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Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks at Plenary Session of U.S. Conference of Mayors

January 23, 2014

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Washington, D.C.Mayor Bill de Blasio today delivered remarks at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Below are the remarks as delivered, and a transcript of the Q-and-A with reporters at the press availability following the remarks at the plenary session. Audio files are included as attachments to this email.


Mayor Smith, somehow that’s familiar to me what you were saying there, I don’t know.


I want to give Mayor Smith credit for creativity and for understanding of the culture of New York City by alluding to that wonderful song. And I have to say thank you to him for his leadership for this organization, and also for what you’ve done for your town, your city. You’ve done – in terms of job creation, what you’ve done in terms of strengthening your downtown. I must say, it is inspirational to all of us to see what you’ve achieved.

And I want to thank a guy I consider my mayoral big brother, Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, who has taken me under his wing and helped to show me the ropes. So Mayor Nutter, thank you for that. Thank you for your past leadership of this organization.


And to all my colleagues here, it’s an honor to be with you today and to begin working together.

You know, today, I am 23 days and two snowstorms into the job.


Mayor Nutter did not explain to me the frequency with which snowstorms come, but now I’m beginning to understand.

And I’m a proud Brooklynite, so I’m going to give you- yeah, you can cry for Brooklyn, we absolutely appreciate that. I’m going to give you my unvarnished opinion on the challenges we face and what I hope to do as mayor, and what I look forward to doing together with you.

You know, I believe- obviously, it is our mission to make life better for working people. And I believe in forging one city, where everyone rises together.

And that core concept of shared opportunity, shared prosperity animates my vision. And I know it – so many people in this room feel the same way. But it’s something we’re going to have to work hard to achieve, because that has not always been the philosophy in this country and in our cities.

There is a long tradition of mayors being ahead of the curve and working for the notion of shared prosperity and working for the notion of people rising together, even when it wasn’t in vogue in the national debate.

Mayors have been at the forefront of the economic recovery in the last five years. Whether it's Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on the East Coast, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson on the West Coast, or Oklahoma City Mayor Mick – I want to make sure I get it right – Mick Cornett right in the middle, mayors all across this country are solving problems, problems that have been ignored for too long.

And without all of us, the distance between Wall Street and Main Street would be even greater than it is today. A report, Mayor Smith had – it was released yesterday, I believe, showed the economic vitalities of cities improving constantly. Not as fast as we want it to be, but constantly improving.

Now, we have YOU to thank, the mayors of the city, for the forward motion, for the progress we’re making. I wish we could say that we could thank the Congress, but let’s be honest. That’s not where the progress is coming from. It’s coming from you. And that’s something that we need to build upon.

And you know that this organization not only unites mayors in common cause, but its origins—that the Mayor referred to a moment ago – its origins are in responding to the crisis that our nation faced economically in the 1930s.

The year was 1932.

14 million Americans were unemployed, our financial system was in shambles, and our cities teetered on the verge of bankruptcy.

Something had to be done, and it was America’s mayors who stepped up, who showed the way.

In the face of great resistance, they convinced President Hoover to sign legislation creating a $300 million federal assistance program for cities. You can imagine at the time what a bold and progressive step that was.

A few months later, the charter of the Conference of Mayors was written at the Mayflower Hotel, just a few blocks from here.

Now today, more than 80 years removed from the start of the Great Depression, America faces another profound economic crisis.

And yes, of course, at the same time, we’ve seen our financial markets bounce back and we’ve seen the managers of those markets doing better than ever.

But for far too many of the people we represent, far too many men and women all over this country are grinding and struggling to make ends meet every day, and just to provide their families with a decent standard of living.

Let me use my city as an example. New York City is one of the – obviously, one of the wealthiest cities in the nation, one of the wealthiest cities in the world. But a recent report by our city government, last year, noted that 46 percent of New Yorkers are living at or near the poverty line.

That’s the reality of today. It’s not just a phenomenon, obviously, in New York, and it’s not just something affecting people on the fringes of the economy.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the disposable income of middle class families in this country shrank by four percent between the year 2000 and the year 2010. We’re all seeing it and experiencing it every day in the work we do.

So put simply, we are in the midst of an inequality crisis.

Fiorello LaGuardia, as you heard – you, everyone I think would acknowledge, he was New York City’s greatest Mayor, and he played an active role in this organization and believe in it deeply. And he also said something I think is a simple summation of the challenge before us. His quote was:

“Only a well-fed, well-schooled, and well-housed people can enjoy the blessings of liberty.”

Now, I’m going to tell you what you already feel every single day. This town we’re in here has been gripped in a frustrating paralysis. And so it turns – we turn, as a nation, to all of us, to the mayors of this country, to address the root cause of inequality.

We should have a consistent federal partner in that endeavor. We understand that that’s not today’s reality. So it’s up to us.

In New York, we will begin by focusing on our most valuable resource – our children.

I want to give you a remarkable fact that I think frames the way we need look at protecting and supporting our children: 85 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before age five.

In other words, before many children ever set foot inside a school, the parts of their mind that determine how they learn, how they relate to others, and how they perceive concepts, those are locked in already.

And we know, sadly, that kids who start behind, fall behind and stay behind. And it’s not something that we can accept.

We need to reach them before it’s too late, and the best way to do that is to provide full-day universal pre-k for every child at pre-k age.


In New York City, we are making this a new part of our social contracts with our families.

The evidence supporting the value of full-day pre-k is overwhelming. And I want to say, it elevates all of our children. It doesn’t matter what their background, what their economic standard, every child is elevated by the opportunity to have full-day pre-k. Our school systems are elevated when all our children have full-day pre-k. Our ability as a country to compete in the world in an ever more-competitive dynamic, our ability to reach the new high standards that we expect and need our children to reach. It all runs through reaching them early enough. And that is true for every child, from every family, from every background. That’s why it’s so crucial that this be universal.

But for those who are vulnerable, for children who start out life with some tough conditions, well, it takes on an even greater value. Let me quote from the Ounce of Prevention Fund:

It found that without high quality early childhood intervention, an at-risk child is 25% more likely to drop out of school. 40% more likely to be a teen parent. 50% percent more likely to be placed in special education. 60% more likely never to attend college and 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

President Obama said in his State of the Union address last year, “We know this works. We know early childhood education works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.”

Now we will fund – in New York City – we’ll fund universal full-day pre-K by asking the very wealthy - those who make a half million dollars or more – we’re going to ask them to pay a little bit more in taxes. Now that’s fair, that’s progressive, that’s the way that we will ensure stable, consistent funding to make sure we reach every child and finally deliver on this commitment to our families.

As I noted in my inaugural address a long 23 days ago, we’re not asking the wealthy to help us out to punish success. We’re doing it to create more success stories. And it is for our future that we take this action – to make sure that our future and the future of our children is secure. And of course, everyone in this room knows, our jobs involve preparing for the future of our cities and our people while simultaneously grappling with the here-and-now. And right now cities all over this country are addressing the crippling, unacceptable income inequality that we face by enacting policies that provide working people with basic rights and protections.

From San Francisco to Washington DC, from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, paid sick leave is becoming the new standard in how we protect vulnerable families. Last Friday, I put forward new legislation that expanded the right to paid sick leave for over a half million more New Yorkers – and that’s legislation we intend to pass this year and implement this year. And if we can achieve this important reform people will no longer have to make the impossible choice between taking care of themselves or their children or, alternatively, losing a day’s pay or a week’s pay or – God forbid – even running the risk of losing their job.

Now, we all know, for so many of our citizens, the loss of a job is catastrophic at this moment in economic history, but even losing a single paycheck can disrupt a family profoundly. How many people that we represent are one paycheck away from a truly troubling situation? That’s why paid sick leave is so important for stabilizing family economies and giving people that continuity they desperately need. It comes down to basic fairness. Paid sick leave isn’t a privilege – it’s something we earn through the work we do. Now unfortunately, two thirds of American workers in the lowest earning groups have no sick leave at all, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In other words, those who are least able to afford an unpaid sick day are most likely to be forced to take one.

Some have claimed that providing robust paid sick leave protections for the vast majority of our workers would hurt our businesses – and I care deeply about our small businesses and everyone does in this room – but the fact is that we’ve found it’s not true that paid sick leave hurts business. In fact, we found quite the opposite. A report released earlier this month found that in the state of Connecticut, which has greatly broadened the number of full and part time employees receiving paid sick leave, employers saw decreases in worker attrition and saw decreases in the spread of illness, and increases in morale and productivity. New York City is very proud to join the ranks of progressive cities in enacting strong paid sick leave legislation.


Going forward, my administration is committed to building a deep relationship with all the mayors in this room and with this great organization. We intend to look beyond the five boroughs for smart, progressive ideas from each and every one of you. We are committed to partnering with other cities to make sure our voices are heard in the halls of Congress. President Obama – Chicago’s adopted son – has long been a champion of our cities, but too often his efforts to forge partnerships between the federal government and municipal leaders has been stymied by Congress. This has to stop. It’s time to stop shortchanging our cities. And I say on behalf of not only my constituents but people all over this country, it’s time to make that change because now more than ever, when our cities thrive, when all of our cities thrive, our nation thrives; our national economy thrives.

Let’s forge that new national urban consensus together – not just around priorities like pre-K and paid sick leave, but around strategic investments in affordable housing and 21st century transportation. Let’s work together to bring Congress back to the table so we can rebuild our public housing and revive our Section 8 programs for our seniors and vulnerable families. Let’s secure more dynamic funding for our roads and mass transit to give cities the flexibility to set their own priorities. I daresay – I think I’ll find agreement in the room – that we know what’s best for our own people.


And our people are very good at letting us know what they think is best for them.

Let’s work together to make sure families that face natural disasters receive the support they need to rebuild, and that they have the tools to become more resilient – something our Congressional delegation from New York is fighting hard for every day.

The Conference of Mayors represents some 1,400 cities - populations ranging from 30,000 to 8.337 million - and I needed to be precise about that because all those people are my boss. And we all – all of us in this room – believe deeply in the vitality of American cities. And all of us, regardless of our political affiliation or the size of our city, we want nothing more than to provide every one of our citizens with an opportunity to enjoy the blessings of liberty that Fiorello LaGuardia spoke about so powerfully. We want to represent cities that are engines of opportunity where everyone rises together.

I look forward to building on these shared priorities and working with all of you in the days and months and years to come. Finally, I can say that I hope you’ll come visit me whenever you’re in New York City. I don’t happen to happen to have the wealth of my predecessor, but I can guarantee you, if you come visit me at City Hall, the coffee and bagels will be on me.

Thank you.


Mayor Bill de Blasio: So I just want to say up front that I’m really humbled by the reception that I’ve received today. A lot of my fellow mayors who are ready to work together on the kind of issues that we all have in common. And I think what the- the fact is both in what I talked about in my remarks, but what I heard in a lot of the individual conversations with the mayors is that this question of inequality and the lack of opportunity- people are feeling this all over the country. Mayors feel it profoundly because we’re close to the ground. My colleagues share my frustration that we’re not getting the support we should from Washington to try and address fundamental issues. Again, I think that’s why you’re going to see more and more over the country- you’ve already seen a wave of cities and states taking on the paid sick leave issue. You’ve seen more and more cities and states addressing the pre-k issue. I think this will be the paradigm going forward. While we constantly work to get Washington into the game, particularly the Congress into the game of helping our cities. And I think there is a real groundswell among mayors all over the country. Again, across party lines, across geographical boundaries, that we’re going to demand more of the Congress because if urban America isn’t thriving, the nation can’t thrive. So I’m hearing that from a lot of my colleagues, and I really look forward to working with them in common cause. With that I’ll welcome your questions. Yes?

Reporter: You spoke about your proposal for [inaudible]…

Mayor: Louder please?

Reporter: You- you spoke about pre-k, your plan for pre-k in the city. Governor Cuomo, yesterday, in a mention in the Times, suggested that he really just have a blank check for you to pay for this, giving you whatever funds you need. Given that your tax is only for five years and that it would sunset, why not just take his proposal of basically a blank check to fund this?

Mayor: Well, first of all, I appreciate the Governor is very focused on pre-k. And I appreciate his leadership. He obviously feels deeply that we need to do better on pre-k for the future of our city and our state. So we have common ground on that. What I’m clear about is we need reliable funding, and we need a substantial amount of funding to get this up and running, on both the pre-k side and the after-school side. My plan, I want to remind you, is a five-year plan, $530 million each year for five years, $2.6 billion combined over five years. We can’t do that plan properly if we don’t have that money locked in. And I want revenue that the people of New York City provide and control. We’ve all seen the vagaries of Albany. This is not a comment on any individual. We’ve seen the history of Albany. Albany has often changed its mind and had different political dynamics affect it. We need consistency and reliability. And in fact, when we have created revenue on our own, like Mayor Bloomberg did after 9/11, like Mayor Dinkins did with the ‘Safe Streets, Safe City’ program that revolutionized our approach to fighting crime and brought us the police officers we needed at that point to stabilize our public safety situation. When we’ve had our own revenue, dedicated and consistent, we’ve been able to achieve consistent outcomes. So I- I’m convinced this is the right way to do this. As I said the other day, I have a mandate from the people to pursue this. So- and I look- I look forward to working together with Governor Cuomo. Everyone knows I have a long and close friendship with him. And we’re going to work together on many, many issues, and we share a strong goal here. But I’m convinced we need the funding to come in the form I proposed it, so it will be sufficient and it will be reliable. And one other thing, we’re about to come out with a report to clarify the exact implementation of our plan, how many children will be served starting September 2014 in terms of pre-k, in terms of after-school, where we’re going to find the space that we need to do it. You’re going to see, by next week, a very detailed analysis. And we’re convinced that we understand how to make things move in the right way. I can say, as every mayor in this room- in this hall would say, when you’re close to the ground as I am, you understand exactly what it takes to implement a plan. And so we’re going to lay out the exact steps. And I think it’s going to be very clear, the amount of the money we need, why we need it consistently and why we need it now. Yes?

Reporter: On the subject of Governor Cuomo, he got into a little controversy over who is welcome in New York State in regards to the pro-life. The March for Life was yesterday here in DC. And I wanted your thoughts on Governor Cuomo’s remarks on, you know, who is essentially welcome in New York as far as being pro-life, being pro-second amendment. Can I get your thoughts on that?

Mayor: Well I agree with Governor Cuomo’s remarks. He is saying I- I wouldn’t phrase it the way you did, respectfully. I would say, I interpret his remarks to say that an extremist attitude that continues the reality of violence in our communities or an extremist attitude that denies the rights of women, does not represent the views of the people of New York State. We all understand that there’s a right to free speech. I wouldn’t disagree with that right, nor would Governor Cuomo. But I think he’s saying that the attitudes of those who want to continue the status quo in this country on guns, or who want to challenge and deny a woman’s right to choose, does not reflect the values of New Yorkers. So I think he was absolutely right to say what he said. Yes?

Reporter: Mayor, how do you want to get Congress closer to the sides of the US Mayors? By torture or what’s your expectation?

Mayor: That’s a- that’s an innovative thought. The- look, the folks assembled in this room here represent every corner of this country. They represent blue states, red states, purples states and districts. They are crucial leaders in their states. I’m certain a number of the folks in that room are represented in Congress by members of the House and the Senate who are not doing what they should towards our cities. And these mayors have the ability to start to turn that tide. Because we are at the grassroots, and if we move the hearts and minds of our people, our federal representatives are going to start to feel it. So I think there is- I felt this back in December when we had the meeting at the White House of new mayors. I felt there was a tremendous commonality between the mayors. Again, regardless of party affiliation, regardless of geography, that we’re all very frustrated, that basics like mass transit and affordable housing and infrastructure are not being addressed by this Congress to the detriment, not just our cities, but of this nation’s ability to be economically strong and competitive. I think we’re going to be able to make that argument at the grassroots, and I think that members of the Senate and the House who are not responsive to the concerns of their constituents will feel the heat. And I’m very enthusiastic to work with US Conference of Mayors to change that reality on the ground.

Reporter: (?) When Mayor Smith introduced you, he made a quip about- referencing the Upper East Side

Reporter: When Mayor Smith introduced you, he made a quip about referencing the Upper East Side and then you made your own reference to the (inaugural?). Number one, have you talked to other northern mayors about strategies to better deal with snow situations? And are you concerned that this flap or whatever you want to call it is already sort of made it to DC and is being talked about?

Mayor: Look, I was so proud of everyone who works for the city of New York during the first snow storm that we experienced almost three weeks ago. I thought the performance was exemplary. Remember, it was our - literally - our first full day on the job - the day after inauguration. And everyone that works for me but also the men and women who work for our city agencies did an extraordinary job. I think there’s a consensus on that. In this storm the past few days I’m not satisfied with the response - and that’s what I said yesterday. I defend strongly the hard work of our men and women of the Sanitation Department and other agencies, and I absolutely reject any notion that one neighborhood was treated differently than another. But when I went to the Upper East Side, I was not satisfied with the performance of our personnel there. I don’t think we used our assets the way we needed to effectively enough - and I said that out loud. And I’m going to hold all of our city agencies to a high standard. And when I see that we’re not performing up to the standard that we should, on behalf of our people, I’m going to correct it right away. So, writ large, I think the city responded well - certainly in the first storm, broadly in the second storm. And yes, I am talking to other mayors all the time. I met with Mayor Emmanuel earlier. I’ve been in constant contact with him - we know each other a long time. I know Mayor Garcetti a long time - we talk a lot. Certainly, Mayor Nutter. As I said, he’s become kind of my big brother down the road many miles, often giving me really helpful advice. He knows a lot about dealing with snowstorms so he’s given me some pointers too about how to keep the dynamics tight in terms of a fast response. So this is something I look forward to working with collegially with my colleagues.

Reporter: Mayor, your comments earlier, in regard to people who are (?) New York (?) and (?) criticizing Congress - it sounds like you almost were saying you don’t feel a lot of need to reach out to people who disagree more than you want to convince them to share your values, is that correct?

Mayor: Well, no. I appreciate the question but let me put it in my own words to be clear. The first point is, we represent our people. And Governor Cuomo’s right and I believe I am on firm ground in saying, our people - the people of New York state and the people of New York City - reject the extremist views against a woman’s right to choose and in favor of the proliferation of guns in our society. And I stand by that 100%. When I’m talking - conversely, when I’m talking about the issue of getting us the kind of support that cities all over the country - every kind of city, every state, for mass transit or infrastructure or affordable housing - I think that’s a consensus issue. I think that’s an issue where we do have to get the views of the people of the city, and now that you mention it, this country, into the mainstream debate. If you talk to everyday people in cities all over this country, they know the federal government is not providing the support they need for their cities to thrive. We’ve got to get their voices to be heard more deeply in Washington. The problem in Washington I think is in a sense within Washington, within the political dynamics that pervade the capitol. We’ve got to break through that with the voices of the people. By definition, any one of us is ready to work with our colleagues in Washington no matter which party they come from - that’s a given. I have folks in my city and state congressional delegation from the other party - of course I’m going to work with them. But my argument is that the voices of the people and the needs of the people are not breaking through the debate in Washington. It’s our job at the grassroots to bring those voices forward.

Marti: Two more.

Reporter: Mr Mayor- you were looking at paths to support a program that you think is very important, which is pre-K. Do you think congress should raise taxes to provide the kind of mass transit infrastructure and other issues you want to see them tackle?

Mayor: Look, I think it’s clear that - and I think the democratic leadership in the House and Senate said this very consistently - there’re a lot of things we have to do in our country. Some of them will involve will new revenue. Some of them will involve cost savings and more efficiencies and reform. It’s a broad mix. But the difference in my town is, I have a very clear mandate from the people - I happened to win my election with 73% of the vote. This was my central platform plank that we would fund full-day pre-K for every child and after school for every middle school student by asking those who made a half million dollars or more, for five years, to pay a little bit more - about a half percentage more - on their local taxes. This is something where there is such a strong consensus in New York City that I know we have to pursue it. It’s different in different places and we expect it - every mayor understands that each locality is different. So I speak in terms of the way I’ve structured my plan for my city as the right option for our city. On the bigger question, Washington has got to get back into funding infrastructure, funding affordable housing, funding mass transit if our cities are going to go in the direction they need to for the future of our economy. That has to happen. I personally believe there will have to be some new revenue in the mix but I’m a little agnostic. If Washington has another way, if Congress has another way to fund it, God Bless America - that’s fine with me. But what they can’t do is be un-strategic, which is what’s happening right now. If Congress is not engaging this question of investment in our cities, we are literally falling behind every day while China, India, Germany, many other nations are investing like crazy in infrastructure, in mass transit, in airports, and all of the things that are bringing up their economy. We’re standing still - that’s not acceptable for the future of our nation.

Marti: Last question.

Reporter: Secretary Clinton is a big supporter of your campaign…[inaudible]

Mayor: Well, I want to say two parts to the answer. I want to talk about her in terms of the work she’s done to date - I don’t want to conjecture about what’s coming up in the future because she hasn’t said what her intentions are so I’m just going to speak retrospectively. She’s clearly been a progressive. You know, the work she did, for example, on behalf of children and families, which I referenced in my inaugural address - one of the reasons we even think about things like pre-K is because the work that Hillary Rodham Clinton did several decades ago with the Children’s Defense Fund and a lot of her other initiatives. The reason we say the phrase ‘it takes a village’ is because she made it the title of her book and talked about the role of children in our society in a different way. So when it comes to those issues in particular, she’s profoundly progressive and I have a lot of respect for the work she’s done.

Reporter: What’s your policy point going forward as far as developing…[inaudible]…versus other traditional sources in the state?

Mayor: Well, I, you know, again - my purview is the five boroughs of New York City and I try to work closely with the state government but I also appreciate that they have to make decisions on behalf of the whole state. The one thing I am firm about is that I don’t see any place for fracking. The science simply isn’t reliable enough. The technology isn’t reliable enough. And, there’s too much danger to our water supply, to our environment in general. So my view is that there should be a moratorium on fracking in New York State until the day comes that we can actually prove it’s safe and I don’t think that day is coming any time soon.