November 29, 2021
Errol Louis: Welcome back to Inside City Hall, as we reported at the top of the hour, city officials today strongly recommended that all New Yorkers, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor settings. It's part of an effort to try and get ahead of a new variant of the coronavirus, despite there being no confirmed cases in New York yet. Mayor de Blasio joins me now from the Blue Room inside City Hall to talk about this and much more. Good evening, Mr.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good evening, Errol. How are you doing?
Louis: I’m fine, thanks. I hope you've got some good news for us. You've announced a vaccination mandate for employees of childcare programs, including more than 100,000 child care and early intervention program workers, that is scheduled to take effect on December 20th. Is that in response to this new variant or were you going to do that anyway?
Mayor: It's something we were working on for a while, Errol, and certainly the concern about the new variant only made us want to, you know, solidify it even more. We have been climbing the ladder, my favorite phrase, and finding additional mandates that make sense. This was the next one that was ready. We're going to look at other possibilities as well, but we really wanted to make sure we've had a lot of success in our schools with kids staying safe and staff saying safe because we have an employee mandate, we wanted to bring that to the childcare world as well.
Louis: Is the efficacy of the mandate, the reality that I guess empirically it just compels people to get it done, or are you specifically trying to avoid say overloading hospitals? What’s the goal of a mandate?
Mayor: A great question, I appreciate it. Yeah, look, first of all, you and I have been observing public life for a while. I have rarely seen something as consistent as the impact of these mandates. You know, we got Health + Hospitals, 95, 96 percent vaccination level, DOE 96 percent. We're now seeing in the group of agencies that were under that that October 20 group of mandates, more and more of them getting into the 90s now. It works. It works, and yes, it is a very clear, straightforward, you know, if you want to get paid, if you want to continue, get vaccinated, it works because it's so straight forward. The goal is to protect lives. The goal is to reduce transmission, reduce the negative impacts. There's no question in my mind, this is a strategy that should be used much more broadly, and I've called on mayors, governors, CEOs, use this approach because it works and it's not just to ward off the worst possible consequences of say a new variant, because remember right now our problem is the Delta variant. Omicron is a theory to us, in reality right now, Delta is our problem, and we know this works against Delta.
Louis: Governor Hochul warned of a surge in cases as we head into the holiday season. Is there a scenario you can imagine where the city would put a mask mandate back in place?
Mayor: Look, it's something we've talked about. I don't see that immediately, not based on what we know now, because what we know now is our overwhelming focus needs to be on vaccination, and we've seen steady improvement in vaccination levels, and vaccination is a so much more powerful approach than masks. We did put it out the mask advisory to say formally in a way more than we've done previously, it's time to use the masks in a lot of settings, but the key strategy is vaccination. If something changes, of course mask mandate is an option, but it's not one we're using right now.
Louis: Okay, so your public health team, I imagine they're in conversations with CDC offices and other offices all over the world, right? There are public health officials that are in constant dialogue. What are they telling you we should expect as far as this new variant? Is it a question of not if but when? Is it a question of needing to take a stronger measures in the near future?
Mayor: So, a couple of points, we've had extensive conversations, I can definitely summarize it for you. One, absolutely expect it to be here, and be here literally in a matter of days or a few weeks. Two, the consistent pattern with every variant of the coronavirus has been that vaccines work, different levels of efficacy depending on the variant, but they work. So, the strong starting assumption of our whole medical team is vaccination is going to be a very valuable part of the strategy. We don't yet know how potent a part of the strategy, but we know it will be a part of the strategy. The other elements, we think it is more transmissible, but we're not sure of that. We certainly do not have evidence about the danger it causes, in other words, if its impact on health is worse than say the Delta variant, we do not know that, there's mixed signals on that. So, what we're going with is we expect it to be here. We're going to think of it the same way we did as Delta as something that's likely very transmissible, but we are working for the assumption that vaccines will be a very powerful weapon, and then as we get more detail, we'll adjust the strategies accordingly.
Louis: Okay. I'm wondering what conversations you are having with Governor Hochul’s team to coordinate your responses, and I wonder how those conversations might change when you formally declare that you're running against her?
Mayor: Well, look, first of all, I had a very good conversation this morning with Governor Hochul, as every conversation has been, I want to give her credit. We have thoughtful, collegial, open conversations, we have the whole time she's been Governor. I gave her a lot of credit for that. It's night and day from what I experienced with Governor Cuomo, and I've said many times to folks, you know, I have had conversations with neighboring governors, Governor Murphy in New Jersey, Governor Wolf in Pennsylvania, Governor Lamont in Connecticut, and they were all kind of normal, professional, open, that's what I experience with Governor Hochul. So, I don't think the political backdrop is pertinent, honestly, when we're having that kind of conversation. I think our teams talk constantly, a lot of, as you know, Errol, some of the folks on her team used to work on my team. There's a lot of natural connection, and I think there's a high level of coordination.
Louis: I imagine you're maybe like one commercial away from that entire relationship changing, I guess, is what I'm getting at?
Mayor: Well, look, I – as everyone in the city knows, I got a little over a month left in office and my focus is on fighting COVID and bringing the city back, and there'll be plenty of time for the future and the political decisions of the future, but I am perfectly able to have a really good open professional relationship with the Governor, and that's been the way she's comported herself. I feel very good about our ability to work together.
Mayor: Something I noticed today, the upstate infection numbers are much higher than New York City’s, why do you think that's the case? And what do you think the statewide response should look like?
Mayor: Look, I – it clearly is the case because of levels of vaccination and there's different realities in each part of the state, and we should all be respectful and sensitive about that. But that said, the one thing that works is vaccine mandates, and I've been really, really clear. This is something not only for New York State, for every state in the country, we need to move to more mandates because they're the thing that actually get people to move. Most people out there who are not vaccinated. I strongly believe this, it is not a deeply held ideological conviction. Still on the research keeps showing us this, most of the unvaccinated are still people that can be reached, who are uncertain, who have questions, or haven't just been motivated enough to take that step. We got to be more aggressive in reaching those people and mandates work.
Louis: Yeah, I've seen one theory that all of this stems from basically a fear or discomfort with needles and then people fill in the ideology about why they didn't want to take a needle when in some ways that's its own excuse, right?
Errol Louis: Welcome back to Inside City Hall. I’m once again joined by Mayor de Blasio from the Blue Room inside City Hall. And, Mr. Mayor, your successor, Mayor-elect Eric Adams, we learned a short time ago is heading for Ghana tonight. We've got this new variant. We've got these questions that are out there. Do you think he should stick closer to home given everything that's going on right now?
Mayor: I talked to the Mayor-elect and I really appreciate why he's going on this trip. He's about to take on an awesome responsibility. First of all, he really deserves a break, in my opinion, before he takes office. Second, this is very emotionally and personally important to him – as he said, spiritual, really. And I think it absolutely makes sense. And he is being, as always, smart and careful on the health side of things. He's vaccinated and fully able to travel. And that's the bottom line about travel is, being vaccinated. Until we hear some different guidance from the federal government, the rule of the road is really clear, get vaccinated.
Louis: There’s the public health side of it. And then, there's the political health side of it. You've had some encounters when you were a little out of position and had to rush back to the city, because the one thing we know is that emergencies, by definition, can happen at any time to the leader of New York. What would be your advice to the Mayor-elect about taking out of town trips?
Mayor: Well, I’d say – look, it's one of those things, Errol, that – it's a great question, because it's sort of an unknowable answer. The truth is every Mayor in New York City travels. It's part of the job. Whether they're traveling to countries that a lot of New Yorkers come from, or traveling to Washington D.C., traveling to Albany, to the two capitals, or national conferences, U.S. Conference of Mayors, whatever it may be. Travel, right there, is going to be part of the job. Also, people travel just personally with their families. They need a break. Every Mayor, every executive needs a break. Everybody needs a break. Every New Yorker needs a break. So, you're going to travel. It is really important to be able to get back quick. It's really important to recognize if something's happening, that it doesn't make sense to travel. I've many times either postponed a trip or canceled a trip because something was going on. But you know there's going to be those times where you travel and something happens unexpected and all you can do at that point is stay in touch, give a clear message, and get back quick.
Louis: Let's talk a little bit about the race for Governor. We have a new candidate in the form of Tom Suozzi. I'm wondering if you have any relationship with him. He does represent part of New York City and, I guess, technically is part of the City's federal delegation.
Mayor: Yeah, I like Tom a lot. I go way back with him. When I was the HUD Regional Director back in the nineties, Tom was the Mayor of Glen Cove in Long Island, and we used to work together then. We've stayed in touch over the years. We don't agree on everything, but I think he's a very good public servant and he's someone I certainly consider a friend.
Louis: He has – Tom Suozzi has a staked out a pretty firm position on the need to restore the full deduction of state and local taxes from federal taxes. He even sort of made some brinksmanship-like statements about what he would or wouldn't do as far as passing a part of the President's agenda if he did not get a removal of some of these limitations on the deductibility of state and local taxes. Are you in agreement with him on that?
Mayor: Look, let me go back to the origins of this, which was Donald Trump's decision to change the tax structure and what was really a hundred years of bipartisan consensus in this country around deductibility. That was a huge mistake. I think the President and the Congress did the right thing to restore some of what was there before, but they also put some limits on it. I think that was the right balance. So, I'm very glad that happened. And, you know, that righted what I thought was a profound wrong done by the Trump administration.
Louis: Yeah. I mean, it plays out, as you know, very differently outside of New York City compared to how things work out here in the city, that there are a lot of homeowners around the state who really got walloped financially by that, in ways that were far worse than what happened here in the city.
Mayor: Yeah. And that's why, again, it was kind of shocking that a guy who, once upon a time, came from New York, Donald Trump, did something that was so harmful to New York and a number of other states simply for very partisan reasons, and part of an overall tax plan that was a giveaway to the wealthy and corporations in most of its elements – in this case, was an attack on blue states and it was wrong. And, again, I think the President – President Biden and the Congress really did a good job finding a balance point and fixing a lot of what President Trump broke in that case.
Louis: And, I guess, then to put, I guess, even a little bit more political weight on some of what we've heard from Tom Suozzi so far, he says we need to lower taxes. And he says very explicitly that New York is progressive enough, that we need more moderates and centrists to make sure that the Democratic brand doesn't get damaged. And he cites, in part – or, I imagine he would cite some of the losses that Democrats experienced in places like Nassau County in this last general election.
Mayor: Well, I think when Democrats do well, it's when we're talking to working people. And the proposal I put forward, something I know working families will embrace, to have a school open for kids and afterschool available till six o'clock every day, to have summer available in people's neighborhoods, in their communities for free – full-day, full-year, all free. How do we pay for that? By asking those who are very wealthy to do a little bit more and pay their fair share in taxes. I believe that's the kind of position that will appeal to people across the political spectrum to working people, middle-class people, all parts of the state. I don't think Democrats say things like that often enough, Errol. They don't give a clear enough vision of how we're actually going to do something for working people. So, I don't think it's about how do we act more moderate or how do we act Republican-lite? I think we have to be real Democrats and focus on working people.
Louis: What do you do with an issue like a non-citizen voting? This is – putting aside the legal question about whether or not it would survive judicial scrutiny, let's assume that it would, at least for local offices. Where does that fall on the spectrum? And what would you do if that question were left up to you?
Mayor: Look, I do understand the impulse, truly, that, you know, folks who have come here and are part of our community, you know, making sure their voices are heard. But I've expressed my own hesitations about it, because, in the end, I want to make sure that citizenship, which people work so hard to achieve, is valued and is given its full weight. I want to make sure people become citizens who have that right and don't hesitate. So, I really want to make sure that there's maximum incentive to finish the citizenship process. I think there's some open questions here that still cause me to feel concerned about this. In the end, this is the issue, obviously, the City Council is going to look at and potentially act on it. But I do think you're right, the courts are going to have to determine whether it's even something the City can do on its own.
Louis: Could the city benefit – would the city benefit from having an extra 800,000 voters?
Mayor: Look, there's obviously an argument – we want people involved, we want to hear people's voices. But I still – and I've had this conversation with advocates for years – I still have a concern about it. Citizenship has an extraordinary value. People work so hard for it. We don't want people to feel like, hey, it's not worth going to become a citizen. We need people in every good way to want to be citizens, that's what would be healthy for the future. So, I'm sure there are some benefits. I've never doubted that. But I'm not sure it's the right thing to do.
Louis: Okay. We're going to leave it there for now. Thanks very much, Mr. Mayor. We will talk again next week.
Mayor: Thank you, Errol.