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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appears Live on the Brian Lehrer Show

January 25, 2019

Brian Lehrer: And today is the day of the second actual missed paychecks for 800,000 federal government workers. We'll talk to one of their union leaders to see how people are coping and if the unions are going to ramp up protests any more than they have. As I understand it, the workers will actually get pay stubs today, that part of the government is not shut down, but the pay stubs say zero dollars and zero cents, adding documentary insult to financial injury, you might say. But maybe you heard the Trump's Commerce Secretary, billionaire Wilbur Ross, speaking in Davos where he is communing with other world financial titans, can't understand why the unpaid workers might be going to food banks.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross: Well first of all the banks and credit unions should be making credit available to them. When you think about it, these are basically government guaranteed loans because the government has committed these folks will get their back pay once this whole thing gets settled down.

Lehrer: Yeah, a worker living paycheck to paycheck and fill out a loan application and get vetted by a bank and get a bunch money right away, why didn't they think of that? They all must be saying now. Actually even Ben Carson, Trump's Housing and Urban Development Secretary was taken aback by Wilbur Ross.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson: I mean, yes, I know we're going to give them back pay, but that doesn't take care of the interest if they borrow money. It doesn't – it doesn't make them whole again.

Lehrer: Doesn't make them whole again, said Ben Carson on NPR today. And it's through Ben Carson's reaction to the shutdown that we get to our usual Friday lead, in case you were starting to wonder, our weekly ask the Mayor segment, your questions and mine, for Mayor Bill de Blasio, because next Thursday is the deadline for the city to tell a federal court why Ben Carson's Department of Housing and Urban Development shouldn't take control of NYCHA for the city's failure to keep public housing in shape. The shutdown, it's been reported, might delay any deal. So that will be my question one to the Mayor and the phones are open for yours at 212-433-WNYC, 212-433-9692, or tweet your question, just use #AskTheMayor, who was at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington D.C., I think. Good morning Mr. Mayor, welcome back to WNYC.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, Brian. I am in Washington at the Conference of Mayors and I want to immediately, with deep respect, dispute your characterization. The reason our public housing is in such desperate shape is because of decades of federal disinvestment. So, yeah, there is an issue right now between the New York City Housing Authority and the federal government, there's no question about that, we're working hard to try to address it, but I – when you say the city's failure, I think bluntly misses the reality. The failure has been happening over decades. The city was never supposed to be the entity funding public housing. It was supposed to be the federal government which started to defund back in the '80's and has gotten worse and worse, and the State government which started to defund back in the '90's. So I don't want your listeners to have the misimpression that the City of New York has been responsible for paying all the public housing. It's supposed to have been quite the opposite. The whole problem we're in is because of that disinvestment. We in fact, this administration has committed $5 billion in new money to try to turn around public housing but we haven't seen a dime in new money from the federal government or the State government.

Lehrer: Right and I certainly wasn't trying to characterize it as anymore simple rather than complex or on the city then it should be, but a federal judge has issued this ultimatum of January 31st for the city to come up with a better plan and I'm told many people –

Mayor: Respectfully, I'm jumping in again.

Lehrer: Go ahead.

Mayor: That's not the whole truth, respectfully. This judge made very clear in his original decision, you know, we came to an agreement. NYCHA, the City government, the federal government came to an agreement back in the summer and this judge, Judge Pauley, rejected the agreement because he said it was not sufficient from the federal point of view. He said there was not any clear evidence of the federal commitment to solving the problem and that the federal government had more tools than it was using, and that he wanted to see very specific goals which we believe in too. But I really want to be clear about this, the reason public housing exists it was chartered by the federal government. It is not a local creation and this is very important to the underlying legal reality too. I think if the federal government doesn't in some way come to a cooperative arrangement with us there is a real legal question here about federal responsibility. If they don't agree with us, then what are they going to do to fix the situation? So far we've gotten no offer of additional federal resource.

Lehrer: And I'm told that many people at HUD and the US Attorney's Office are furloughed and the Post reported this week that the talks were stalled because of the shutdown. Can you confirm that?

Mayor: I'm want to – I'm going to – I don't want ever interrupt you because we have a great dialogue every Friday, but I often urge you not to take what the New York Post as gospel, and more than once I've heard you quote as something that might be accurate, it often isn't.

Lehrer: I'm just asking you to confirm it or not.

Mayor: It's absolutely false. There've been literally daily conversations going on. It's true that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has been undercut in the sense that not all of their staff are there and it's harder to have as deep conversations as we want. But there still have been ongoing conversations and we're still working hard, everyone, to try and meet this deadline with an agreement that everyone can live with. So that has not stopped even though there's been a shutdown.

Lehrer: So you don't anticipate asking the court for delay based on the shutdown?

Mayor: I don't want to. I think the judge again has indicated that he is aware that the shutdown has created greater difficulties. So the point is on the Post story, no, it's false that there's been a pause in the discussions. The discussions have been absolutely ongoing. That said, we'll see in the next days how far we can get. If everyone thinks we're making progress and we need more time, it's perfectly legitimate for all the players to say the court, we might need more time. And the court has already indicated that they might be open to that. But, you know, my goal is to get this all done by next week.

Lehrer: Michael in Manhattan, you're on WNYC with Mayor de Blasio. Hello Michael.

Question: Good morning, folks. Both thank for all your work and you're team. I really appreciate. I've never [inaudible] thank you for your service. I emphatically thank you really from the bottom of my heart for coming out with bus enforcement. I know that's hard, it must be hard for you, I know public transportation is not a sexy issue. You're showing true leadership, so I think by supporting these bus enforcement policies, we're going to start prioritizing public [inaudible] private transportation. I think that it's hard for New Yorkers to move away from the bridge and tunnel culture and move modes of transportation that are greener, sustainable, economical, with ways commuting around the city -

Lehrer: Michael, thank you, I'm going to leave it there because your line is breaking up so much. But Mr. Mayor, the headline I guess that people may not know that he is referring to is that you announced a crackdown on cars that park in bus lanes?

Mayor: That's right. So we have – Brian, it's quite striking. I appreciate what Michael said because, one, we got to get people out of their cars. So let's look at the big picture. We have an American car culture that doesn't work anymore. It doesn't work in terms of stopping global warming. It doesn't work in terms of congestion. People have a right to have a car, but our job is to make it easier and easier for people not to need a car, not to choose to have a car, use the car as little as possible. So of course we've got to fix our subways and that's going to be a big fight in the coming weeks in Albany working towards April 1st. But our buses, you know, are a huge, huge part of the equation, 2.5 million riders a day. And what we've learned that the bus speeds have gotten slower and slower and it's discouraging people from taking the bus. I want to get people out of the car so that the buses have to be appealing. They have to work. They have to be efficient. We have a plan to increase the speed of our buses by 25 percent between this year and next year. We think it's going to make a big difference in people's ability to rely on the buses and it comes down to several things. It, you know, we're going to have the stop lights calibrated to give buses preferences. We're going to do more of the select bus service lanes and routes, which have been really, really successful. But also we're going to enforce. So my message to all your listeners is if you park in one of those dedicated bus lanes during the hours you're not supposed to be there, not only are you going to be ticketed, more and more you're going to be towed. And I don't think anyone wants to go to the tow pound , but you will have that experience if you park in the bus lanes because we're going to have dedicated NYPD teams with tow trucks going out and moving cars so that the buses can keep moving. And - this is, you know, no one likes to do a thing like this, but it's necessary, 2.5 million people depending on us getting this right.

Lehrer: Jason in Brooklyn has a bus lane question. Jason you are on WNYC with the Mayor, hello.

Question: Yeah, hi, Brian, Mr. Mayor, thank you for taking my call this morning. I have a question on a related topic. I commend you for taking action to speed up our terribly slow buses. Nobody likes being stuck on a bus anywhere. They are unreliable and [inaudible] turns out this is simply great. I want to know, however, why we are being so conservative with this plan? Why are we trialing just two miles of physically separated bus lanes in 2019 when they are so common place everywhere else in the world? Basically what makes New York City so immune from importing working ideas from everywhere else in the world? And on that placard abuse as well, the bus lanes existing today are so clogged with police officers, MTA workers, Fire Department workers, everyone that parks in these lanes with these placards that don't belong there – are these new tow trucks really tow these cars that have placards that are being improperly used because that is a huge impediment on bus travel today.

Mayor: Very fair point. On the second point – yes, it is abundantly clear and Chief Tom Chan of the NYPD made it clear yesterday, we will be towing any kind of vehicle that is parked and is obstructing a bus lane, doesn't matter if it's a public service vehicle or a private vehicle. And we are getting that message across to public employees that what they thought was acceptable in the past is no longer acceptable. The number of summons have been rising intensely in dealing with placard abuse but next month we are going to come out with a whole new phase of anti-placard abuse initiatives which are needed. We have to show people that this is not going to be accepted. On the physically separated lanes, I mean I think, look, we have some challenges here that certainly are greater than a number of other cities in terms of just sheer density and number of people. But what I would say is what we want to do is double down on the Select Bus Service, on the clearing of the bus lanes, giving the buses priorities in the signals. That I think is a thing, a set of things we can do right away.

The physically separated lanes and other options for the future including light rail are very much on the table. I think you know you are right that there are some places where it works really well. And so to me, it's what do we have to do right now and then the things we are going to have to do in the future. I certainly am excited about the future of both Select Bus Service and light rail, obviously when you are talking about light rail, often time you do the physical separation. So I think you should expect a lot more to come as we roll out the vision.

Lehrer: And we have another follow up to the bus lane policy. John in Brooklyn you're on WNYC with Mayor, hi John.

Question: Hi Mr. Mayor, thank you for taking my call. I am a bike rider and was a little confused by your contention yesterday that I guess bike lanes, don't have or don't serve an adequate number of people to be protected –

Mayor: I don't think I said. John, I don't want to interrupt you except to say I don't know what you are referring to you because I don't believe I said that.

Lehrer: Bike lanes came up with respect to this, right? Do you want to clarify Mr. Mayor?

Mayor: Yes. We have obviously expanded bike lanes greatly so we do think they are very important so please clarify what you think I said and I'll tell you if I said it or not?

Question: You were talking about the reach of bike lanes, and you contrasted the enforcement of bus lanes versus bike lanes. Now I rode one of your ferries yesterday, Citi Bike serves more daily riders than the ferry system currently. I was also almost hit by a SUV that was making a left turn against traffic and earlier this year, I was hospitalized, I hit a sink hole on one of your streets. So I think that maybe there would be more bikers and you would have more reach if the city infrastructure were set up and if riders like me felt safer. I'm doing it despite almost suffering two serious injuries within the course of the year. So I think that demeaning, as you have done, biking as only being done for exercise or recreation –

Mayor: John, I don't know what you are reading my friend but you are absolutely inaccurate twice now. I'm very sorry you've experienced what you did and we are trying with everything we've got with Vision Zero to protect people. But you are mischaracterizing me and I just got to call you out on it. We have expanded bike lanes, consistently, we put in a huge swath of Vision Zero measures to protect bikers and everybody else and what I said yesterday was simply up to the question of whether we would be using this tow truck approach the same way with bike lanes as with bus lanes. And I have had a very honest, straight forward answer. I said this approach is focused on bus lanes because 2.5 million people use the buses and we have a huge and specific problem with the buses that we want to address. It is about a priority that we think makes a lot of sense because of the sheer volume of people using them and the problem of the speeds having gotten worse and worse. I t does not negate all the other things we want to do to protect bikers as well. And I obviously characterized bikes as a crucial part of our mass transit efforts. If you – I've got more quotes than I can count where I saw the things that we are doing to increase options include Citi Bike and now the new additional biking options with the dockless bikes, includes ferries, includes light rail, includes Select Bus Service so that's what I have said consistently.

Lehrer: As a follow up and clarification, I think part of what he was trying to ask is that bike riders want to know why there is no similar announcement regarding cars being towed out of bike lanes as cars being towed out of bus lanes and they make the argument that when a bus lane is blocked, just buses go slower, when a bike lane is blocked someone could get killed or seriously injured by having to swerve into traffic or by getting doored. No?

Mayor: We absolutely believe in enforcement in bike lanes but the point is this specific approach is about something vast. Again we, it's not a shock to anyone listening and I think people really appreciate you know, straight up talk here. That there is a whole series of things we are trying to do. We cannot do everything, we would love to do more of everything and that there are real limits in terms of money and personnel, etcetera. We have put a huge, very costly effort into Vision Zero. A lot of which is about protecting bikers but it's also of course, pedestrians, motorists, everyone needs to be protected. That's a major, major area of investment. All the streets and intersections that we are redesigning, all the enforcement that we are doing that never used to be done, all the bike lanes we have created. That's where we've put or money and it's working because the number of fatalities and injuries continues to go down. On the question of keeping lanes clear so that people can get around – we are putting a lot of new resources into clearing the bus lanes because of the sheer number of the 2.5 million people who use them. We don't have the resources to do that right now in the way that I think some folks who advocate for the bicycling community would like to see but we do believe that anybody who is parking in the bike lane, of course is going to be summonsed and there is going to be consequences. So these are just different priorities that we need to work with every single day. But it's really clear and I respect again the advocacy of people in the bicycle community but I also would like the acknowledgement to be there that Vision Zero has been the central approach with a huge amount of resources committed and clearly working and we are going to go a lot deeper with it.

Lehrer: Mr. Mayor I want to share some breaking news with you and I don't know if you've heard this yet from another source, but we are getting reports from different networks and now I think WNYC News has confirmed it too – that the FAA has halted flights into LaGuardia due to Air Traffic Control staffing issues. Have you heard this yet?

Mayor: I have not. I wish I could say I was shocked Brian but this is the cost of the shutdown. I mean we have heard for days now that the situation with Air Traffic Control and certainly the situation with security, we are starting to get more and more afraid. And in fact here at the Conference of Mayors today we are going to try and get approval for a resolution from Republican and Democratic mayors around the country demanding an immediate end to the shutdown and a separation of all the border security issues. Again, you know, we must get Republican voices into this too demanding that the Senate act and that it defy the President because this is the kind of thing that is really going to put lives in danger. If our airports are not functioning well, people will die, it's as simple as that. So what a tragic reality, you know, we are supposed to be the greatest nation on Earth and we cannot keep one of our biggest airports open because of the shutdown. That's horrendous.

Lehrer: And we now have more breaking news on that. We've just looked at the FAA's own status page and it's not just LaGuardia, but also Newark and Philadelphia. I have it tentatively as incoming flights, they've halted flights into LaGuardia, we are checking on more details to see whether it is also outbound flights and it this is happening at LaGuardia, and Newark and Philadelphia, we are looking to see if it's happening also at JFK, or what the status at JFK is. And I know you are just hearing about this for the first time from me. As a quick reaction is there any response that might be needed from City government?

Mayor: Look, let's be clear about that fact said – we got to get to the root cause. And so the response from City government is what I am doing right now, trying to win the support of Republican and Democratic mayors from around the country so we can pressure the US Senate to end this shutdown. I think that's – we got to go at the root cause of this. We cannot, clearly the City government, State government cannot replace the role of the FAA, we can't run the airports and you know, and determine where the flights go. So this is, you know the chickens are coming home to roost here. If we don't get to the root cause of this thing, more and more people are going to suffer. You know on March 1st two million New Yorkers start to loose direct benefits, food stamps and housing vouchers, and school lunches. And that's happening all over the county obviously. And talking to my colleagues here at the conference, you know people are bracing for a horrible human impact and there is not a single city that can make up for it. It's just – for New York City, it's going to be a $.5 billion impact per month, per month if this goes into March.

Lehrer: And we'll continue to clarify this story about the airports. Halted flights is what I said before, into LaGuardia. That doesn't necessarily mean that there are going to be zero flights into LaGuardia. I'm seeing another version that says delays, there are always some delays, so these must be additional delays based on air traffic control staffing shortages into LaGuardia and Newark and Philadelphia, we will keep following this breaking story as we get any piece of information, as we continue with our other segments this morning including our Ask the Mayor segment going on right now for another few minutes and let's take another call. Mac in Harlem, you're on WNYC. Hello, Mac.

Question: Wow, that update's going to be hard to follow there. Good morning, Mr. Mayor. Brian, it's good to talk to you again, how are you?

Lehrer: Nice to have you on.

Question: So I'm calling regarding the – well, Albany passed, last summer when they couldn't get, as you know, couldn't comprehensive congestion pricing through, couldn't get a millionaires' tax through, instead they passed a massive increase on the tax that the MTA is being paid by metered cabs and other FHVs. As you both know the metered taxi industry has been paying 50¢ a ride since 2009, bringing in millions a year to the MTA. Now, another $2.50 are being added on top of that, and I'm reading in the New York Times that Mayor de Blasio is supporting this – is all for supporting the MTA in the back of taxi drivers who are struggling and I'm curious as to why?

Mayor: So, to your original point, and I appreciate the question – your original point – one, we've got to fix the MTA and I think the D-Day moment for that is April 1st, I think that's when the state budget gets passed, that's our best chance we're going to have for a long time to get Albany to finally create, you know, a plan for the future of the MTA and for our subways and buses – I believe the millionaires' tax is the best solution. I believe that unquestionably the money is there, it would be a reliable source of revenue. It's fair, it's progressive, but I think you're right, there's been some reticence in Albany, obviously, so they're going to have to look a variety of other things too if they're not willing to do a millionaire's tax. The surcharge, as an idea, because we need every conceivable means to support the MTA, but I think the point that's been raised by taxi drivers about the danger that it could hurt their business, I care about that because I don't want to see taxi drivers suffering. We finally put caps on Uber and the other ridesharing services so that we could create more fairness and stop this race to bottom with the wages of drivers, you know, both yellow and for-hire drivers, and we're going to put ongoing caps in place on the for-hire vehicles and we're going to work to increase the wages and benefits the drivers, so clearly I do not want to see a surcharge harm them. I believe the surcharge is applied fairly across the whole industry meaning the for-hire vehicles, the yellows, the greens, everyone, there's a way to do it fairly but I do hear the voices of the taxi drivers who say it could disproportionately hurt them so I believe there should be a surcharge but I want to find out how we can apply it in a way that does not hurt the yellow cab drivers disproportionately. If the surcharge is effecting the entire industry, then I argue to you it does not create a burden. I think the yellow cab drivers have said they feel it disproportionately hurts them because of the way it's structured – I want to see if we can find a way to reform that and address that issue.

Lehrer: Here's the latest on the airports, from our newsroom, the FAA has ordered flights at LaGuardia and Newark to wait on the tarmac, and that – so those would seem to be outgoing flights because of staffing issues in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., so it's apparently Atlanta and Washington that, of course there are several airports in the D.C. area, but those airports don't have enough air traffic controllers, so there will be delays of up to 30 minutes which isn't that bad. Flights into LaGuardia are also being delayed according to the FAA website, all of this as air traffic controls and airport security agents prepare to miss their second biweekly paycheck today. And listeners, we have scheduled a union leader of the TSA agents to come on the show at 11:00, so we'll be following up in that way. So, honestly this is still unclear to me, whether it's some kind of full stop or whether they're just announcing that there are delays, but wait on the tarmac is the word from the FAA for flights at LaGuardia and Newark because of the government shutdown.

Mr. Mayor, everybody's talking – all our callers are about transportation and this breaking news is about transportation. And our Gothamist web team, on another transportation story, got hold of an MTA document that says the Governor's L train plan, with 20 minute or more spacing between nights and weekend hours, will cause so much crowding and delays that in practice, the document warns, by drawing customers to L stations only for them to find that for all practical purposes, the L will not be available to them, net travel time impacts could be worse with one-track closure, this alternative, than with two-track closure, in other words if there was no L train at all. My question for you is that assuming that that Governor's plan goes forward, how much of the alternative means of getting across the river and across 14th Street that you were planning, will you know keep in place rather than cancel?

Mayor: Very important question Brian, we – so we've had to this systematically. Obviously, the City of New York was deeply, deep, deep, deep into preparations to handle the original L train closure. We spent a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of money to get ready for it. The new idea that was put forward by the Governor caught us all by surprise but we did spend a lot of time trying to understand it and make sure we were comfortable, and particularly over the last weekend, our teams were all meeting with the MTA, et cetera to go in to the details. We do believe that the new approach is better – we support it. Now we have to figure out what it means in terms of those mitigation measures. So, you know, once we were certain that this new approach was going to work and was going to move forward, then it lead to the next question which is okay, what do we have to do to help people and is it the same plan as what we were going to with the original closure, is it a different plan? That's what we're sorting out right now. You know, we have to do this in real time, we have to do this quickly, but, you know, the most important thing was to confirm that we believed it was the right move and we do believe that.

Lehrer: And what do you think of the MTA fare increase vote being delayed by a month yesterday, or the Governor's desire to link a fare increase to service, which is apparently what this is about?

Mayor: I think the board is increasingly looking at the question of one, what's it going to take to get Albany to act because the immediate question that was before the MTA board was the fare increase but bluntly that is a side show compared to the bigger question which is, is Albany going to fully fund the MTA and make the choices by April 1st that will really determine the future? So I think the board is cognizant of the fact that, you know, we've got to get a clearer picture and a clearer sense of how we can make that happen in Albany, and then second, you know, that the money being sent to the MTA, we need more assurance, all of us, everyday straphangers need more assurance it's going to be used more effectively because we've seen too many examples, East Side Access is one of the most glaring but there are many, many more, of a huge amount of money being given to the MTA and then they don't use it effectively or they can't even spend the money they have. So I think the board was right to say "wait a minute, you know, we need to get the horse before the cart here and get real answers on all of this before making this decision" and obviously to create more focus on the main event which is the vote in Albany.

Lehrer: I know you've got to go in a minute and we're out of time in a minute coming up to 10:30. Can I get a quick reaction to you – from you about that – the Supreme Court taking up this case of New York City gun laws? Apparently its New York City gun permit holders who are in court saying they should be allowed to take their licensed firearms out of the city to their second homes upstate in one case and to go hunting upstate I guess in another plaintiffs case, but city law prohibits them from taking their license, New York City firearms out of the city. Do I have it right? And what's your thought on this city's law that's being challenged?

Mayor: The city law is here to protect New Yorkers, and we have some of the toughest gun laws in the country and it's helped us become the safest big city in America. There is a direct connection. Ask the NYPD, and you will hear full throat of support for rigorous gun safety laws like the one we're discussing here that simply says that when we give a permit in New York City it comes with clear stipulations and it's not for the idea that the guns can be taken anywhere and everywhere. It's for very specific permits for very specific reasons, and certainly with the goal of not seeing guns traveling around and not seeing a proliferation of guns. So our approach has worked for us. We believe our law is strong. Obviously it's a concern to us if it's going to the Supreme Court and now is dominated by the conservative faction, because we could see here in my view the wrong kind of politics being infused into the situation. But if it is a question of safety, what we have done here with our law clearly works. If it's a question of respecting the Constitutional rights of states and localities to determine what works for their own people, which is a pretty fundamental Constitutional concept and it's been upheld by many courts in response to different actions that the Trump administration has taken. I think if that's the issue we will be in good stead. I fear however the politics of this court dictating a different outcome that will be dangerous for the people of this city, and that will make it harder for the police to do their job.

Lehrer: Thanks as always, Mr. Mayor. Talk to you next week.

Mayor: Take care, Brian.

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