October 7, 2019
Errol Louis: Welcome back to Inside City Hall. As we told you before the break, the City is stepping up its outreach efforts in the wake of the murder of four homeless men in Chinatown. Joining me now from Gracie Mansion to discuss that and much more is Mayor de Blasio. Good evening, Mr. Mayor.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good evening, Errol.
Louis: Based on what we know so far about the quadruple homicide in Chinatown, do you see this as an indication that we need to fundamentally rethink either your homeless policy or your mental health policy or both?
Mayor: First of all, it is a really horrible tragedy and we have not seen one like this and I don’t think we’re going to see another one like this. We – you’re exactly right, what you said earlier – we are sending in additional police patrols, additional homeless outreach staff, mental health staff through Thrive. We’re going to make sure that there is a lot of support on the ground for the community. But this is not something we have seen before and as we’re continuing to investigate, we do not see something with larger ramifications. There’s going to be a full investigation. We have to continue to deepen everything, you know – deepen our homelessness policies, our anti-crime policies, our mental health policies. We have a lot to do on all those fronts. But this appears to be a very particular horrible, individual tragedy.
Louis: Mr. Mayor, the question has been raised about whether or not the seriously mentally ill should get a higher priority from project Thrive in particular by the administration in general, that really strong tools like Kendra’s Law which involves involuntary hospitalization and medication, are tools that the City needs to use a little bit more aggressively.
Mayor: Errol, I believe in Kendra’s Law. We do use Kendra’s Law. I think there has been a lack of focus on what it takes to use Kendra’s Law. It is not something that can be applied in every situation. There are actually very clear and substantial standards that have to be met. So, listen, anytime that someone is a danger, I want them off the streets, period. But we have to do in the legal and appropriate manner. And from what we know so far, and there’s a full investigation going on here, this individual had a troubled past but not something that would have activated the use of Kendra’s Law.
So, what we need to do, I think, is get to the root of all of this. And to your original question, my argument is, we have to address mental health needs across the board because it is when mental health conditions go untreated that these situations grow over time. It is, in fact, crucial to address all levels of mental health challenges because a lot of times, as appears to be the case here, they do not manifest as something worthy of using Kendra’s Law until it is too late. So, we have to get at the root of this for many, many people and we have to, at the same time, continue to deepen, as I said, our policing strategies, our homelessness strategies, everything. But we have to see this as a particular incident until we have all the facts. Once we have all the facts, we’ll be able to give a clearer analysis really based on the details.
Louis: Some of the mental health professionals that I’ve interviewed say that it’s a mistake to think of it as a simple continuum with, you know, violent behavior on one end and, sort of, mental and emotional distress of a much more minor type at the other end, that schizophrenia and things that can be treated, for example with drugs, are fundamentally different and that to use money for the less serious problems and not attack the most serious problems, leaves the kind of gap that contributed to the tragedy we just saw.
Mayor: I don’t agree with that analysis and again we don’t even have the facts on what happened with this individual so I think it’s very premature, Errol, to draw conclusions. But what little we do know so far – again, I’ve seen nothing that suggests you could have used Kendra’s Law. And if we could have, we would have, and we do. But second, I think mental health – we’re talking about one of the most complex areas there are in any subject we deal with in government. You can’t say, someone just registers on an exact point on a scale so we know they might commit an act of violence and then we know exactly what to do. It’s not like that. Our job is to reach people with every kind of mental health challenge and to reach them with whatever they need using all the resources we have.
There is an artificial discussion going on here that suggests that there is some bright line between folks with the kinds of needs that might lead to violence and everyone else. It’s just not like that. There are a whole lot of people who have very serious mental health needs, the vast majority of whom do not commit any acts of violence, and what we’ve got to get to is how do we keep building out a mental health system that actually reaches people consistently and gets them to stick with their care. This is one of the most important issues, Errol. [Inaudible] through Thrive to make care more and more easily available. Some of the worst strategies we’ve seen are folks who actually were assigned to get a certain type of care, fell through the cracks, and then nothing else happened because it wasn’t easy to access because there was no follow up. That’s the kind of thing we’re trying to solve for.
Louis: But, Mr. Mayor, in this case Mr. Santos, who is the suspect in this case, he’s been arrested at least a half-a-dozen times for, you know, biting a man’s cheek in one case or sexual assault in another case. These are sort of clear indications that this is not somebody who needs to call a hotline or something, right?
Mayor: I don’t think it’s about calling hotline. It’s about getting someone connected to care and keeping them connected to care. Again, we can wish for, you know, an easy solution and a lot of folks – I don’t blame anyone who, for example, talks about the importance of Kendra’s Law. I think it’s important too and we should use it every single time that’s appropriate. But just look at the law, you can’t use it in a whole host of situations. There has to be a substantial body of evidence that leads to the action in that law. The NYPD does not hesitate if they have a situation where they think it’s appropriate to use that type of approach. So, what we have is a lot of situations that don’t rise to that where the goal is to get someone to care and keep them in care.
We cannot always compel it and we have to come to grips with this, Errol. There is a whole dialogue in this town that is broken, honestly, where people what it to be as simple as the government can just come in and take people off the streets and compel them to care and put them in institutions – and that’s what used to happen, that didn’t work. In fact, it led to a whole series of other tragedies. We have laws today that put really standards on this. What we’ve got to do is fill in that whole space where people need treatment and they need it to be really accessible and there needs to be very strong follow up by government and by the whole treatment community.
That’s what we’re trying to build right now. But I got to be honest with you, Errol, we are starting, in terms of what happened in past years – there was very little foundation to work with in terms of mental health. We’re really trying to build a lot of this from scratch. We need it to be ubiquitous. We need it to be that anyone who needs mental health services can get access to it quickly and easily and there’s a very aggressive follow up to keep them connected to care. That’s actually the long term solution here.
Louis: Okay, I’ll just say one last thing about Kendra’s Law which is the beauty of it is that there’s court supervision and it holds not just the individual but the system accountable to make sure that the City is doing what it is supposed to do to help rehabilitate people. In many cases there’s talk and there’s effort and there’s outreach teams, and people don’t get the services that they’re supposed to get. Let me change to a related topic –
Mayor: Errol, I’m sorry, since you raised that, I just want to speak very quickly to it. We’re going to look at the details in this case. We do after-action on any tragedy to figure out what we have to learn. The NYPD is going to that. Folks in the mental health work are going to do that. But again, I want to – I really want to emphasize this. We need to, any time where we learn there could have been Kendra’s Law applied, that’s very serious, we need to do that. But what I’m finding in so many cases is the conditions did not match the requirements of that law. I don’t want people to think this law is usable in any and all occasions. It’s actually built to be a very important law but narrowly drawn, and we have to understand that.
Louis: At this point, this many years into your administration, if there’s 3,500 people who are sleeping on the streets, my understanding of the methodology was supposed to be that each and every one would be identified, identifiable, and have a treatment plan or an outreach plan. Can you say that is the case for the 3,500 who are on the streets right now?
Mayor: Well, I can tell you something very powerful – over the last few years since the HomeStat initiative, exactly what you’re describing, Errol. It is literally an effort to go person by person, figure out what their challenges are and their problems are, if it’s substance abuse, mental health, whatever it is – figure out what will get them off the streets. We have over 2,000 people who have come off and stayed off the streets over the last few years since we started HomeStat. That never happened before in the city’s history.
Have we reached every single person? Absolutely not. We have some homeless people who will not engage an outreach worker at all and some of the homeless people we see once and then the outreach is trying to go and establish the relationship and figure out the strategy, and they never see them again. It is far from perfect. It is definitely working better than any previous strategy and that is why you see the street homeless population starting to go down for the first time in quite a while.
Louis: Okay, stand by, Mr. Mayor. We’re going to take a short break. I’ll be back with more from Mayor de Blasio in just a minute.
Louis: Welcome back to Inside City Hall, I’m once again joined by Mayor de Blasio. He’s at Gracie Mansion and talking to us from there, and Mr. Mayor, I wanted to ask you about the plan to close Rikers Island. I recently spoke with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in whose district Rikers Island happens to sit, she said one of her hesitations is that there’s no – even if the borough jails do get built as an alternative to Rikers – there is no ironclad guarantee that Rikers would in fact be closed. Is that something that needs to be woven into the plan? Does it need to be a City Council resolution or some other kind of declaration from City Hall?
Mayor: Well I am absolutely committed to it being closed and the City Council is as well, and Errol, we’re going to figure out the right way to make that clear and, you know, ongoing commitment. You know, I think it’s – I don’t blame anyone for being concerned given the history of mass incarceration, but I would be – I think I have to make clear, once we build these borough based jails and they’re going to be able to handle all of the inmates in New York City, there’s no reason to have Rikers and there’s much better ways to use that land. Everything there should be taken down and utilized in a whole different fashion. So we’re working on a way to make that real, real clear, but I also think that the facts will speak for themselves. The new jails will be enough to take care of everyone.
Louis: We’ve reported on some down to the wire bargaining that’s going on in some of the sites where the borough jails would be built or expanded where some members of the Council are saying don’t make it so tall, don’t make it so big, and so forth and so on. Are you confident that the vote is going to happen and will the project be scaled back so much that you won’t be able to close Rikers?
Mayor: I am absolutely confident that the support, the votes will be there. I’ve talked to a number of Council members, been constantly talking with Speaker Johnson. This has been a really collaborative effort from the beginning, it goes back several years even to Speaker Mark-Viverito, and there’s been absolute consistency from the Council, including from the four members whose districts these facilities would be in. Everyone has been consistent from day one. There are perfectly legitimate concerns that are always part of a last minute land-use negotiation. We continue to perfect what the exact heights should be and ways we can support the community with other needs that’s absolutely consistent with everything that you see in any kind of land use action. But yeah, what is going to be built will be enough to handle the entire inmate population.
Look, I often have said that mass incarceration did not begin in New York City but it is going to end here. We already have, in 2018, half as many people went through the doors of our correction system as five years earlier. So we’ve seen a massive decrease in the number of people even entering into the system in 2018, also arrests – 150,000 fewer arrests in New York City than five years earlier and crime went down. So this is a whole new ballgame, we’re going to keep driving the number of people incarcerated steadily and State laws, including on bail, are going to contribute to that. So yeah, this final plan, I’m convinced it will be passed and I’ll convince it will be sufficient for space we need going forward.
Louis: Okay, let me switch topics. There is an editorial in the New York Daily News about your proposals for paid-time off for part-time workers. Two things I wanted to get a response on is that they say that the legislations assumptions about who is getting paid-time off was based on single survey of fewer than 2,000 people and then the other point they said was why doesn’t the city already do among its part-time workers, like lifeguards and so forth, why not give them paid time off and practice what your – what is being preached?
Mayor: So of course, the main goal of this legislation is to reach the vast majority of folks who are in fact full-time workers, but part-time workers absolutely are part of it and they will accrue time off according to how many hours they work. So, you know, what I’ve talked about is the importance of being the first place in America to respect full-time workers, including hundreds of thousands who do not have any time off at this point in this city and give them two weeks paid vacation based on full-time work. If you’re a part time worker, it adjusts to how many, you know, hours you work in a year. So I’m confident that’s the right basic approach.
Whatever is ultimately agreed to with the Council, the City of New York unquestionably is going to follow those same rules. In terms of what we have Errol, I think you know, the vast majority of our employment is full-time and all of our employment is unionized in terms of everyday operational work, so I think the people we’re talking about are obviously folks who do not have union protections and don’t have opportunity for time off otherwise.
Louis: Right, right, but you could extend it to any City worker, I mean they all work for you, right? You could do it by executive order, you could simply tell the agency, make sure all part-time workers, whether unionized or not, get paid vacation?
Mayor: Again, I don’t know the specifics of the union contracts for the part-time folks and most of our folks are not part-time. Whatever the law determines, we’re going to do it. If there’s an opportunity to do something earlier, we’re certainly going to look at that, but the goal here is to pass this law in the coming months so I’m not sure if it will be moot at that point.
Louis: Let me switch to a story I read about in The City saying that low-level New York City Housing Authority managers have been putting out thousands of no bid repair contracts, sort of keeping them under 5,000 which I think is the threshold and collectively there are companies that are getting lots of lots of – hundreds of under $5,000 contracts. Which, in effect, amount to in some cases millions of dollars and this is persisted despite warnings from the Department of Investigation that it could lead to corruption?
Mayor: Errol it’s a real issue and we’re going to certainly evaluate again, but the history as I understand it is that recommendations went from DOI to NYCHA in 2017. They were accepted and implemented and that the problems that existed up 2017 have been largely addressed. We’ve definitely want to make sure they’re addressed across the board. So the leadership of NYCHA is certainly going to take another look at that, but my understanding is that from two years ago, actually those recommendations were put into effect.
Louis: Okay, and then finally the 14th Street Busway, the traffic changes that have been put in place. It dawns on me that you are a Brooklyn driver, or have been a Brooklyn driver in the past, this seems somewhat analogous to the Fulton Mall, Which, while great for Fulton Mall itself, is from a traffic standpoint horrible for Flatbush Avenue and for Court Street, and for a lot of the surrounding streets, any concern that that might be reduced on 14th Street?
Mayor: Well first of all, you’re a Brooklynite, I’m a Brooklynite, so I can picture exactly what you’re saying and why you make the analogy. I ‘m not sure I would make the analogy, honestly, I would argue that 14th Street because that bus lane has been – or that bus route has been so important and such a problem that addressing it this way and testing this way and testing it this way is something particular. But what we’re seeing so far is promising. Bus speeds in some cases up to as much as 20 minutes faster, which is fantastic. The goal here is to get people out of their cars, to make it easier for people to take mass transit. I like what I see, but this is going to be over a year of a pilot to really see what it tells us Errol and what will determine for the future of this city. Look as a driver I can say this too you, what I hear from drivers, there number one concern is congestion and the only way we’re going to break through on congestion is to make mass transit worked so well, that a whole lot of people who don’t need to use their car will forego their car. And of course there’s some people who have no choice but to use their car for a variety of reasons. But what we want is for folks who have a choice, to choose mass transit. If this proves to be something that really becomes attractive and more people take it, that’s a great option that could give us.
Louis: Okay, we shall see. Thanks very much, Mr. Mayor. We will see you next week.
Mayor: Thanks, Errol.