Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appears live on WNYC

October 14, 2016

Brian Lehrer: It’s the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC live in the Green Space. Mayor de Blasio joins us now for our weekly Ask The Mayor segment. We’ve got audience members here ready to ask the Mayor some questions. Our phones are also open at 2-1-2-4-3-3-W-N-Y-C, as usual. And you can always tweet a question with the hashtag #AskTheMayor. The Mayor is with us on the phone today as usual. One program note, our next live Green Space Brian Lehrer Show will be two weeks from today, Friday October 28th, when one of the things that we’ll be happy to bring to you is Mayor de Blasio here with me live in the Green Space – also, Joy-Ann Reid from MSNBC and we’ll have other guests too. If you want to get tickets for our show two weeks from today, go to thegreenspace.org.

And for today, Mr. Mayor on the phone – welcome back to WNYC.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: I’m looking forward to being in the Green Space, Brian.

Lehrer: And I am looking forward to having you. Unfortunately, I’ll have to bring like a high-chair or something – a really big stool, so the camera could get us both in the shot.

Our main topic today is voting because, listeners, today is the last day to register to vote in New York State. The deadline is coming up on Tuesday for New Jersey and Tuesday for Connecticut. But, today, is the deadline in New York and Mayor de Blasio is also calling for improvements in the State’s voting system. But before you even get to that, that registration deadline is today in New York State in person. You can get it postmarked by today or online at dmv.ny.gov – DMV as in Department of Motor Vehicles – dmv.ny.gov. And Mr. Mayor, I see that you want registration deadline not to be the 14th of October, but Election Day itself – same-day registration. Some states have that, right?

Mayor: That’s exact – most states have a number of the reforms that we don’t have in this State. So, let me just give you the quick snapshot of that – but first for your listeners, any confusion about how or where to register – go online voting.nyc – v-o-t-i-n-g.n-y-c – or call 3-1-1. To this question of the reforms we need, Brian, the State of New York is arcane; it has got a set of voting standards that are some of the least effective, least inviting in the country. It makes it hard for people to register, hard for people to vote. I said yesterday very bluntly this is not all accidental. The political class for decades in this State kept the number of people participating low by having a very cumbersome registration and voting process. But all over the country, changes like same-day registration and early voting have become the norm and it’s crazy to me that a State that prides itself as being progressive and modern is actually, well – well, behind the national average. There are almost two million people in New York State who are eligible to vote, but not registered – almost one million of them in New York City. So, [inaudible] here’s the quick facts – when it comes to early voting, you have 37 states in this country that have early voting, including Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas – New York does not. When it comes to same-day registration, 13 states and the District of Columbia, including North Carolina, have same-day registration – New York City does not. We are way behind the national curve and I think given the anger that people feel about many of the problems in our society, but also about the many, many people who have been kept from voting in so many ways, certainly was a focal point of the Bernie Sanders campaign to enfranchise more people, including younger people. I think this is the time to go to Albany and get these laws changed once and for all.

Lehrer: How does the Board of Elections verify – how could they verify instantly that someone is actually a citizen and a resident of their district, or, say, who are really who they say they are – verification of voters if they register the same day?

Mayor: Look, I – every state that has done it has come up with standards of what you need to do at the point of contact to register. One of the great myths in this country is that there is a voter fraud problem. In fact, study after study has shown that the level of voter fraud in America is infinitesimal – no impact on the outcome of the elections. It is something that was true in the past – decades ago – it’s just not true anymore. So, I think there are perfectly good ways to verify identity at the point of contact. But if we don’t do these things – I’m going to flip the question for a moment – if we don’t do these things and then look at how two  million people are not participating who should be; that to me is the much greater question here.

Lehrer: Did you see that Manhattan Board of Elections Commissioner Alan Schulkin was caught on video – this is going around online this week – saying there is voter fraud in New York; that in certain neighborhoods people are bussed from polling place to polling place. And he criticized your municipal ID program saying anyone could get an ID without real proof of who they are.

Mayor: That is crazy. And what he said was entirely inappropriate and unfair and absolutely the reverse of what someone should be saying on the Board of Elections. He should really step down. He obviously does not have the world view and the ethics to do that kind of role if he’s going to talk about all these – first of all, falsehood; second of all, the ways that would ultimately exclude people. Look, the IDNYC program was developed for the NYPD. Maybe Mr. Schulkin is questioning the NYPD and their approach to security.

This was a program that we’ve worked on for months and months to make sure it was secure. It’s being used in other cities and countries. There’s been no concerns to speak of about fraud. And again, this is just urban legend that there’s a fraud problem. There isn’t. There isn’t – there’s no proof of it whatsoever.

Lehrer: He also said – he singled out black, Latino, and Asian neighborhoods, basically everybody but whites. Do you think he should step down because of racial prejudice?

Mayor: I don’t want to speak to what’s going on in his soul. I want to speak to his professional role. He’s supposed to be guaranteeing maximum voter participation, and his statements and his values obviously indicate he’s not trying to do that. And to attack one of the things that has empowered people to participate, which is IDNYC, and to attack it falsely, proves that he’s just not up for the role.

Lehrer: With the New York State voter registration deadline today – our news department was reporting earlier that it’s better to do it in person if you can today, because the website might actually be overtaxed. Do you know if that’s a problem?

Mayor: I have not heard that, Brian. We can check. I would say it’s wonderful to do things in person in this day and age. It’s certainly is the best guarantee of the outcome.

Lehrer: October 28th in The Greene Space.

[Laughter]

Mayor: But it’s not always something people have available to them. So if you can register in person that’s great, that’s ideal. If you can’t, go online and I think there will be opportunity to get through.

Lehrer: And one more aspect of this, before we start taking questions from our audience here in The Greene Space. There’s another aspect of today’s voter registration deadline that’s directly relevant to you. Do you know what that is?

Mayor: I am fascinated. What is it?

Lehrer: It is that today is the deadline to register in a party for next year’s mayoral primary. So folks, we don’t know if anyone is going to challenge Mayor de Blasio in a Democratic primary and, of course, there are other offices that would have primaries too. But, you know it’s – I mean it’s incredible to me that if you want to have a say in the primary election in September of next year, you need to be a registered Democrat – or Republican to vote in a Republican primary – by today. Do you support changing that day too to same-day registration?

Mayor: Not same-day, but I support certainly relaxing those standards, Brian. First of all, I just want to emphasize, this is one of the most transient cities in the world. And plenty of people will be coming into New York City to live here between now and the September primary. To the best of my understanding, if you’re a new registrant in New York City, you can declare a party preference at that point and you can vote in an upcoming primary. I think the law tries to discourage people switching parties for strategic reasons, if you will, so they can jump into one primary, then jump into another primary regardless of their true affiliation. And there are states, and I don’t like this practice, there are states where you can – we’ve seen it in presidential primaries; I can’t remember if Iowa, New Hampshire, or both. But you wake in the morning Republican and you decide you want to have an impact on the Democratic primary – sign up as a Democrat for the day, later in the day sign back to being a Republican. I disagree with that. I do think people legitimately decide to join a party or decide to become an Independent – that goes both ways – and they need more flexibility than the current system allows. I think there should be some buffer, but not so much as we have now.

And let’s face it, again, the system that was built in New York State, it is a vestige of Tammany Hall. It is absolutely about inhibiting participation and keeping voting to the most limited number of people possible. It’s not the same as some of the North Carolina or Texas laws that are meant to take away voting rights from people. But it is something in the category of a quiet effort to keep voting as limited as possible. As one of my colleagues from the good government group said yesterday at our press conference, its soft voter suppression, and it’s unacceptable. So, I think that one of the reforms we have to make is to make it not only easier, but allow people if they legitimately change their status to not be put in a situation where they have to do it so far out.

Lehrer: All right. And I’m glad you pointed out that exception to what I had said earlier which is that people who are first-time registrants who are just registering to vote in New York State, much closer to primary day next year, can still choose a party. This is the deadline really to switch if you are already registered.

Well, we have people lined up here in The Greene Space to ask you some questions. So let’s go first to Steve from Crown Heights who came up to The Greene Space today. Hi, Steve.

Question: Hi, how are you doing today, Brian? Thanks for coming. Mr. Mayor, how are you today?

Mayor: Good, Steve. How you doing?

Question: I’m doing great. I’m doing great, but this morning I woke up to hear news about a tragedy yesterday in Coney Island, Brooklyn – my beloved borough. A mother and small child – newborn child – tumbled down an elevator shaft. It wasn’t – my understanding is it wasn’t NYCHA housing, but it was affordable housing. And you ran on a platform of affordable housing for New Yorkers. And I wanted to know what can be done to provide safe affordable housing for the residents of this great City?

Mayor: Thank you, Steve. This was a horrible, horrible tragedy and just sickened me when I heard what happened. Couple points – an investigation is going on right now; the other elevators in the complex were tested immediately; our Buildings Commissioner went right to the site. Thank God the other elevators are fine. This particular elevator had been inspected twice this year and had passed. And there was no – nothing we’ve found so far that tells us why this happened in such an abhorrent way. This happens to be a New York State-sponsored affordable housing development. It’s not part of the City program, but we still have a responsibility to make sure that elevators are tested and working. And from the best of what we understood, this one was. So, this one’s a mystery, but it’s a painful mystery, and we’ll have more to say when all the investigations are complete.

The bottom line on affordable housing in general – I believe that for all the 80,000 new affordable apartments that we are building – they are being built to a very high safety standard. And certainly when you look at our current – the motherload of affordable housing is our public housing buildings, our NYCHA buildings. We’re constantly working to improve safety, and we’ve put a lot more resources into the Housing Authority to improve the physical plans.

So I appreciate the question, and the answer is we’re very, very focused on the safety issue.

Question: Lastly, I’d like to know – how does the Buildings Department play into this? I mean I’ve grown up New York City. I grew up in public housing in my youth. And so, every now and then, we hear about these elevator issues. And I’m not sure if the Buildings Department is responsible for looking into these and inspecting. And what is your administration going to do to make sure that this is followed through and done more appropriately?

Mayor: Yeah, no I appreciate – the Buildings Department is responsible for a variety of types of elevator inspections. And again, this is one where this specific elevator was inspected twice this year. Buildings Department in the past had a lot of problems – I want to be very straightforward. We’ve made a lot of changes. It needed a lot of changes. We’ve also added a lot more inspectors of all kinds to the Buildings Department – a number of them are being – were authorized in the budget; they’re being hired now. So, we’ll have more to say on what happened specifically here, but I think in general, the Buildings Department is actually in a more rigorous place than it was in the past in terms of elevator inspections. I think they’re doing a good job.

Lehrer: Great. Thank you very much for your question. Let’s see, we’re going to go next to John who has come to The Greene Space today from Williamsburg. Hey, John.

Question: Actually, Brian, my name’s Tim. I submitted this question for my friend John. We just moved to Williamsburg, and that’s relevant because John and I talk a lot about the closing of the L train. So, I wanted to ask the Mayor about what the MTA’s plan is to handle all the numbers of people who are going to have a hard time getting into Manhattan from Williamsburg.

Mayor: It’s a great question. I had a long talk with the head of the MTA about this. And, look, – the decision to concentrate all of the work on the L train in what I believe is a year-and-a-half period and have it all shut down during that – obviously, not a fun decision. But I’ve become convinced it’s necessary for the safety of the L line and the future of it. We’re going to work with the MTA. We know they’re going to put on a lot more bus service. But you know Williamsburg – just the physical reality of Williamsburg is going to make that tough to navigate, and the bridge and all. We’re going to be adding ferry service for sure, working with the MTA. We’ve got a lot to think through about how we handle 14th Street, which is going to be very, very affected by this. So, what I can say is the MTA and the City are working very closely. We’re willing to do a lot and are working with them to make this work, so that we don’t have people stuck, you know, so we don’t have a huge, new congestion problem.

The other thing to remember here – and I didn’t understand it until I got this briefing – a lot of people who come in on the L train are going to have the opportunity to divert to other places, so not from Williamsburg – from a lot of other parts of the city where people connect to the L. They’re going to have options to get onto other lines and take the subway in, and that will relieve part of the problem. But for Williamsburg, we’re going to have to come up with more alternatives.

Lehrer: Do you think John would be satisfied with that answer?

[Laughter]

Question: That sounds good.

Lehrer: We go next to Nicole who came down to The Greene Space from White Plains.

Question: Yes.

Lehrer: Is this question also dedicated to somebody else or – ?

Question: No, actually. Well, I’m the parent of two neurodiverse children and we come down to the City quite often. And I have read on the NY Times – and it’s kind of talked about online amongst other parents of neurodiverse children – that the NYPD uses restraint on people with medical issues related to their neurology; EDPs – burrito bags, they’re called. And I was wondering how we can reduce the use of these. I think at the beginning of the year it was something like the first 110 days it was used 122 times. As a parent of people who walk and you can’t tell maybe something is happening, I fear for their future when I see these being used. How can we reduce the use of burrito bags?

Mayor: Well, I’ll say a couple of things – I’m not going to pretend to have more expertise than I do, but I have talked about this with the Police Commissioner in the past and his team. Point one, we’re making a big focus on training police officers to deal with very complexed situations including mental health challenges and other challenges that there really wasn’t a lot of training on before. So, I think it’s been 5,000 of our officers have gotten intensive mental health training, for example, to help them deal with situations where people are in distress and to know different tactics for dealing with it that give them a better range of options and that is already proven to have some success. In terms of the bags, they were actually developed as a way to both – as I understand it – to address when people really were a danger to themselves or others and to avoid things like handcuffs and to avoid situations where a conflict escalated. So, they are actually created as a sort of calming situation. I understand you know that they may not fit every situation, obviously. I need to get a better answer on do we think the mental health training and other approaches will specifically reduce the use or do we think there is always going to be a certain number of people for who this is sort of the most conflict-lessening approach. I’d be happy to get that answer and, Brian, we will be happy to follow up on a future show.

Question: Yeah, I’d like to hear in the future more on this issue and how we can reduce it – I think is very important to New York.

Mayor: And, Brian, if your – Nicole will give you here information to our team we can have a specific follow-up with her as well.

Question: That sounds great, thank you.

Lehrer: We will definitely do that.

Now, before we go to some more audience questions let me ask you about a couple of things in the news. As you know, the WikiLeaks data dump over the past week of hacked emails from Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta has a number that are about you. One was from Clinton aide Huma Abedin who wrote that you want to be seen as the loudest progressive voice for Clinton and to do that he needs access to her. She wrote, he has recently asked to have increasing direct access to her, meaning, Clinton, so he can tell his progressive partners what she thinks about issues important to them. This was last year before you endorsed, I believe. Why did you need direct access to Hillary Clinton?

Mayor: Because, I believe that her campaign needed to speak to income inequality and a variety of other issues. And at the time those conversations were happening, which was to the best of my understanding, late 2014 into the first quarter of 2015, we weren’t getting a clear message on what the campaign would be about – what her vision would be; what her platform would be; what her message would be. And obviously I have an unusual situation – I was her campaign manager once upon of time when she first ran for office for U.S. Senate. And I wanted to very strongly say for everything I believe in; for what I think so many people in the Democratic Party and so many people across the country believe in we needed a strong, bold vision of how to address income inequality. And I think we can all say this about human life, you can’t always get your messages across through other people. And what I was trying to say is I was ready to energetically and intensively work for her election if that vision was in place. And, you know, I was also trying to say very clearly that if the vision wasn’t in place I thought a lot of progressives were going to wait until we saw a vision we could believe in even if we had the greatest respect for her, it’s just a classic necessary part of the political process to tell a candidate that you want to support that you have to see a vision that conforms to the values and the issues of the day. So, that is what that was about, and, look, I talked to a number of folks in the media about this yesterday. I’m very comfortable with the fact that I pushed the Clinton campaign to take a more progressive stance. And even if that meant holding out for a while I think that is part of the political process and that is how I am going to comport myself. I think – I’ve said this – I think it’s the beginning of a progressive era and Bernie Sanders campaign is a great indicator of that and the Fight for $15 and so many other movements we have seen lately. It is up to progressives to fight for our values. And by the way, look at the Democratic Party platform, the most progressive in decades. That is not because people were always polite. It’s because people fought for what they believed in and it made a big difference.

Lehrer: One thing about that fight from just one more of those emails that I’ll quote from. This one was from you to Podesta and shows that even while you were withholding your endorsement of Clinton, publicly waiting for her to take those progressive enough positions you were promising the campaign privately that you would endorse her. So referring to Bernie Sanders, you wrote, “my message to him,” saying, “this in confidence to you is that I will always want to work with him in the future and will never have a bad word about him, but won’t be supporting him in this campaign.” So, what should people think about you having different endorsement positions in public than in private.

Mayor: I don’t think it is different. If you look at all that material and it is quite clear – and I had a long series of conversations with John Podesta between the time that Hillary announced and the time that I made my endorsement decision. I was saying – I didn’t have the intention of supporting Bernie Sanders. That is not the same thing as saying when and how I would support Hillary and what I would do about it – and the same by the way with many other progressives. A lot of people said very clearly what would be necessary to be involved the way that any campaign would want to see people involved. And I think this thing has to be talked about maybe a little more bluntly. Put aside all of the personalities involved and obviously I have a long history with both Clintons. This is about values and it should be about values. It’s perfectly consistent to say, hey, I have great respect for the other candidate, but it is not my intention to support him. I’d like to support you, but I need to see some things that I think are crucial to changing this country.  A lot of progressive democrats did the same thing. And I don’t know what pieces affected the outcome, but I think the outcome was – obviously Bernie’s campaign was particularly crucial here – the outcome was a much more progressive platform than this party has had in decades. And I think therefore we all did the kinds of things we were supposed to do.

Lehrer: Let’s go to another audience question. Here in the Green Space, Sylvia came down from the Upper West Side. Hi, Sylvia.

Question: Hi. I want to talk about aging issues, which not too many of the candidates are talking about. I want to know what you and the administration are doing about senior housing and also about aging in place. So many seniors want to age in place – don’t want to go to homes. And I want to know what you’re doing about increasing home healthcare workers to be able to deal with this issue.

Mayor: I appreciate it, Sylvia. So, this is a city that’s demographically changing and Sylvia’s questions are particularly important because this has not been discussed enough. It’s a city that is aging very gracefully because we have many, many people living a lot longer who love this place and don’t want to leave it – want to be right here. And that means a whole set of things have to be done differently. What – some of them are the State – when it comes to home and healthcare workers that’s pretty much – first and foremost, the state policy governs that. But, when it comes to the City, things like affordable housing are crucial to the equation. So first, the affordable housing plan is enough affordable housing plan for half a million New Yorkers and a strong piece of that is senior-focused housing; both building new and preserving housing for seniors in place. Everything that we have done in terms of affordable housing has a very strong impact on seniors meaning the legal services to stop evictions, have helped seniors a lot; all the work to protect the housing authority, and improve it has helped seniors a lot; the rent freeze, obviously, huge impact on seniors. You know we have almost two million people in rent stabilized housing and we have had rent freeze two years running. Seniors disproportionately benefit from that. And also, what we’ve been doing in the last few weeks: a new drive to get people to sign up for the senior citizen rent increase exemption. So literally, we had about 77,000 New Yorkers who qualify for either a rent exemption – a rent freeze – a literal long term rent freeze because they’re either seniors or they’re disabled – 77,000 people are not taking advantage of an available rent freeze right now and we are doing a huge outreach effort. And anyone who thinks that they may qualify for a rent freeze 62 years or older, makes under $50,000, you well may qualify for rent freeze. Pick up the phone, call 3-1-1. So, those are examples of some of the policies that we think will help people continue to live in the City and age in place.

Lehrer: Let me sneak in one more because Kimber came up from Flatlands and I think he has a great question for you.

Question: Hello. Good morning Mr. Mayor and thank you Brian for accepting my question. My daughter attends one of New York City’s excellent public schools. And I need to give her advice in terms of the career that she should pursue so I wanted to ask you: what advice do you see from end – I can tell you that she is into neuroscience and I understand in the couple of weeks or months there will be an executive branch position that will be available but I don’t think she wants to go into politics.

[Laughter]

Lehrer: What advice do you have for her?

Mayor: What’s your daughter’s name?              

Question: Kyomi Johnson. Do you mind if I tell you what school she goes to?

Mayor: You may.

Question: LaGuardia.

Mayor: Excellent, excellent. Well, tell Kyomi that the nation’s always looking for good new candidates, so maybe she’ll change her mind one day – and she’s going to a great school. Look, my advice is – I would say first of all any young person who has a strong impulse especially in this City and this is something I am very proud of as a New Yorker. If it’s performing arts, if it’s the tech sector, if it’s, you know, advertising – whatever it is, we are such a leader in so many fields in this City that the thing that would move me the most is for every young person coming out of New York City Public Schools to look at the extraordinary opportunities in New York City and set their sights early on one of them and pursue it. And there’s much more support we’re putting in place –  lot more guidance counseling, a lot more help getting to college. And a really important example right now because of reforms we’ve made every, every child I public school in junior and high school can take an SAT test for free at their school during the school day. We’ve gotten now tens of thousands of kids who can apply to CUNY and have the application fee waived, so we’re trying to make access to opportunity greater. But, the number one thing is to find a dream and follow it. I often tell young people even if you change your dream in five years. It doesn’t matter. Just to find that dream and follow it intensely. If you said to me Kendall, choose any field, I would just say to young people there is so much going on in the technology sector in this City. You get STEM education and we’ve funded a lot more two year STEM programs at CUNY. Get focused on STEM in the public schools, get a two-year STEM degree in CUNY and right there you could be on your way.

Lehrer: Mr. Mayor if I could just get you on one more thing to hold you for one more minute before you go. And let me do the legal ID here at the top of the hour so the FCC doesn’t yank our license, which is that you’re listening to WNYC FM HD and AM NY, WNJT FM, 88.1 Trenton, WNJP, 88.5 Sussex, WNJO, 89.3 Netcong, and WNJO. Sorry, NJY Netcong and WNJO 90.3 Toms River. We are NY and NJ Public Radio. They don’t mind if I do it really fast but I just have to do it.

Mayor: You’re legal Brian, very legal.

Lehrer: One, I see you are trying to have the City help people in Haiti affected by Hurricane Matthew, which killed many hundreds of people there and left many others in dire straits and it’s, I think, fallen out of the news way too much in this country. So, what role for the City?

Mayor: Thank you for raising that, Brian. Well, yes, Haiti – there are accounts now that have over a thousand people dead and a huge devastation to a country that’s gone through so much. So, we really want to help Haiti – and so many Haitian Americans here. So, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City has set up the ability to channel donations to organizations that are helping Haiti. You can call 3-1-1 or go online nyc.gov and get connected to the Mayor’s Fund. We’ve also had a number of NYPD officers go down to Haiti – officers of Haitian descent who help out directly down there. This is a country that’s going through hell so many times and it’s so very important to directly support in every way we can.

Lehrer: Mr. Mayor, thank you so much. Talk to you next week. 

Mayor: Take care, Brian.

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