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

July 19, 2019

Brian Lehrer: It's the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning everyone and we begin as we usually do on Fridays with our weekly Ask the Mayor segment, my questions and yours for Mayor Bill de Blasio. Our phones are open at 2-1-2-4-3-3-WNYC, 2-1-2-4-3-3-9-6-9-2, or you can tweet a question, just use the hashtag #AskTheMayor. Good morning Mr. Mayor welcome back to WNYC.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, Brian.

Lehrer: And we don't usually chat about the weather on Ask the Mayor but today for the sake of public safety we should right?

Mayor: Absolutely and let me just start with that. Thank you for raising it because I want all of your listeners to know, I mean we have got a really challenging next few days coming and this kind of heat can be dangerous. This is me speaking to every New Yorker to understand just how bad this can be. We are talking about the hottest temperatures in the last seven years here in New York City and in terms of the heat index, we are talking later today, Saturday, Sunday, well over 100 in each case, meaning it is going to feel well over 100 degrees, could be over 110 degrees, how it feels on Saturday and Sunday. So listen everyone should take all the basic precautions, don't go outside if you don't need to, don't go into the sun if you don't need to. Stay where it's as cool as it can be. If you have air conditioning, use it but set it to 78 degrees which will keep you safe and cool but will also allow us to make sure that we are being careful about our energy supply and we are saying that to the private sector. We put our an executive order requiring larger private buildings to bring their thermostat down to 78 degrees, or bring them up I should say to 78 degrees, public buildings as well. Also just on a very personal level, if you feel faint, if you feel nauseous, if you have an intense heartbeat, that could be heatstroke, call 9-1-1, get help immediately. All the basics, stay hydrated – these are really dangerous conditions, particularly for young children, for seniors, for folks with chronic diseases, this is a very perilous time.

And then for folks who need some place where they can be cool, you can call 3-1-1 or you can go on online, There are 500 cooling centers sponsored by the City –libraries, community centers, senior centers, where people can go, be safe, be cool. Our beaches will be extended today through Sunday to 7 pm, our pools to 8 pm. So really take it seriously and check on your neighbors, check on your family and your loved ones. Just make sure people are okay and really make sure everyone stays hydrated. That's one of the most basic things that everyone needs to know.

Lehrer: What's that web address again for finding the coolest, the cooling center nearest to you?


Lehrer: You know after last Saturday's power outage, although that does not seem to have been heat and peak demand related, people will be a little more on edge about power. And you have been talking about keeping the thermostats at 78 degrees, but there have been blackouts and heatwaves before, so what is Con Ed telling you about the risk level that they are seeing and what are you telling them?

Mayor: Yes, so first of all this is an abundance of caution and better safe than sorry for everyone to set your air conditioning, set you thermostat to 78. It's just a smart caution that we realize as it gets very hot, people tend to use more and more air conditioning, tend to be more inside, using electricity so we want to be careful and that's why we are saying set it to 78 now. Con Ed consistently is saying not only was the last instance Saturday not because of overload but they are not predicting an overload situation here because it happens to be a summer weekend and so many people go out of the city at that point and that actually reduces demand compares to say a winter weekend.

So that is a good thing but we don't take anything for granted. I still have not gotten good enough answers from Con Ed about what happened last time. I will say Brian, you know, the history is important here. It was the first significant blackout in 13 years in this city and it was resolved in five hours. That's you know, those are important facts but they don't reassure me enough because I haven't heard a clear enough explanation – I've talked to the President of Con Ed repeatedly and we have part of the answer of what happened but not enough of the answer of how they are going to make sure that specific thing doesn't happen again. It make have been just an extraordinary fluke. That's what it sounds like, a particular piece of machinery that malfunctioned in a very unusual way, but that's not reassuring enough for me or for New Yorkers who want to make sure it doesn't happen again. So that's why we are saying let's do all the smart things as New Yorkers you know for ourselves, for our families. Let's be careful not overtax the energy system. And just everyone stay safe. In the meantime we will be talking to Con Ed, pushing them, monitoring them, literally hourly to make sure we get through this.

Lehrer: I would add to people, keep you cell phones fully charged, you know, it's easy to let them run down and not charge it every night, whatever, but because it's possible that there could be a blackout, it's good to have your cellphone fully charged, especially if you turn out to need it in case of an emergency. And I would say Mr. Mayor, that it would, it certainly will help avoid a blackout that the worst heat is coming on the weekend when people are away as you say and they aren't in those power sucking office buildings so much. But of course the 1977 blackout came on a hot Saturday. So, just a cautionary note –

Mayor: Well, and the world was – I mean it is a very good point, Brian, but the world was entirely different in 1977 in terms of the technology and the protections put in place. In fact that blackout was one of the things that you know taught everyone how much there had to be a change. But so I think the good news is a lot has changed. There is a lot more redundancy in our electrical system. There is a lot better technology but we are still going to be watching very carefully and making sure that Con Ed is doing its job. I think the point about cellphones reminds me that people should also consistently get updates because things can change. You know we get these weather reports, we do our best to work from, they are not guarantees, sometimes it gets better, sometimes it gets worse, sometimes the days change – right now we expect you know today to get quite hot as it goes along but again Saturday, Sunday, now almost equally bad, those are the two days to really, really be cautious about.

Lehrer: Before we go to the phones, the Eric Garner/Daniel Pantaleo case. As most people know the U.S. Justice Department announced it is not filing civil rights charges against Officer Pantaleo. Now, we're awaiting the results of the internal disciplinary trial that was held this spring and there is pressure on you to fire Pantaleo given everything that's known. If the Police Commissioner does not do that on his own. Would you clarify something for us about that? Is it your understanding that you have the authority under the law to order the Police Commissioner who works for you to fire Pantaleo if the Commissioner doesn't come to that conclusion on his own?

Mayor: Brian, I want to be very clear to all the people of this city, and I spoke about this at great length. I was on Hot 97 the other day and then had a press conference after, in both cases spoke at length about it, so I want to do it again to make sure everyone is clear. And I sat down yesterday with Eric Garner's mom, Gwen Carr and for a period of time with his daughter as well, Emerald, and his wife Esaw was on phone for part of the meeting. And I just want to start by saying they're just in tremendous pain, they're in total pain, and they look at what has happened with all the previous process, and they're just absolutely in a point where they don't trust and they don't feel there's been fairness to them. They don't feel like they've been heard. And I wanted them to know that this is process is going to be fair, and it's going to be impartial. That it will conclude in August and they will be treated with respect throughout this process. So the law is very clear. It's a state law, and of course on top of that there are laws governing unions and this involves a unionized employee, and then there are union contracts, so all of those pieces come into play. There is due process for any officer. That trial has happened. The Commissioner – Assistant Commissioner at the NYPD who is in charge of the trials will issue an opinion, a verdict, an opinion, a recommendation to the Commissioner, and then Commissioner O'Neill by law makes the final decision. So we're going to respect that process. I am not going to get into hypothetical. I don't think people should pre-judge. We've said very, very clearly there's been a trial, and there will be a final decision in August and I want everyone to understand how specific that is – there will be a decision. I understand the protests will continue and Gwen Carr made that clear, and I understand and respect that. You know, we're a city that always will protect anyone's right to express themselves. But this process will end, there will be closure in August.

Lehrer: Are you saying then, that you'll respect Commissioner O'Neill's decision, whatever it is, and promise not to overrule him?

Mayor: Again, the important thing here – and I explained this, and you know, your question is of course valid, Brian. But I wanted to talk to the person who I think has the most on the line here, who is the mother of Eric Garner, and I explained that this process has to be followed very scrupulously, because whatever the end result is it has to, by all legal measures, be consistent. So I'm not going to talk about hypotheticals, it's not helpful to a process that needs to be consistent and straightforward, and in the end there will be a decision.

Lehrer: But I don't think people understand the process, I don't think people –

Mayor: That's why I'm trying to explain it –

Lehrer: But I'm asking a particular question about the process. At the end of the process that's going on right now, and the Police Commissioner's decision on discipline, do you have the authority to order him to do something if he doesn't do what you want him to do?

Mayor: Again, this is a legal matter, so I'm just going to answer as I think is the appropriate answer, and is the legally important answer. There is a process. The Commissioner, by law, will make that decision after the due process is completed, and that's where I'm going to leave it.

Lehrer: So he has the final say?

Mayor: Again, I've just said – I've told you what I'm telling you and we'll – look, I think the important thing here is to recognize we're in a very quick time sequence here, and everyone will judge by the outcome.

Lehrer: If you're taking such a hands-off attitude, does it mean that you are personally ambivalent about whether Pantaleo should be fired?

Mayor: Well, Brian you're an intelligent person and your listeners are intelligent and New Yorkers are intelligent. I'm making very clear, and again, I've spoken about this at great length a few days ago – this is a process that must be consistent, and I'm the steward of this city and I'm going to follow the law very carefully and make sure that this process is seen by all as fair and impartial, and I'm not doing hypotheticals, and I'm not doing personal opinions. I feel very, very deeply for this family and I spoke to it yesterday. They're going through extraordinary pain, they feel absolutely and totally let down. I understand exactly – none of us have gone through what they've gone through, but I understand why they are absolutely cynical that there could be any fairness after what they've been through.

Lehrer: But you're not even saying what your authority is?

Mayor: I've said something very clear about how the law works and that there's going to be an outcome, and again, I understand your job is to ask questions. My job is to be steward of this city and to protect this process so that when the outcome occurs, it's clear that it was consistent. And you can ask 1,000 different ways but I'm very purposefully answering.

Lehrer: I'm going to ask you one more way. Errol Louis has a Daily News column today about a case from the 90's, in which Rudy Giuliani, as mayor, fired a police officer and two firefighters, I think it was, for taking part in a racist parade float –

Mayor: Yeah, that's just not accurate. I've heard that, and I've talked to the Law Department. It's just not accurate. There was a full process in each case. And I respect all the voices out there, and a lot of the voices out there want to minimize the situation, but the facts are the facts. There is no such thing as firing, outright, someone when there are due process rights under state law and under union contracts. Everyone – those firefighters went through due process, that police officer went through due process; the ultimate decisions were made by the relevant commissioners. That was true then, it's true now.

Lehrer: A federal appeals court upheld the decisions to, I guess, fire them on the grounds that, "bringing discredit upon the police and the fire departments within minority communities", was a legal reason for termination. Could that be a legal reason here?

Mayor: Again, let's look at what you just said. They went court after the personnel process that the City had, but the reason the city was upheld - and Brian again, you're a very intelligent man, I want you to listen carefully please – the reason the city was upheld was the process was conducted properly. So, again, there was a full trial, there were decisions made by the commissioners in each case, then there was an attempt to overturn those decisions and the city's process had been done correctly so those decisions could not be overturned. It was not done by the Mayor. It was done through an appropriate disciplinary process, trial, due process, and a decision by the Commissioner. That is the way that things are done, and when they are done that way, then the decisions hold even if there is further legal challenge.

Lehrer: And I'm asking if, within that process, a cause for firing could be, not just whether Officer Pantaleo violated police procedures like with a chokehold, but if he brought discredit upon the police and fire departments within minority communities –

Mayor: Yeah, it's not my place. I'm not lawyer and it's not my place to analyze or offer different options about how that process may play out. Again, this is serious stuff, it's very easy for folks who are not responsible – not saying this negative to you – but to many critics, and they have every right to be critics, but it's very easy for people to say just cut these corners, snap your fingers, I'm trying to make clear to people. And everyone would want due process, I really want to emphasize this, this is an important American value, everybody gets due process, whether you like the person or not, they get due process because everyone of us might be on the other side of that at one point. But in the end, there will be a decision and that decision has to be done in the right way, that's the bottom line.

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

Question: Good morning. Good morning, Mr. Mayor, and good morning, Brian. And thank you for taking my call.

Lehrer: Sure.

Question: I'm calling about real estate taxes. I live in a small co-op building, 24 apartments, and this year our taxes went up by 16 percent. That is on top of five, six, seven years of eight percent, nine percent, 11 percent, 14 percent – we cannot sustain that. Now, we know that there was a commission that was created to look at the fairness in the real estate system, the current real estate system. Because we know that private housing co-ops, condos – everybody is treated differently with what some have called a very arcane system of figuring out how the taxes go up. I also know, because we testified in front of the Commission that there was a commission that was supposed to report I believe in this past May about, you know, how changes could be made to tax system. I haven't hear anything about that report. Mr. Mayor, could you enlighten me as to what's happening with that?

Mayor: Yes, Leda, absolutely. And it's an important question – you know, I've held town hall meetings all over the city for years, and this is one of the questions that comes up all the time, because the property tax system historically has been very inconsistent across neighborhoods and across different types of residential housing, and the goal of the commission, it was named by me and the City Council was to create consistency, transparency, and make a system that people felt was more fair. Now, Leda on – let me do two things, first on the procedural. This commission is coming back this year with recommendations. Two things then happen. Some will be part of City law, which means they can be voted on by the City Council, and then I decide of course whether to sign or not and the other has to be done by State law. The State Legislative session begins in January. So this is the – we're coming up to the point where these things are going to be put on the table and resolved.

The challenge here – I am absolutely certain we can do a lot better on consistency and transparency. And that will make some people's lives, definitely better. But what I want to be honest about and I've said this in front of huge crowds of New Yorkers, you know, trying to be really honest with everyone that we cannot end up with a system that reduces our revenue substantially, unless people want to see a change in the services provided by city. So, wherever I go, you know the very same town hall meeting and I say this respectfully because it's an honest challenge, it's an honest debate. Wherever I go, people want to see their property taxes go down, but they also want, you know, more cops on the street or they want more teachers or special ed teachers in the schools and better sanitation services, and you name it. So, right now I believe the city is at point of some equilibrium. Crime has continued to go down, the economy is strong, more jobs, the city's services are stronger in many ways than they've been. But we still a lot of giant problems to address, and we can't - in my view - reduce revenue without really negatively affecting the quality of life, and negatively affecting our economy and our safety.

So, we're going to have to figure out how to make the system better but not lose substantial revenue in the process. So it's not going to be a panacea to say the least. The challenge here also – and I'm sure you understand it, Leda, I'm sure Brian, and all your listeners do - is that property values have gone up not in every neighborhood uniformly by any stretch but pretty consistently across all of New York City, property values have been going up now pretty consistently over 20 years. For the property owners, that is obviously a good thing, for the neighborhoods in many ways that a good thing, but it does put a burden on when it comes to property taxes. And that's a balance point we're trying to sort out. But in the end I've got to go with what is the quality of life of New Yorkers, what - how safe are we, how strong is our economy, how good are our services, what is the quality of life, and what do we need to sustain it. That's the central question I ask when I look at this equation.

Lehrer: Andrew in Crown Heights, you're on WNC with the Mayor. Hi, Andrew. 

Question: Mr. Mayor, how are you?

Mayor: Hey, Andrew.

Question: Glad to talk to you. We have a big problem at 1-2-3-4 Pacific Street in Crown Heights and we need your help. The elevator has been out for two months now, and apropos of the heat that is going to taking place this weekend, we have a lot of elderly people who live in our building and they to trudge up four, five, six flights of stairs. So the landlord has been – the work was supposed to take a month, it's now two and a half months in, the landlord was – keeps telling us that it's going to be done any day now. Apparently we are still waiting on the City Inspector to come to sign off on the work –

Mayor: Okay, Andrew –

Question: Whether or not this really going to take place is anyone's guess –

Mayor: Yeah, Andrew –

Question: [Inaudible]

Lehrer: Let's listen to an answer. Mr. Mayor, go ahead.

Mayor: Yeah, Andrew, first of all, please give your information right away to WNYC so we can have folks follow up. If – we'll get all the facts, but if it is – I take it is a private building and the inspector you're waiting on is from the Buildings Department, if that's what it is, you give the facts to WNYC, my folks will follow up immediately with you. If that is the case, I will speak to the Buildings Commissioner today and we'll get someone over immediately. We obviously want those elevators working right away. If it's simply a matter of inspection and everything is fixed and ready to go, that's something we can do right away. If it's worse than that, we'll see what we can do to get the landlord to fix it faster. But we'll make sure someone is on this immediately today.

Question: Okay, Mr. Mayor, your poll numbers just skyrocketed in our building. Thank you so much.


Mayor: Okay, thank you, Andrew.

Lehrer: Thank you very much. Annette in Laurelton, you're on WNYC, hello Annette.

Question: Good morning, and good morning, Brian and Mayor de Blasio. I live in Laurelton on Francis Lewis Boulevard and we recently had the road repaved from Merrick Boulevard extended to 121st Avenue, did a beautiful job. Why is it that they don't include the curb? Because we're responsible for repaving as homeowners, the sidewalk. But why they don't do the curbs? [Inaudible] in front some of them in front of some of the houses, the curbs are, you know, crumbling and I think it should be done at the same time and can you help me to get it done?

Mayor: Annette, please also give your information to WNYC. It's a very good question, and you know, I'm a home owner in Brooklyn and I don't actually know the answer to the question. I know I've been with the paving crews when they do the roads, and I want to shout out to the Department of Transportation and all the crews that do the street repair and the filling of potholes and especially the repaving's, that has been – we've actually done the greatest amount of repaving in decades in this city and people really appreciate it and those crews do an incredible job.

But you're an important point, my – when I watch those crews at work, they stop at the curb, and I think if there was something being done for the curbs as well for the actually citing of the curb, it would be a different operation. I think the central need of course is to – when you got streets that broken up is to fix the street, that's more important than a curb per se, but it's a very good question, you know, how we deal with the curbs and whose responsibility and what kind of priority it gets. So let me find out the bigger answers, but Annette – in your specific case, let me see if we can have one of our agencies help you on what's going on immediately on your block.

Lehrer: Reda in the Bronx, you're on WNYC with the Mayor, hello Reda.

Question: Hello, good morning. Your policy, Mr. Mayor, that pedestrian safety comes first when sharing roads with bikes is being violated in an outrageous way in the Bronx on the Putnam Nature Trail in Van Cortlandt Park, that is a nature trail that has – it's a unique wetland nature trail in a working class community and it's long been shared at reasonable speeds with bikes – and parks is about to turn into a paved bike speedway. This is an environmental injustice and it's very….

for runners and all pedestrian and wildlife, and it's not even budgeted to have maintenance so paving won't last and bicyclists and runners will be injured, and I think the officials at every level who let this go through should be civilly liable if that happens. So the question is, how can you let this go forward?

Mayor: Well, I appreciate you calling it in, and also want you to give your information to WNYC. I always like to be straightforward when I haven't heard of a particular concern or complaint, this is the first time I'm hearing this one, and I take it seriously. So I'm going to speak to the Deputy Mayor in charge of the Parks Department to have this reviewed to understand what's going on. Clearly, if it's supposed to be a fair trial, it has to be done in a way that's safe and – you said it right, in the beginning, there's a hierarchy of need when it comes to safety. This is absolutely consistent with the Vision Zero point. Number-one is – protect pedestrians who are the most vulnerable part of the whole equation of our streets and our sidewalks. Everything in the first job is to protect our pedestrians, and then we are doing a lot to protect our bicyclists, and we're going to have a lot more to say on that in the coming days, and then of course we want to protect motorists too, but so often motorists are the underlying, you know, trucks and cars are the underlying reason why others get injured. So, we're trying with Vision Zero to protect everyone, we have to recognize it begins with the vulnerability of pedestrians and thankfully, because of Vision Zero, the number of pedestrians – the number of fatalities has gone down steadily. But this kind of situation is serious. There's been real concerns about those shared spaces for a long time. Obviously when we went to car-free situations like Prospect Park, Central Park, it was in part to try and stop the dynamic where the pedestrians were trying to deal with cars and bikes and everything around them. So if this is a space where there is a challenge we need to figure out how to keep it safe. I don't know the specifics, but I'll talk to the Deputy Mayor and I'll make sure someone follows up with you today.

Lehrer: We had City Council Speaker on the show this week, and with respect to cyclist safety, he said he would support spending a lot more money in next year's budget – I realize you've just finished this fiscal year's budget – but he said next year to create many more protected bike lanes. Is that something, in principal, you would also support?

Mayor: Again, I'm going to not, you know, talk about next year's budget process until we get to it, but I do want to say, you know, we are coming forward very soon, in a matter of days, with the next stage of our plan to address this recent, just horrible crisis with bicyclist fatalities. And the NYPD has immediately been doing ongoing enforcement to open up bike lanes and get people to stop parking and that enforcement will continue. There's lots of other enforcement measures that are already underway. We're going to have a lot more to say next week about additional steps. But I'm certainly – I work very well with Speaker Johnson, if it's a priority for him that's going to matter a lot. And we've been constantly expanding bike lanes all over the city including a lot more protected bike lanes, but next week we'll be able to say a lot more.

Lehrer: Amir in Brooklyn, you're on WNYC. Hello, Amir.

Question: Hi, good morning. Mr. Mayor, I just want to ask. I just recently leased a space – a commercial space to do a restaurant two months ago and contacted National Grid in order to open a new account for gas. They tell me that there's absolutely no accounts for now – it's been two months from that – because they have some problems with the states. They have absolutely no idea when this is going to be resolved so what to do we do?

Mayor: I want to say, respectfully, to National Grid. I don't think they're telling you the whole story. They are hinging that, that approach on the idea that because the Williams pipeline was rejected by the State – this is a pipeline that was going to bring additional natural gas to the City, that somehow they can't offer service to more customers. I think the Williams pipeline is a mistake. I think we have to be moving away steadily from fossil fuel infrastructure and focus on conservation and focus on renewable resources. It's the only way we're going to address global warming. But here's the irony – or, here's the thing that I think makes their argument questionable – that pipeline was going to be at least three years away from completion, physically. It was not built. They were waiting to approve it, then it had to be built and made operational. That was going to take at least three years. So it seems very strange to me that they're telling customers they can't get service now when the new supply was three years away. Something seems like a bit of a game there. So, we need to have a clear understanding in the city and this whole country, there's a lot more we can be doing right now to conserve. The City of New York is doing that with our buildings. We just passed a very stringent law to get private sector buildings to retrofit and use less energy. There's a lot we can be doing immediately to get more renewable energy going, the City is doing that. All of our city government is going to run on renewable electricity in the next five years and we have a huge operation. This is the direction we have to go in, not just continuing to build up more and more fossil fuel infrastructure that's just holding us back.

Lehrer: Emir, thank you for your call. And we're just about out of time. Mr. Mayor, I want to come back to the Pantaleo case for one more opportunity for you to clarify one fact. Is your reluctance to state whether you would even have the authority to overrule a decision after it comes from the Police Commissioner because you fear that even saying that, in advance of a decision, would put any decision at legal risk?

Mayor: Yeah, I'm going to keep this very broad, and Brian you have a job to do, but I have a job to do on behalf of 8.6 million people. I'm accountable to all of them, I am there steward and the idea is to keep this city safe and heal the wounds of the past and move forward. So, there is a process here. I've spoken to it very clearly. We're going to let that process play out. It will be resolved in August. That's all I have to tell you.

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

Mayor: Thank you, Brian.

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