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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appoints Commissioners to Protect New Yorkers' Health and Safety

January 16, 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio: We meet again. As I've told my colleagues on my staff, there is nothing more wonderful – how are we going to do this?

Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: [Inaudible] supposed to be on your left.

Mayor: It's all working out. Okay, there. There's nothing more wonderful than making these announcements of new members of our administration. Every moment I take stock of the fact that so many fantastic people are willing to come into public service and help us achieve the goals we've set out, and today is a great example that. And as always, I start by thanking the people who have made this transition process so successful – Carl Weisbrod and Jennifer Jones Austin, our co-chairs; Laura Santucci, now my chief of staff, formerly the executive director of our transition.

My wife could not be here, but I will express her deep enthusiasm about the appointments today and we all are really thrilled to have such great leaders joining our administration. I am looking about – I have found the comptroller. I was going stage left, but now I see stage right. I would like to welcome the Comptroller and look forward to our partnership, and also thank you for the years that you had this great woman on your staff and for teaching her everything you know. We will benefit from that.

We've said from the beginning we had very clear goals. I have reiterated them at every meeting because one of my strengths, Mr. Comptroller, is repetition. I reiterate them at every press conference because this is what animates this process of change. We're looking for three things in the people we choose. We're looking for effective people who can achieve in the context of the public sector of New York City, a particularly challenging venue. People are ready to be effective in this context. We're looking for people who share the progressive values of this administration. We're looking for people who understand the people of New York City – an administration that reflects in every way the people of this city. And today's announcements clearly indicate consistency with everything that we've been trying to achieve in this process.

These two leaders are tasked with the most fundamental work of government, which is protecting the health and safety of our people, including those who are most vulnerable. The agencies that we're talking about today do some of the most serious, difficult, earnest work in all of government. And it demands people are not only extraordinary professionals with deep experience, but people of great compassion, great understanding of the people of New York City, and people who value our neighborhoods and our communities, and want to work closely with our communities to achieve the changes we need to improve people's lives.

Let me first talk about Dr. Mary Bassett. She has literally dedicated her entire life without interruption to protecting people's health, to protecting the health of those in particular need. With more than three decades of experience in hospitals, nonprofits and health agencies, she has literally lived her values.

Grew up in Washington Heights, went off to college and medical school, I dare say, could have gone anywhere, could have made a lot of money. What did she do? She came right back home and went to Harlem Hospital to serve her community. She spent years in service, not only of people in this country but also overseas, working with UNICEF and working as program director for the African Health Initiative and the Child Abuse Prevention Program at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Every stop along the way, whether here in New York City or whether overseas, focusing on ways of getting healthcare to folks who need it, changing patterns that weren't working and replacing them with new and innovative approaches, always thinking from the grass roots up. And when Mary and I started talking about the vision of this administration, we had a meeting of the minds right away because she understands healthcare from the neighborhood, up from the family, up from the grassroots up. And that's how we're going to make it work in this administration.

A lot of New Yorkers have already seen the positive results of Mary's work from the years she spent as the deputy commissioner for health promotion and disease prevention at the Department of Health. She, in fact, was the leader of the efforts to ban cigarette smoking in bars and restaurants, to change the approach to trans-fats, to require restaurants to post calorie counts.
So much of what we understand today in this city as important and necessary actions that have greatly improved the healthcare of New Yorkers happened through the work that Mary did as deputy commissioner. And I have said many times, this is one of the areas where I often agreed with Mayor Bloomberg. I was honored to be one of the first City Council sponsors of the smoking ban for bars and restaurants. So it is only fitting that we've reached out to someone who was one of the architects of these successful policies, to now bring them forward, update them, and start to work on new fronts to improve community health.

Very consistent with the approach that I believe in, Mary helped to establish a network of district public health offices in underserved neighborhoods like East Harlem, Central Brooklyn, and the South Bronx. And again, that approach is something I believe in deeply and we will continue. As our next commissioner for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, she's taking the reins of an agency that's legendary. It's one of the great public health agencies anywhere in America, anywhere in the world. And it's a trendsetter.  This is a role that is inherently one that requires a visionary leader, and someone who's ready to keep blazing new trails in terms of helping people to be healthier and helping to reach folks who still haven't gotten the support they need. It's an agency that has always been innovative, that's come up with life-saving policies over generations, and Mary herself was one of the people contributed greatly to the work of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. And she is ready now to take the reins of that agency as commissioner.

She's going to help us protect community healthcare in neighborhoods that have constantly felt some of their needs go unaddressed, that have felt some of the programs that were successful slip away because of budget cuts from the federal government. This is a tough time in this city with what everyone has gone through economically these last five or six years and people's health needs have suffered in the bargain.

That's why we need an aggressive, innovative health commissioner to continue the work of making sure that saving lives is our top priority. So I'm very, very proud to announce Dr. Mary Bassett as our new Commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene.


We may need these – I think we will.

We've got our new, very sleek step stool. You like that, Lilliam? I also – I'm sorry to say that I failed- until we had the step stool situation, I failed to give due credit to our Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, who was deeply involved in the process of selecting Mary, as was First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris. Thank you to both of you – and over to you.

[Commissioner Mary Bassett speaks]

Mayor: Well, next is a very special moment for me because it's one thing to find a great leader and name them to an important office, but it takes on that much more meaning when it's a friend and someone you've served shoulder-to-shoulder with, and I know, again, Scott Stringer feels the same way. We have been blessed by the work that we've been able to do with Rose Pierre-Louis.
We are naming Rose today to a crucially important role, and one that, I dare say, will take all the resolve and experience and focus that she brings to it. We're naming her Commissioner of the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence. Rose has shown me over the years – and I know the Comptroller feels the same way – a kind of focus, a kind of reliability, trustworthiness, follow-through, a commitment that she puts into action readily.

And again, there is no area in which this will be more necessary than when it comes to the work of combating domestic violence and all violence against women. I've seen over the years – and so many of the things that Rose has done – she has risen to become a true voice of conscience in this city, especially on issues of social justice and all issues related to women and the needs of women.

She has an unparalleled background on these issues and she's built a deep connection with communities all over the city, with survivors of domestic violence, and with the advocates and organizations that work every day to protect them. It's difficult works – it's really difficult work. Whether it's securing orders of protection, or emergency transfers to public housing, or shelter for victims and their families, this is work that demands urgency and it requires working, literally, with a host of city agencies, and constantly ensuring that every type of red tape is cut when it comes to protecting women in danger.

We know when it comes to this work that, literally, we have the lives of people in need in our hands and it's our obligation to every single time answer the call and answer it well. And that will be Rose's mission and it's one that she has proven herself absolutely ready for. She began her work at Queens Legal Services where she pioneered workshops for victims of domestic violence so they could obtain a divorce from their abusers without having to wait for an attorney.

She represented victims of abuse in court and she's taught other attorneys how to represent them in these cases. As Manhattan Deputy Borough President, she was a champion on issues like food justice, on a range equity issues in the Borough, especially in low-income communities, and she continued the work she has started in her previous employment of fighting for victims of domestic violence.

I should also note, Rose is a prominent leader in the Haitian-American community, one of the most respected leaders in the Haitian-American community. And by everything that we can see, she will be the first city commissioner from the Haitian-American Community – a growing community in this city and one that I know will be very proud today with Rose's ascension.

I should also note that a former boss of mine, Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton, asked Rose to serve on the official United States delegation to the conferences that were coordinating international aid following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. And I know she has made support for Haiti a passionate cause in her life.

So in everything that I've seen over the years from Rose, I have seen a tremendous, consistent, forceful leader, one ready for the challenge ahead, and it's my honor to introduce to you, Rose Pierre-Louis.


I think I'll give you this just for an extra boost, okay?

[Commissioner Rose Pierre-Louis speaks]

Mayor: Let me just offer a few sentences in Spanish.

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

With that, we welcome your questions. First on-topic – we just want to do on-topic first. Yes?

Question: Question for Dr. Bassett. Doctor, in a comprehensive HIV prevention program, what role do you invasion post-exposure prophylaxis and pre-exposure prophylaxis playing? Also, if you could talk generally about HIV prevention – what’s your vision for that?

Dr. Bassett: Well, obviously HIV prevention is critical to changing the scope of the epidemic. We have effective treatments for people who have HIV, we can save lives with treatment, but the only way to put an end to this epidemic is to prevent new infections. And both post-exposure prophylaxis, which has been in place for years, and more recently pre-exposure prophylaxis have been shown to be effective. Now, it’s been the experience that the uptake of pre-exposure prophylaxis has been quite low, and I think that that signals the fact that we have to talk to affected communities to try and understand what’s important to them, what they value. And so certainly there’s in the engagement of prevention, which requires people to alter their behavior. We have to engage with communities to ensure that we are addressing their needs.

Mayor: Yes, Grace?

Question: A question for Dr. Bassett. When Mayor de Blasio was introducing you, he highlighted the fact that when you were at the Health Department under Mayor Bloomberg that you worked leading the campaigns to ban smoking, ban trans-fat, post calories. I’m wondering, if there were critics of the Health Department when Mayor Bloomberg was at City Hall – he said it felt like they were overreaching, they were trying to be too involved in people’s lives, that City Hall was trying to sort of run a nanny state –

Dr. Bassett: You’re talking about the nanny state.

Question: Right, so, is there – what do you say sort of broadly about those criticisms, and do you see yourself running the Health Department differently when it comes to issues like that?

Dr. Bassett: Well, let me first say that I view it as an obligation and a responsibility of government to ensure that people have the opportunity to make healthier choices. And I think that all of the regulations that you’ve just mentioned were in support of that – that they’ve helped people have healthier choices. At the same time, of course, people have the right to express their concerns and have their legitimate concerns addressed. I think it’s important that we not only identify interventions that are important, that tackle the leading causes of death, that will work, that we have the tools and resources to implement, but that we also engage with the population we’re seeking to benefit – the public – and ensure that we’ve listened to their legitimate concerns and heard their recommendations. So, the fact is that we need to engage better with communities as well as to continue to use these very powerful tools of public health in the form of legislation, regulation, and so on.

Mayor: Let me add to that that, you know, we know we can do better. Again, I’ve for a long time felt the core impulse of the previous administration when it came to public health was correct and I supported it. But I think Dr. Bassett is right. We have to do a better job of communicating with communities all over the city. We have to do a better job of listening. I always say – and this has been true with a number of our agencies where we’re making changes – that you can tell when an agency is listening, you can tell when the government is listening, you can tell when a leader is listening, when they change some of their thinking and some of their plans according to concerns raised by communities. So you stay true to the vision, true to the mission, but oftentimes community residents will tell you there’s a better way to do it, or they’ll point out an unintended consequence that we have to address. If the doors of City Hall and the ears of the people at City Hall are closed to those ideas and those concerns, we simply won’t do our job as well as we could. So we – Dr. Bassett and I talked about this quite a bit during her interviews, and I’m convinced that she understand that we have to be consistent and resolute in promoting public health, but do a much better job of engaging communities, listening to them, improving our plans as result of those dialogues, and showing people that we want this to be a endeavor we do together. This is not top-down. This is something we will do with the people of neighborhoods all over the city. Yes, Emily?

Question: One of the most high-profile initiatives – health initiatives of Bloomberg’s administration is a ban on large sodas, and you’ve indicated your support for that. How soon will we see action on that and what sort of action?

Mayor: Well, you know, the court’s dynamics continue, legal dynamics are playing out, and as I’ve said, repeatedly, I think the Bloomberg administration was right on that issue, and we’ll continue to support that position. I always say – again, I might express the approach a little differently than my predecessor. I talk about it as a parent. As a parent, I can tell you how tough it is to win the battle against sugary drinks and food. And Dr. Bassett and I talked about this issue. I was very – found her remarks very compelling about how so much of our food today is actually really detrimental to people’s health, or as the First Lady likes to say, it’s not actually food. It’s – there’s no – there’s no nutritional content in a lot of what particularly our young people take in. So, I supported that policy because I thought we needed to help parents to fight back, and that bluntly we, as a society, have been losing this battle, and we can’t afford to lose it. So, that’s why I support the policy. But I think we could do a much better job of working with parents and working with communities to help them understand why this is a good idea, and get their buy-in, and find ways pro-actively to reduce the amount of sugary drinks that our young people consume. Yes?

Question: I also have a question for Dr. Bassett. The Bloomberg administration, as I’m sure you know, instituted a policy about the circumcision practice, metzitzah b’peh, out of concern for infants contracting herpes. They’ve required that the people doing this give out – have people sign parental consent forms that they’ve been informed of the risks. Are you going to continue- are you going to enforce that policy?

Mayor: You start and I’ll jump in.

Dr. Bassett: Okay. Well, as you say, this is a policy that doesn’t ban the practice, but it requires that parents be fully informed of the potential risks. There have been some 13 infant deaths in the past decade related to risks associated with exposure to a practitioner who transmits herpes. So the intention is to keep that in place. But in line with what the Mayor has just said, much more eloquently than I, we have to ensure that people understand the purpose of these regulations and we need to do a better job of listening to their concerns about them and better communicate it. Mr. Mayor, would you like to add?

Mayor: Yeah, and I – and I want to clarify because we’ve, obviously, talked about this issue a lot in the last year. I’ve said we’ll keep it in place while searching for a solution that we think is more effective. I think it’s evident that because there hasn’t been the kind of dialogue necessary to get to common ground on this issue that we can do a better job of coming up with an approach that, I think, is much more effective at protecting the lives of our children. The fundamental priority here is protecting children’s lives. And we’ve had a very painful week, or two, in this city. Whether it was because we lost children because of traffic fatalities or we lost children because of child abuse, we’ve lost children this week in a very painful and vivid way that reminds us of our obligation. So when it comes to this issue, I see it through the same prism – our job is to protect children. The current approach can be better, and that’s what we’re going to figure out a way to do with the community. Totally consistent with what I said a few moments ago: with the community. In the meantime, the forms will stay in place while we seek a better path. Yes?

Question: One of the ways the Bloomberg administration has done outreach and education is through advertising, for example, the subways. Some of them have been somewhat controversial. Can you talk about your vision? Will you be doing more changing?

Mayor: Well, look, I think – one, I think some of that approach has been – some of the ads have been very effective, and certainly I commend the concept of portraying these health challenges in a way that’s really compelling and gripping. We have to figure out, however, what we think is the best way forward and most effective way going forward. And it is important that we think about what will hold at the community level, not just momentarily but in a more consistent, long-term way. This is, again, something Dr. Bassett and I talked about quite a bit when we talked about the vision for this agency. We want to help people be healthier in a consistent, long-term manner. We’re not looking for a short-term impact. And so I know that Dr. Bassett will assess with us whether that particular approach is the best way to use our resources or whether we want to do something else going forward. I can guarantee you, however, what we do on many fronts, you’ll see quickly a difference in that we are going to focus more on the grassroots level. Not just sending out the messages sort of through mass media or larger pronouncements, but actually getting ourselves out – us out to communities, working with community allies, working with nonprofits and advocates, and using a lot of tools to give us a direct connection to the people of the city to get these kind of ideas across. Sally?

Question: Another question for Dr. Bassett – you talked about social justice and the gaps in healthcare among people. What can you do as Commissioner to close those gaps or sort of work on that problem?

Dr. Bassett: Well, you know, the leading causes of death, as we’ve talked about, are related to unhealthy food, tobacco – and they’re also the things that drive the disparities in healthcare. So the key thing here, I think, is acknowledging the gap and setting a target to reduce it. It’s possible, there are many pathways to improved health, but we have to ensure that we seek to deliver those to the people who are the most vulnerable and are suffering an excess burden of disease.

Mayor: I would just echo that I think – I’d say this about Dr. Bassett, I would say this about now-Commissioner Pierre-Louis – that we don’t work from the notion that the status quo is acceptable. And this is something I think animates everything I’ve said in the last year. I know from the work – the extraordinary work these two women have done, they don’t accept the status quo in this town. And so we start from the assumption that we’re going to set ambitious goals and that that is the only way to move this whole large government forward to help people in the way we need to. Yesterday, we talked about the goal of zero traffic fatalities – an incredibly ambitious goal and a necessary one. After the very troubling reports came out about the death of Myls Dobson – and those reports got worse and worse with every passing day, and more gripping and terrifying with every passing day – we said our goal is to save every child. And I think when people up and down the line in the City government and all the local organizations we work with here that we mean business and we’re not going to accept disparities that have been a part of this town for too long, that’s what moves the needle. Everyone knows how difficult it will be, but there’s such a deep connection between the health disparities and the other disparities we face. We all know that kids can’t learn if they’re not healthy. We all know that it’s very hard for people to work their way out of poverty if they’re not healthy. So we see this as a continuum and we’re resolute about setting the kind of goals that actually pull us all towards a level of action and achievement that might have been previously thought not reachable.

Question: Do you have any examples – I just wonder, do you have any examples of goals that you’ve set within the Health Department?

Mayor: Well, we’re just starting the process of figuring out the specifics of where we want to go forward. Again, I start with a very appreciative continuity with a lot of the core policies of the Bloomberg administration. We’re now going to figure out, after Dr. Bassett has had a chance to do a full review, what kind of goals we’re going to set specifically. Obviously, in other areas we’ve been vivid and specific – pre-k, afterschool, traffic fatalities, et cetera. You’re going to be seeing a lot more of that kind of delineation. Yes, in the back?

Question: Yes, for Dr. Bassett, the story was told many times how when Dr. Frieden, a dozen years ago, interviewed for this job, he came in and his big sale was tobacco. Everybody was talking about bioterrorism after 9/11 – he said tobacco and closed the deal. Obviously, you’ve been talking about a lot of different issues, a broad range of things, many paths, as you say. But is there one thing – one thing you’re going to go out on a limb on, one thing that above all else is concrete, that you want to focus on as a means to these ends you’re discussing?

Dr. Bassett: Well, that’s a good question. Thank you. The reason that Dr. Frieden focused on tobacco was because tobacco was the leading preventable cause of death. And as much change as there’s been, the leading causes- preventable causes of death remain the same. They’re tobacco, unhealthy food – or maybe we should start calling it something else – unhealthy calorie density. Those are what we need to focus on. We need to – and the – something that’s came in during Dr. Frieden’s time that all of us, all over the globe, not only in New York City, appreciate better is the importance of tackling obesity and all of its consequences. So tackling the leading causes of death remains a priority. And the lens through which we will pursue that is to ensure that we deliver good health to every resident of New York City. So that the lens through which we pursue it is that we want healthy communities that reduce the disparities between neighborhoods. It doesn’t need to be repeated that there is no such thing as a zip code in our genetic code. We – every single person has the ability and the right to attain the best possible health.

Question: But at the top of your wish list of great ideas to take on obesity that others haven’t done or maybe someone’s done here that you want to bring in, is there – is there something even remotely analogous to the in air – the Smoke-Free Air Act?

Mayor: I’m going to send it back to Dr. Bassett, but I just want to frame for a moment in response to your first question, Dr. Bassett and I both have tremendous respect for Dr. Frieden and Dr. Farley and, again, you’re going to see a lot of continuity on the core policies. But I think what is the call to arms for us – what’s the change – is the way we’re going to approach making these policies stick at the community level. Let’s face it, there’s been areas where the policies were right but there was a lot of misunderstanding and resistance at the community level. That means we have to do a better job of working with stakeholders, we have to do a better job explaining and getting buy-in from community residents. That’s going to have, we think, a fundamental impact on the effectiveness of these policies. There are some elements of the policies that probably could be improved. So I want to amplify Dr. Bassett’s point – the core template is a very good one, so we’re not looking for a major, major new template. We think it is a good template to start with, but we think it could be implemented in a way that is more effective and lasting, and that addresses the disparities more deeply. And that’s what we’re focused on. Let’s bring you right back up.

Dr. Bassett: I just want to – you’ve said what I –

Mayor: I stole your lines?

Dr. Bassett: Well, Mr. Mayor, you’ve said what I would say.

Mayor: We think it’s a good template to start with. But we think it could be implemented in a way that is more effective and lasting, and that addresses the disparities more deeply. And that’s what we’re focused on.

Dr. Bassett: [inaudible]

Mayor: I stole your line?

Dr. Bassett:  Well, Mr. Mayor, you’ve said what I would say and- just to add to that, it should be obvious that you can’t change people’s health without their knowledge and consent. They have to be engaged in that process. And that’s really what we intend to build – bring to this, because everyone shares a goal that they want their children to be healthy so that they can go to school and learn. Health is such a critical resource for everything we do in life. And so it stands to reason that communities should be our ally in this process and we need to do a better job in ensuring that that happens.

Mayor: Who’s after that? Rich?

Question: Mr. Mayor, if there’s an agreement on the core goals and objectives, tactics, or –

Mayor: No, no, again, there’s a – core objectives – we believe there’s a better way to achieve them and make them more effective for the long term.

Question: Is it accurate then to say that you would have a kinder, gentler approach?

Mayor: You trying to use a George HW. Bush construct here, is that – you’re the first person to try to apply that to me, Rich, and I – well Scott does it a lot, but [Laughter] – a lot of time Scott will start a conversation and say, you know you just reminded me of George Herbert Walker Bush from what you said the other day. I said, Scott, there’s a thousand points of light that we are going – [Laughter]. I think it is about a more community-friendly, community-focused approach – an approach that listens better and that acknowledges – I think a beautiful phrase Dr. Bassett just used, ‘with people’s consent’ – the consent of the governed – I believe it’s in one of our foundational documents. If you’re trying to change behavior, sure some of it happens through law and regulation. And some of it happens through education. For example, the subway ads and the TV ads have a place. But something deeper has to happen if you want it to work for the long term and Lord knows that’s true when it comes to combating domestic violence and violence against women. This is about something more fundamental. And our vision is to go out into communities with every tool we have – and we have a lot of tools in the city government – and change the discussion on the ground and really engage people in it. And that means they have a right to say, you know what? Your policy could be better if you did this. Or, your policy might work better for our community, specifically if it was in our language, if it recognized a particular element of our culture. There’s a lot of things we need to do but we’re going to do it from the grassroots up, and I think that’s going to be the profound difference in the approach. Yes?

Question: In addition to education and community outreach, [inaudible] is taxation and I’m wondering if you’re at all considering if the soda ban doesn’t pass, you know, some type of tax on sugary drinks like San Francisco is doing right now?

Mayor: We – look, the soda ban, we think is the right thing to do, and we’re – we feel strongly about our legal position in it and that’s where we’re focused. And, you know, that’s – again, you know I don’t like to suggest plan B’s when we think there’s a plan A that’s quite readily available. So that’s where we’re staying. So we have no other plans. Jennifer?

Question: Last week in Staten Island, you spoke about the need to have the health department kind of change the way that it interacts with small business owners and restaurant owners after a lot of them have seen a lot of fines out of the inspection process. What are you and the health commissioner planning to do to kind of take that issue on right away?

Mayor: We – and I said this over the last year quite a bit – when it comes to protecting people’s health and safety, that is a foundational requirement of government. But I think we saw in a lot of the enforcement, and not just in the health department, I think we saw it in the sanitation department. We saw it in consumer affairs. We’ve seen it in other agencies. We saw unequal, uneven enforcement. We certainly saw it in the health department in the inspection process. So what we want is – and I think it’s a subset of this larger point of working with communities – we want to work with store owners, restaurant owners, bodega owners, diner owners. We want to work with them to get it right. I don’t think it’s a state secret that some of the enforcement approach over the last five years was based on a need for revenue and a perceived view with some in the previous administration that that was an acceptable way to go about it. We don’t think that is acceptable. We think when enforcement is merited, be tough and resolute. When there’s a health and safety issue that is not being addressed, especially after warnings and it’s not addressed, we’ll throw the book down. But we want to emphasize – rather than penalizing and fining – we want to emphasize fixing the root cause problem. And we think we can work more effectively with businesses to get it right. So the grading system, for example – the restaurants – the grading system per se, is not the problem. The implementation can be better and more consistent. And you know, I think it gets back to this larger point of working with people. When you hear business owners, restaurant owners from all over the city – every walk of life, every background say exactly the same thing about their experiences. And I’ve had several years of this, because you know we did – when I was public advocate, the report about the fines that pointed out there was a huge disparity in the fines in terms of boroughs and a clear bias toward the outer boroughs, particularly toward the Bronx. There was clearly a bias toward immigrant communities. Those are not acceptable. So we’re going to do a lot more to communicate, educate. We’re going to do a lot more using people’s native languages, to help them understand the rules so they can get it right. We want to get away from a gotcha culture and get to a culture that actually gets everyone to a place of health and safety, because that’s the end goal. It’s not the revenue. It’s getting these stores, these restaurants to be safe. Yes?

Question: Just to follow up, I know that back in September, you suggested – on the topic of the soda ban – that you would also pursue legislation through the City Council. Is that something that is still in the works if the soda ban –  

Mayor: If it’s needed, but again, right where we are now, we think we’re in a legally strong position and that’s where we’re focused. Yes?

Question: Other subjects Mr. Mayor?

Mayor: On what?

Question: Can we move on to other subjects?

Mayor: Let’s see if Mr. Walzak authorizes it. You should have like a – a kind of flick of the wrist or something Phil, that indicates your assent. Yes?

Question: I have two if you allow me. First one is about stop and frisk. The police commissioner yesterday – Commissioner Bratton said that stop and frisk has more or less stopped – that it had been halted entirely in some neighborhoods, it’s been more or less stopped. He acknowledged that some of these reductions – a lot of them have already happened in the previous administration. So what we want to know is what, if anything, has changed in regards to this policy since you took office on January 1st? And are the number of stops and frisks down more today than they were when you began at the beginning of this month?

Mayor: What changed, changed over the last few years in this city. And again, I'm going to give you a response that is about how things change. And there's a lot of people in this town, and Scott Stringer is one of them, who stood up early and strongly on this issue. And it's because people stood up and I was honored to join them – because clergy stood up, community activists stood up, over the last two years– that, honestly, change began to happen because people at the grassroots of this city spoke loudly and consistently. You know that that change was resisted by the previous administration quite aggressively. But at a certain point, the mayor and the then –police commissioner backed away and started to modify their policies. There's more to be done, but what is clearly already a good news story – and I agree with Commissioner Bratton that real progress is being made – we are solving this problem as we speak, because the numbers were going down before, and we're going to continue to bring them down to the level that is appropriate. The message from on high – and everyone – look, everyone in this room watches the fact that leadership really affects how people do their work on the ground. And certainly the men and women of the NYPD who do extraordinary work on behalf of the people of this city, they are listening carefully to their leadership. Commissioner Bratton, I thought, spoke so powerfully when he was announced, and again when he was sworn in, about the fact that policing in this town, from this point on, will be scrupulously constitutional, it will be respectful, it will be compassionate to the communities we serve. That message has been repeated again and again and again over the last month, and it is being deeply felt at the grassroots. It will be felt in the way we do training programs, in the way supervisors supervise within the NYPD. So, a certain amount of change has already begun, more will happen, and the proof will be in the pudding as we talk to people at the community level. We have to keep each and every neighborhood safe while creating a fair and respectful atmosphere. And that's the work we're doing. Go ahead, Melissa.

Question: Can I just follow up? One other thing– apparently today, a six year-old in the Bronx, on day one of your – granted it's only one day in, don't expect everything to change – but on your new Vision Zero proposals – a little six year-old was apparently hit by a school bus in the Bronx. There was a question about a crossing guard having called in and not being immediately replaced. Are you concerned about any shortages of crossing guards? Is that something you're going to be looking at, and what else can you tell us about–

Mayor: Damn right I am. This was a very troubling situation and I think it's one that we have to learn from. We haven't heard all the details yet. The last I heard – thank God– this young man has only suffered minor injuries, and we obviously wish him a very speedy recovery, and I feel for his family. We have to figure out, when a crossing guard is sick and calls in– a way that provides some kind of backup. And we don't have that planned, to the best of my knowledge, from the previous administration so we're going to have to innovate something. Yeah, I can say this again as a parent – I knew the crossing guards around the school that my kids went to, particularly when they were young – P.S. 372 in Brooklyn. And you know, everyone got to know the crossing guards. We depended on them., and they do extraordinary work. And if someone isn't there, it really does change things on the ground. So we have to figure out a way to create some backup there. Yes, Rafael?

Question: First, I'd like to commend you for your Spanish. 

Mayor: I'm working on it Rafael. I'm working on it every day. My tutor –

Question: You have a tutor?

Mayor: Scott Stringer is my tutor.


Mayor: Yeah – Scott, I'm sorry. I blew it. 

Question: [Inaudible] for many years, the former Mayor is speaking Spanish – I never knew what he was saying.


Mayor: I commend him for the effort nonetheless, but what's your question?

Question: My question is about – the other day, when you were at the Goodfellas–

Mayor: The most important issue facing this city, yes.

Question: How do you feel about the way the media treated you because you ate pizza with a fork, and now the restaurant – they are trying to put it– sell it– sell the fork for, you know, for fundraising?

Mayor: I think – I commend them for that. I think this has all been in good fun, and you know, I will continue to express my own culture my own way, and when I get a pizza like that, I'm going to eat with a knife and fork. But I'm glad that they are using this opportunity to help a good cause, so I commend them. And that's a great restaurant, I want to say.

Question: But how do you feel that the media – the so-called mainstream media–

Mayor: Oh, I think it's all in good fun. I think it's all in good fun. Yes?

Question: Mayor de Blasio, the four-year-old that was killed – you had said last week –

Mayor: You mean Myls Dobson? Yes.

Question: Yes. You had said last week that there would be an investigation. Has there been any progress?

Mayor: Yeah, well we expect a fuller response tomorrow. We’ll know by the end of the day tomorrow from ACS – from the investigation they’re doing. Look, I want to emphasize, every day, it just gets more painful the more we learn. And I worked on these issues for a long time as the chairman of the General Welfare Committee in the City Council and I continued working on these issues as public advocate. And you know – and I think my colleagues know this feeling it’s – you would think you get numb after a while hearing about these tragedies, but it just enrages me. And it focuses me. And I know we can do more. And we have to do more. So I am looking forward to the results of the investigation. I have total faith – and I want to emphasize this – absolute faith in two people I have worked with for a long, long time – our deputy mayor, Lilliam Barrios-Paoli and our ACS commissioner, Gladys Carrion. They are both known for the urgency they feel on this issue. So we will get the report and then we’re going to look immediately at anything we can do to improve our practice to protect children. Yes? I’m sorry, the right wing is being unrepresented. First there, and then I’ll come over to you guys.

Question: There was an ethics complaint filed recently against Ambassador Gaspard. I was just wondering if you feel that his involvement in the mayor’s race and in the speaker’s race was appropriate and what would you make of that?

Mayor: I think everything he did was appropriate. He was simply talking to his friends and that’s something people do.

Phil Walzak: Last question, guys.

Mayor: I get two –two. 

Question: Thank you. The finance department announced yesterday a significant increase in the property tax roll. Two questions here – one, how is that going to impact your plans with the preliminary budget that you’re going to release in the next few weeks? And two, what do you say to homeowners who feel like the whole assessment situation with the finance department is getting way out of hand and that it’s basically a hidden tax?

Mayor: Look, I’ve said for a long time – we have a very big endeavor that we have to take on as we go forward to try and figure out how to create a more transparent and consistent system. But that’s – a huge amount of work will have to go into that. For now, it’s obvious that real estate values are increasing all over the city. That’s a good thing for the city. It is a good thing that we’re going to have some additional revenue. That makes Scott Stringer happy. That makes me happy. But it is simply a small improvement against a huge looming crisis and I think this is something that people need to look at very carefully. We have never, in the entire history of this city, literally, the entire history of this city – we have never had all of our labor contracts open, simultaneously. By far, the biggest expense in government is personnel. So when every single labor contract is unresolved simultaneously – we are in such an unprecedented dynamic that we have to understand that that puts us in a very difficult fiscal situation. We’re talking not just about the retroactive, and the numbers there are well known and they are staggering. And I’ve said, we have to only address that through the prism of finding cost savings to see what at all we can do in terms of that – we need to talk more about the contracts that will be struck from this point on and what that will mean for our fiscal health. So whenever we get a little bit of good news, we appreciate it, but I am very sober and clear-eyed about the fact that we’re going to have a very tough fiscal dynamic in this town for the next few years. And we’re in the great unknown. And it’s going to take everything we’ve got, and I look forward to working very closely with the comptroller and we have great professionals that we announced a few weeks ago in terms of labor relations, but it’s going to take every ounce of ingenuity and creativity people have, to get us through this storm. 

Question: Does your preliminary budget include money for some retroactive raises?

Mayor: Again, nice try. We are going to – we said, everything in the negotiation process will be done privately, respectfully, in partnership with the labor unions who represent our hundreds of thousands of employees. When we have something to say about that, we will announce it. Thank you, everyone! Oh, I’m sorry. I fouled – foul on me. You got one. 

Question: I just wanted to ask about the Lunar New Year’s at the end of this month and the Asian community has been hoping to put this on the public school calendar as a holiday. I know you were asked this before, but last week, Congresswoman Grace Meng has proposed a bill on the federal level asking to do the same thing. So I’m wondering whether you have more thoughts?

Mayor: Well, I’ve said I think it’s the right thing to do. And I’ve said that obviously about the two Eid holidays for the Muslim community. This will take real work. This will take time and effort to get this right. Because as we learned a couple of weeks ago, you know, we have a very thin margin in terms of the number of school days that we calendar each year, some of which, sadly, we lose. Whether it’s a snowstorm or, God forbid, something like Sandy, where we lost a number of school days. So to find the way to accommodate these very real and appropriate needs, we have to come up with a long-term solution and grapple with the logistical dynamics, the state law dynamics, the budgetary dynamics. We’re going to find a way to get there. I can’t tell you exactly when because it’s going to take a lot to get there but that’s part of our plan. Thank you, everyone! 

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