreds of millions of dollars more per year in contracts going to MWBEs, largely, overwhelmingly, here in the five boroughs. And we want to see that legislation move forward. It’s going to Governor Cuomo’s desk as early today. Last I heard, he would have a couple of weeks to decide if to sign it.
I want to strongly urge the Governor to sign it. We’re certainly going to be trying to show him all the evidence of why that’s a good idea. But here’s something that the Senate and the Assembly actually agreed on – was a way to expand opportunity for minority and women-owned businesses and we need it. It will make a big difference in this city.
Louis: Okay, so, interestingly enough, I guess, one of your critics, Bertha Lewis, who has said the City hasn’t done enough in this area, maybe she should make a few calls to Albany.
Mayor: She actually – as I understand it, a lot of the leading voices on this issue, people like Bertha Lewis, Hazel Dukes of the NAACP – a number of people who have pushed us to do more, and I’ve said to them we want to do more – believe, like we do, that this legislation in Albany is part of the solution. Now, we need the Governor to sign it.
Louis: Okay, we’ll keep an eye on that. Let’s talk about the big news today – the school closings. The critics who never liked the Renewal Schools process all that much and who said that it was taking too long, have they been proved right? That after four years when they said you could have figured this out sooner and hundreds of millions of dollars spent, in the end there were dozens of schools that didn’t make the cut.
Mayor: I’m very satisfied with the choice we made and how it played out. Now, it’s been three years almost to the day since I announced this vision. And then of course, it took time to implement. Here’s what used to happen, Errol. Schools were closed if they were struggling without an honest effort to help them turn around including schools that have been in communities for generations even. That’s not fair to local communities, that’s not a smart way to try and maximize the potential of schools, to just disinvest and walk away.
The question in mind was always, if you gave the school the help it needed, could it turn around? The ones that could, and that’s the majority as we see it, we’ve been proven right on. The ones that didn’t, well look, we said from the beginning, we knew not everyone would make it. So, now we’ve got 27 schools that throughout this process, some of them we actually acted on earlier, we decided after a serious effort we do not think with their current structures they can make it.
We’re going to remove those schools in some cases through a merger, if they got very small. And then we’ll have other options for the kids in those areas.
But we also have a group of schools that have completed the Renewal process, are now moving out of it, graduating out of it, the Rise Schools. Then we have a further group that we think with another year or so of support will also graduate out in the vast majority of cases.
I’m satisfied that was the right thing to do otherwise we would have continued to see closures without an honest effort to fix the problem and tons of kids set into a transitional situation that wasn’t good for them and their educations, and often didn’t result in better options being made available to them.
Louis: Well, here’s the thing – you know as a parent, you can take any three- or four-year period and that’s critical for your kids, right. That’s all of middle school. It’s really important. Has there been any learning I guess over the last three years about how to sort of, so to speak, cut the losses sooner so that instead of missing out on that last year-and-a-half of middle school, people have City Hall and Tweed hit the panic button a little bit sooner?
Mayor: Well, I’d say it a little bit differently. I think what we are seeing is we started with a substantial number of schools that were in bad shape. And that’s obviously – you know, I made this announcement of this vision in November of 2014. We had just come into office. So we received that from [inaudible] before us. Since then, you’ve not seen a huge growth in the Renewal School category.
We’ve actually been able to, you know, compress that number of schools that were troubled, again, getting rid of some that weren’t working or merging some that had gotten too small. But also, this new reality of finding that some really, really responded to support and they’re moving out and out because we gave them an extra period of instruction or we gave them Community School status with all of the additional support.
And in some cases things like Saturday tutoring programs – we did a whole host of things to help strengthen those schools and for most of them it worked or is working.
From my point of view that’s telling us, well, guess what if you got a school that has a problem a lot of times if you bring in those supports or in some cases bring in a new principal or bring in master teachers or some combination, you can turn around a school even one of the schools that’s been through the most trouble. And that encourages me to keep investing where we see that need.
Louis: Okay, last question on this topic. Was there any alignment, as far as you know, with people voting with their feet? In other words, sort of, a wisdom of crowds – if parents are taking their kids out of a school. My understand is that this was very much present in this Renewal Schools, like double-digit percentage drops in enrollment. Doesn’t that tell you something? And maybe that’s something to sort of follow rather than wait again a couple of years [inaudible] –
Mayor: I think that’s a very fair point and in fact that’s exactly what happened. Some of the schools that had the best experiences saw their enrollment start to go up steadily. Some of the schools that were not doing so well or gotten too small to begin with, you know, that was an obvious signal to merge them or close them. I think you do have to pay attention to the wisdom of the crowd and the market, if you will.
Going forward, you’re right. That’s an important signal to us. If a school is consistently losing enrollment, we have to do something different with it. And by the way, this is not the end of the decisions we will make.
For that remaining group of schools, the 46 who will get another year, I believe the clear majority, the vast majority will become Rise Schools, will graduate out. Some may not and then we’re going to look at other schools. And if we see patterns that are not working, in some cases we’ll decide there’s investment we think could turn it around. In other cases, we may say this is a school that we don’t like the trajectory and we’ve got to take more intensive action.
The difference now is we’re engaging parents in the community, we’re trying to investment model where it can work which was really bluntly not on the table in the previous administration, and we’re showing that rather than throw away all that was good about a school, throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, throw away in some cases generations of traditions, we’re able to turn around some of these and put the school on a long term sustainable path.
I feel very good about that. But we’ll be eagle-eyed about other schools that need more help or in some cases aren’t going to make it for the long term.
Louis: Okay, we’ve got more to talk about. We’ve got a poll that I’m sure you’ve seen. We’re going to talk about that and much more in just a minute with the Mayor. Stay with us.
Louis: We are back on the Road to City Hall and I’m joined once again by Mayor de Blasio. Mr. Mayor, we heard that you are heading to Des Moines. I looked and found that Des Moines has 215,000 residents, which is the size of two community boards. Clearly this is not a urban affairs trip. It sounds more like politics.
Mayor: First of all Des Moines is a major city and great mayor there, Frank Crownie, who I worked with very closely in the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The group I’m going to be speaking to, I’ve actually attended one of their events previously a few years ago, Progress Iowa. They’re a progressive coalition across the state, 70,000 members, one of the driving forces for change in that state. They helped to achieved things like the Medicaid expansion that was achieved a few years ago and they’re I think one of the reasons why you are going to see big changes in Iowa going forward, including two congressional seats that are up for grabs.
They’ve got four seats, one solid Democrat, one solid Republican. Two are now going to be up for grabs currently held by Republicans. This is exactly the kind of place where big changes are going to happen, they’ll a have a big impact on New York City and the whole country. So they asked me to come out and speak to one of their annual gatherings. I’m honored to do it. But I’ve said very clearly, this is the kind of thing I’m going to do, I want to promote the progressive movement. I want to promote change in the Democratic Party and I want to promote the people and organizations who are going to help flip the congress, because nothing would be better for New York City than a Democratic House of Representatives. That’s a simple, simple reality.
Louis: My reading of some of the fundamentals, based on the Alabama race and a couple of other indications, including some of the suburban races here in New York, is that the wave has begun, that there is a reaction to what’s been going on in Washington. Do they need the help of the Mayor of New York City?
Mayor: Hey that’s up to them always. I mean they asked me to come out, because is I think group that is building and growing and they want different people from around the country to support their efforts and I’m excited to do it. I think the world of them and I think it’s a place where you are going to see real change, but you know every state, every district, they have to decide what work for them.
I’ve said, I can tell you one thing our party has to change if we are going to meet this wave, I agree with you, the wave has started, the change is happening in revulsion to Donald Trump and his administration, but I think it’s deeper than that. Before Donald Trump was even a realistic presidential candidate, you saw what was happening in the Democratic Party. Here and many other places we were talking addressing income inequality. You saw the way Bernie Sanders campaign caught fire, before there was even a question of Donald Trump, this party needs to change to address the realities of working people. And when we do, we’ll become the majority party. We’ll become the majority party, nothing could be better again for New York City and New York state than to have a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate, or both.
Louis: And – but you also know that you could have gone to Cleveland, you can go to Pittsburgh, I assume you everybody invites, you go to LA and you get one response, you go to Iowa of all places, and people say Bill de Blasio must want to be president.
Mayor: That’s – no disrespect to the pundits who play a valuable role in our society, you know, in the last few years I got invited to address the Wisconsin Democratic dinner, state party dinner, and I just did the Vermont Democratic Party dinner last spring. I went to a number of states campaigning on the behalf of Hillary Clinton. I’ve been all over the country of U.S. Conference of Mayors.
I understand the media, no disrespect, gets a little obsessed when you say the world “Iowa”, but when a group like Progress Iowa that I share values with, is doing important work, and is looking for help, looking for support, when they ask me to help them out, I thought it was a really smart and important thing to do.
And I’ve said, and you know for the 400th time, I’ll say it 401 times, I was running for one thing, I was honored that the people of this city re-elected me with 67 percent of the vote. As their Mayor, I’ve got four years ahead, I’m looking forward to those four years, but there is a lot of work to do outside the boundaries of the five boroughs if we really want to affect the future of this city.
Louis: I should mention that, finally on this topic, that the PBA is going to be out there, they say they will be out there to meet and greet you. They’re not happy.
Mayor: That’s very pleasant of them.
Louis: Right, they are not going to say hello, but they are coming to sort of tell your progressive allies out there that the Mayor has offered three and half years of zeros in their current contract negotiation, and that’s not progressive way to treat members of the working class.
Mayor: First of all, whenever you hear from the PBA about contract negotiations, there is always another side of the story. They have followed me to other cities before. I remember when I was at U.S. Conference of Mayors at Indianapolis, it’s nothing new.
You know, whatever they want to do in New York or out of, that’s their right as American citizens. We have dealt very fairly with labor, you know, 99 percent of labor, under contract, finally, we got to this year compared to zero percent at the end of the Bloomberg administration. We came up with fair deals for labor that were also fair for the taxpayers and the long term fiscal interest of the city.
We’re going into choppy waters, Errol. This tax bill, I’m hoping and praying there could be something that stops it in Washington, but if it goes through it’s going to hurt New York a lot and it’s going to hurt our bottom line. So, we have to be fiscally cautious while still being fair to labor.
But you know what, one by one we worked it out with every union before. We look forward to doing it again. If people want to protest, God bless [inaudible] –
Louis: I mean fair enough, I mean, they are out of contract now so they, I guess, would be first among those who would want to settle [inaudible] –
Mayor: Very recently, that’s true. Very recently.
Louis: Let’s talk about our NY1 poll. We have a poll that’s showing that while 50 percent of New Yorkers approve of the jobs that you’re doing, there are those who have a different point of view.
Mayor: How is this possible, Errol?
Louis: Yes, well, it happens. It’s New York, after all.
More to the point – when we asked them, do you want to see the Mayor run for president, 57 percent say they don’t want you to do it.
Mayor: That’s great because I’m Mayor for the next four years and this is the thing I’m doing. And I’ve made that clear. But look, I’ve also said polls in general [inaudible] all due respect to polls, I’ve said it over and over there was only one poll that mattered and you will notice that 67 percent reelection number, that was an actual thing. That was actual voters. In fact, more people came out to vote in 2017 than in 2013.
I’m proud of that fact. That happened. The polling didn’t reflect that. The polling did not show that number. And the polling, rarely nowadays, with all due respect to pollsters, accounts for the true reality of who shows up to vote –
Louis: You mean public polling –
Louis: Those with big campaign budgets can do much more in depth analysis –
Mayor: Oh, I’m glad you feel that about our sophistication. But I’m saying – if you look at public polling, I think a lot of pollsters would say this – if you look at public polling particularly in the last couple of years, it’s having a harder and harder time capturing what people are actually thinking and what they are actually doing. And talk about people voting with their feet – who comes out to vote versus who doesn’t.
And you know what, it’s a stakeholder society. Our Founding Fathers anticipated that people would want to participate. The ones who participate make the decisions.
So, we had one poll that mattered and I’m blessed to say it came back resoundingly. My job for the next four years is to act on what I told people I would do which I have done very consistently in my first term and go out and do town hall meetings. I’m doing two this week, and other ways of staying in touch with public opinion.
But polls, I don’t live and die by polls.
Louis: Okay, fair enough. I think you’re coming to my district, as a matter of fact.
Mayor: I am.
Louis: I’ll be here, so I’ll miss you but I want to ask you about the street vendor bill. The Council was set to vote tomorrow on legislation. Here’s what the group that represents vendors are saying about that.
They’re saying, “Mayor de Blasio is to blame for the pulling of the bill. We met with his team many times in the past years. We worked toward a more fair vending system for all. Then just a week ago after demanding many changes be written into the final proposal, which they were, the Mayor changed his mind. Inexplicably he now strongly opposes the bill and is organizing votes against it. We don’t understand why somebody who claims to be a progressive would harm some of the hardest work and vulnerable New Yorkers.”
Mayor: You know, I deeply respect the vendors and those who have come to town hall meetings speaking up and all, but that’s just a mischaracterization. I mean, there are so many mischaracterizations, typically, that I deal with every day. Here’s another one.
We’ve negotiated for a long time. I have said at more town hall meetings than I can count and to Council Members, here are the things I care about – a strong enforcement apparatus to make sure that people follow the rules and to not create problems for the surrounding community, that we needed an approach to geography and geographical restrictions that made sense particularly – I’m very aware of bricks-and-mortar stores, store owners who are pillars of the community, mom-and-pop stores who are struggling right now.
I don’t want to see the vending community, as valuable as it is, create an undue amount of competition for those bricks-and-mortar stores. Those issues that I raised over and over again were not treated sufficiently in the bill. And what I wanted to see was guarantees that those issues would be addressed and then that would allow for the potential of expanding the number of vendors.
Those issues were not sufficiently addressed. So, guess what, I said, I’m not comfortable with the legislation until we do that. We can start again next month in January. There’s nothing that says you can’t restart or have a new bill that tries to address those issues.
But I expressed my hesitations so many times, I literally can’t count and they were not addressed [inaudible] –
Louis: I mean, this is a hard one. I’ve written about this for over a decade and it turns out the problems go back something like 200 years.
Louis: It’s been a long, slow –
Mayor: It’s New York City.
Louis: – conversation.
Mayor: It’s a real tension but I would argue the brick-and-mortar stores, the mom-and-pop stores are hurting now because of the retail crisis, because of the cost of living in this city and the cost of rent. They are hurting. That does not mean we do not want to help the vending community but we’ve got to strike a balance more now than ever and let’s be patient enough to get a piece of legislation that actually does that. Rather than rush a piece of legislation that’s flawed, let’s get a good one. That could take a matter of weeks or months. It doesn’t have to take forever.
Louis: Okay, fair enough. We’re not going to see you next Monday because it’s Christmas –
Louis: We’re not going to have a show. Hopefully, you’ll be doing something fun. Are you going to be in town, out of town?
Mayor: I’m going to be in town. First of all, Merry Christmas to you and your family and all of your viewers –
Louis: Yes, you too.
Mayor: And Happy Holidays to all. Happy Hanukkah to those ending Hanukkah. Happy Kwanzaa soon. Feliz Navidad.
Mayor: Got them all.
We have a nice tradition. It’s very simple. We get around the tree in the morning. Now, the kids are just post-teenagers so early morning is not their thing anymore so it’ll be late morning. And we open up the gifts and we really do a lot with stockings. Chirlane is a brilliant stocking stuffer.
And it’s really mellow. We try and come up with funny and surprise gifts. It’s just a sweet time. It’s a sweet family tradition.
Louis: Very good. And then the following week, of course, we will see you on New Year’s Day. You will be on that, hopefully, warm and sunny plaza in front of City Hall.
Mayor: It was not warm and sunny last time. We’d like warm and sunny this time.
Louis: Yes, warm and sunny, if you can arrange it, Mr. Mayor.
Mayor: Yeah, I’ll work on that.
Louis: Any special surprises? Any fancy guests?
Mayor: We’re going to have some very wonderful guests but it’s not quite time to talk about it yet. So, stay tuned.
Louis: Well, I’ll be there either way. Thanks a whole lot. Happy Holidays to you.
Mayor: Thank you. Happy Holidays.