May 18, 2016
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Welcome, everyone. I’m very happy to be joined today by some leaders of the private sector in this City. These are people who are deeply committed to the future of New York City, who have been very involved civically, charitably, obviously create so many jobs for the people of New York City and who care deeply about the future of this city, about the future of our young people, about the future of our workforce. And I want to say a few things to start, but then want to turn it over to them to talk about the crucial question of mayoral control of education.
I also want to thank some of my colleagues who are here but not speaking. I want to thank First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris and my Senior Advisor Gabrielle Fialkoff for the work they’ve done in bringing together business leaders to work with us – and of course want to thank Kathy Wylde, the president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, for all she does with us all the time to help the people of New York City.
We believe fundamentally that we can do so much good for this city working together, but it requires constantly taking the actions that will improve this city and its future. And I emphasize always that the future runs through our schools – that is true in terms of creating opportunity, it’s true in terms of creating a fair and just society, it’s true in terms of dealing with the challenges of a modern economy – it all goes through our school system. And what we all agree here – and we’re joined not only by these prominent business leaders, but so many others who feel the same way – is we must renew mayoral control of education. To keep our schools moving forward, to serve our children, we must renew mayoral control of education.
Now, we have a particular challenge and a particular opportunity as one of the great global economic capitals. It’s a wonderful position to be in, and New York City is thriving in so many ways that the reality of a globalized economy, in many ways, has benefited New York City. But that will only be true if we keep up, if we keep building a strong and diverse economy, but also growing a workforce that works in the modern world. If businesses just can’t find the talent they need, if our schools aren’t able to keep up, we will end up with a very different economic fate, and we will not be able to create the fairness, and equality, and inclusion that we seek.
So, mayoral control of education matters because it is the vehicle that allows us to make the change we need, that allows us to make the reforms, to move quickly and boldly in a system that still needs an immense amount of work. I’ll tell you, the reason there’s such a consensus on this – and this includes business leaders, faith leaders, nonprofit leaders, labor leaders, people across the spectrum – both parties – obviously my predecessors in this office – we all agree on mayoral control of education because we all feel the urgency. Everyone understands our school system has a long way to go. Everyone understands we have much more work to do, and, again, the modern dynamic demands it of us more than ever. But look, the contrast could not be clearer – the old system simply failed. It failed our children, failed parents, did not provide us with a better society, did not function effectively or efficiently. It was rife with corruption. It was very difficult to make change and reform, and the numbers proved it. Around the time mayoral control was finally achieved, only 50 percent of our kids were graduating from high school. Now, over 70 percent graduating from high school, and so many profound changes have been made in our school system because we could act decisively through mayoral control.
The path forward requires mayoral control of education. We need the tools to be able to keep improving attendance, to be able to keep improving student achievement, to keep ensuring that achievement is in all communities, regardless of where someone lives, regardless of their zip code – that they have an opportunity for just as much academic engagement – and that’s one of the reasons our new Equity and Excellence plan is so important. We are creating, with the great help of so many in the private sector, a Computer Science for All curriculum that will reach all of our children over the next 10 years, infusing computer science into their daily curriculum. We’re creating an initiative to have advanced placement courses in every high school – not just some, as it was true in the past, but literally in every high school in the City. These things wouldn’t be possible without mayoral control of education, and we couldn’t build the kind of partnerships with the private sector and others that we can now because we have the tool of mayoral control.
So much is moving quickly – full-day Pre-K for All, afterschool for all our middle school kids, the 130 community schools, over 100 PROSE schools where we’ve opened up innovation. We’ve given each school the opportunity to suspend union work rules and suspend DOE work rules, so they can have a more creative and innovative environment. These are all things that have been made possible because of mayoral control.
We are very, very appreciative that the State Assembly acted to renew mayoral control for three years. We would like to see the Senate do the same. This is something that the people of New York City need from Albany, and the children of New York City in particular need from Albany.
Let me just say a few words in Spanish before turning to my colleagues.
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
With that, I’d like to turn to one of the leading figures in the private sector of this city not just because of what he’s achieved in business – also because of his leadership in the New York City Partnership, also because of his extraordinary philanthropic work that has done so much good for the City – the chairman and CEO of Blackstone, Stephen Schwarzman.
Mayor: Thank you very much, Stephen.
Now I want to introduce someone who really has contributed greatly to progress in our schools. Dick Beattie led the way towards a more fair system of funding for schools not only in New York City, but in other jurisdictions around the state. He’s been a champion for education for a long time and also serves as senior chairman at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. My pleasure to introduce Dick Beattie.
Mayor: Thank you very much, Dick. Now someone who has been deeply involved in civic life in the city, working with the Partnership and in so many other ways to help make this city a better place – I want to introduce Candace Beinecke, Chair of Hughes Hubbard & Reed.
Mayor: Thank you very much, Candace. Finally, someone who has been deeply civically involved and also thinks a lot about how to make government and all institutions more efficient and effective and certainly can see the marked difference between the old system and the current one – the Founding Partner of Centerview Partners Blair Effron.
Mayor: Thank you very much, Blair. Now I want to hear from two of my colleagues who really deserve so much of the credit for the progress we’ve been able to make over the last almost two-and-a-half years. Particularly want to say, the Chancellor has shown that this school system can keep moving forward. We’ve seen it in the graduation rate. We’ve seen it in student achievement scores. We’ve seen it on many other fronts. And she’s really re-invigorated the system and shown so many people in our schools that we are in a position to keep moving forward. And I hear that Chancellor all the time from parents, from teachers, from so many people in our school system. And she has lived under all of the systems, as she will happily tell you. Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
Chancellor Carmen Fariña: Well thank you. It’s true, I’ve lived under all the systems. I even go as far back as remembering when everything was centralized, and you took a test, and you were put on a list, and you were given a number. And when your number came up, you were assigned either a school as a teacher or a school or a principal, regardless if you were the right fit for that school or not, that’s where you went. And then I went to a more decentralized system – school boards, which had a whole other set of problems. And then regional systems. So I’ve seen it all, and I want to say what I think is particularly good about this one. I do think we’re putting students first, and I think that’s something all of us have to remember. The schools are for the kids, and if the kids don’t want to come, and the parents don’t trust us, then what’s the point? And we have to educate them so that they will be employable, and as I like to tell parents, they will move away from home and be able to support themselves. That’s our goal. And it’s really important that we develop partnerships with the business community – I just came from a college fair with all partners. And I think when the Mayor and the Chancellor are on the same page, great things happen. We’re able to meet with CUNY, and SUNY, and private colleges and say together this is what we want. There are no mixed messages.
I think the other thing that’s very important is the whole accountability structure. We talk about accountability, but we really don’t mean it. And I think as part of this mayoral initiative, I report to the Mayor. The Mayor reports to the elected – to the people who elect him. But more importantly, we now have superintendents who report to me. And if something isn’t working, I have the ability not to go through a lot of channels, but to say you’re not the right person for this job or you’re not the right person in this particular area. All principals report to the superintendents. This is not about playing games. And it’s also about whether you live in the Bronx, or you live in Staten Island, or you live in Park Slope, you’re going to have an equal chance to have the best people possible as your leaders. And that I can assure you was not the case in the past.
I think also very important, when we go forward, and we have new initiatives. And you know, I worked under Bloomberg too. And I give an example that one of the things that was really particularly helpful to me as a Deputy Chancellor – when there was an initiative that came up with Joel Klein and with Michael Bloomberg, we didn’t have to go and say how is this going to be funded because there was an established belief system that it was our initiative. And as our initiative, the money would be there for the mandated hold-over, so forth, the pre-K, or all the other initiatives. And I think that’s really, really good. I also remember as a principal having to read the headlines when a particular mayor might have been upset with a particular chancellor. And a lot of chancellors that I actually respected and they were here today, gone tomorrow. The stability of the chancellors, I think, is extremely important. It’s extremely important when you fundamentally believe in education. And you can’t feel that you have to leave as a chancellor, leaving the city in the middle of the night, because of a tabloid. And I have to be clear, that this is in many cases what happened. I’m not faulting the press. I’m actually saying that if the mayor and the chancellor are not on the same page, it destabilizes. And I remember as principals, saying where do I go now? What’s the initiative? What do we do next? So I think the stability, the efficiency, the fact that we come up with a plan on something we want to do – what we want to do, what we think is right for kids – and we get it done. And it’s not about having many, many meetings – of course, thoughtful meetings, yes. But not constantly talking about it. It gets done. So I believe very strongly on this. I’ve seen my work with partners all over the city. And it’s not just I go as a Chancellor, but I go as an envoy of the Mayor. And I think that gives us a lot of very good, positive power, but going once again, it’s about the kids. And we have to get everybody else’s ego out of the way.
Mayor: Well said, and finally I’d like you to hear from Deputy Mayor Richard Buery who has done so much to help us innovate and create our very successful pre-K program, our after-school programs, our community schools, and has really helped show all that we can achieve under this kind of approach to education. Deputy Mayor Richard Buery.
Deputy Mayor Richard Buery: Thank you very much, Mr. Mayor. We’ve – you’ve just heard the business case for mayoral control, and the educational case for mayoral control, and of course a governance and accountability case for mayoral control. I just wanted to speak very briefly about a very practical perspective about why mayoral control matters. As the Mayor said, I’ve been blessed under his leadership to be given the opportunity to help lead some large-scale initiatives that are central to the Mayor’s agenda of moving toward the city where we all have equal opportunity to succeed and to thrive. And I can tell you that none of that work would have been remotely possible under any system other than this one.
We’ve talked – or the Mayor talked briefly about community schools. These are schools where we integrate social services into schools to better meet the holistic needs of children. It seems like all from free eyeglass exams, mental health clinics, deep partnership between the Department of Education, the Health Department, other City agencies that would not have been possible, what we’ve been able to accomplish, without it being very clear that the buck stops with Mayor Bill de Blasio.
After-school programs – we have undergone a historic transformation, doubling the number of middle school students and after-school programs. Again – a comprehensive collaboration among a number of City agencies – would not have been possible without mayoral control. And you may have heard us speak once or twice before about something called pre-K, where we of course have for the first time promised every four-year-old in New York City free full-day pre-kindergarten – an effort led not only by the Department of Education, but by ACS, the Fire Department, the Health Department. Again, what we’ve been able to accomplish in such a short period of time, not just in scale, but in the quality would have been absolutely impossible without our ability to manage the layers and the levers of government to move this way forward.
So, just from a very practical perspective, everything we’ve done has been passable because it’s been very clear what the lines of authority are. We have seen the past, and we have seen the future. And I hope the State will not take us backward, but will continue to move forward in making the system work for our 1.1 million school children.
Mayor: Thank you very much, Richard. Okay, so we’re going to take any questions on mayoral control of education while we have our colleagues here. And then we’ll take a brief break to let our friends from the business community go on to other appointments – we’re going to bring up some other folks and talk about some other matters, and then go to off-topic.
Question: Mayor, if you are correct that mayoral control is so important, and if the path to that goal goes through Albany, and specifically the Republican-controlled Senate, then doesn’t it behoove you to basically suck it up, play along, and testify tomorrow?
Mayor: Dave, I’m very proud of the facts that we put forward today, but obviously in the testimony that I gave in Albany – laid out in great detail what’s been achieved by mayoral control of education in the last almost two-and-a-half years of this administration. You know that hearing was very comprehensive. I thought it was a great, respectful, substantive hearing – almost four hours. And we covered the subject matter very well. To me, that was important to be a part of. I was proud to be a part of it. Now in the past, when mayoral control came up for renewal – in the case of 2009 where it was renewed for six years, there was no hearing that Mayor Bloomberg was a part of. I think to go to Albany and spend four hours answering any and all questions, literally every single question that was offered, I think that was a great show of respect. And we covered the subject matter well.
Question: [Inaudible] a statement today complaining. I mean you’ve got to give a little to get a little.
Mayor: Well again, that’s why I’m very proud of the fact that I –
Question: You’ve seen what he said. You kind of cut your nose off despite your face.
Mayor: Well, Dave I don’t share your view. I think going to Albany –
Question: He’s not going to give it you if –
Mayor: I don’t share you view. I think going to Albany, testifying for four hours – very good and substantive conversation. Chancellor’s going to be a part of the conversation tomorrow. I think that’s the right way to handle things. Yes?
Question: I’m wondering what the business leaders here are going to do, in addition to of course appearing here today to persuade Albany, to persuade the Senate Majority to renew control the way the Mayor wants.
Richard Beattie: I’ve written an op-ed if anyone wants to post it.
Question: Mr. Schwarzman?
Stephen Schwarzman: We’re in touch with people.
Question: Which people?
Schwarzman: Relevant people.
Mayor: Beautifully said.
Question: The Governor, Mr. Flanagan?
Schwarzman: Relevant people.
Question: Sort of the converse of Dave’s question, given that Mayor Bloomberg got a six-year extension the first time that he came up, and you were last year forced to accept the one-year, and this year, they’re talking about giving you none. Don’t they – don’t Senate Republicans run the risk of being seen as turning this into a political issue, based on whether you’re supporting them financially or politically?
Mayor: Look, I don’t think anyone would be happy in this city if this issue became politicized. I think it’s so much bigger than any political consideration. It is literally about children. It’s literally about the future of the city. And that’s why there’s such a striking bipartisan consensus. The leaders here with us today represent a business community where there’s tremendous support for mayoral control of education. I’ve met plenty of Republicans and plenty of Democrats who feel the exact same way – again, including my two predecessors who felt it was indispensable. So, I think the people expect all the progress we’ve made to continue, and they’re depending on Albany to do it. And I think with this kind of consensus, which you rarely see in public life in this city, I think it’s a powerful message.
Question: Senator Terrence Murphy says that you should be either subpoenaed or compelled to testify and he raises the issue of pay-to-play saying he would like to question you about whether pay-to-play figures in any of the $9 billion worth of contracts involved in the Department of Education. Are you concerned that he will try to do that? And how do you feel about the fact that he says that he wants to do that?
Mayor: This is the first I’m hearing of it. I don’t really have any comment on it. Again, we had an almost four-hour hearing where we covered a whole host of education issues – very comprehensively, very respectfully. I thought it was a great dialogue, and that’s the kind of thing that if people look at all those facts, it’s going to be quite clear why we need mayoral control of education.
Question: But do you think he is right to question you about –
Question: Any contributors donated money to you and then get contracts [inaudible]
Mayor: No, I’ve said we do everything with very high ethical standards. There’s a lot of transparency. But the facts are what really matter here. And the facts are clear. When you have a graduation rate go over 70 percent for the first time in our history, when you see constant improvement in student achievement, full-day pre-K for all our kids – you know went from 20,000 kids to almost 70,000 kids in full-day pre-K in two years. Those are the facts on the ground. They matter immensely to the parents of this city, but also again to our business community and so many others. That’s what matters here. Yes?
Question: [Inaudible] especially in those specialized high schools. So as the Mayor and also a parent of [inaudible] specialized high school, what’s your response to a diversity issue? Do you have a plan or [inaudible] seek to change the admission process, which now is only based on [inaudible]?
Mayor: Look, I want us to stay on mayoral control, but I’ll give you a quick answer. That is something that by law gets determined by Albany. I’m certainly going to make very clear to them that I’d like to see multiple measures employed going forward. I think that would be the better way to go about admission. I believe that in all things. I believe that in how we evaluate a school, or a teacher, or a student – that we should use multiple measures. So that’s what I’d like to see in the future.
Question: Mr. Mayor, then given your answers about Albany – and just wondering whether you think there’s any real reason for this hearing to be held tomorrow, other than trying to maybe embarrass you or play political payback?
Mayor: I’m not going to speculate. I thought again, to think about the fact that this system of education which we all here agree works, was first determined by the Legislature back in 2002 for a seven-year timeframe – renewed for six full years by the same Legislature – a lot of the same individuals, obviously, in the Senate, without a single hearing with the Mayor. Then we had a full and complete hearing a few weeks ago – the Chancellor and I both. The Chancellor will be there to have further discussion with the Senate tomorrow. I think it’s very straightforward. And if we’re going to focus on the substance, this makes a lot of sense. It’s very straightforward. So I’m not going to conjecture on motivation. The whole topic – that’s not what we should be talking about. It’s your job to ask – I get it. But I’m saying think about what really should be the topic here – what will serve 1.1 million kids best. That should be the only discussion on the table – what will serve 1.1 million kids best. Now, I’ve challenged everyone – show me a better system. If you will agree with me that the past system was a failure because we couldn’t even graduate half our kids, and was prone to corruption and chaos – and I though Dick Beattie’s comment was another reminder of a time that we’ve tried to put out of our minds, but that when the Chancellor and the Mayor on the very same day would be in open opposition to each other. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was horrible. Someone show me an alternative to the system we have now of mayoral control of education. I have not heard a single person, Democrat or Republican, say I have a better idea. So why don’t we ratify the thing that’s working and get back to work helping our kids.
Question: If I asked in a different way – would tomorrow’s hearing be in the interest of the kids?
Mayor: Again, my belief is mayoral control of education is in the interest of the kids. And we’ve documented very clearly why it works – that was the purpose of the hearing. We documented very clearly, and we have a lot to show. I don’t know if any of my colleagues want to – over here who are enjoying this opportunity. You’re thinking about your chosen line of work and why it was better choice, aren’t you?
Unknown: Sorry I wasn’t invited to the hearing.
Mayor: You would have had something to say. You would have had something to say.
Unknown: You had a lot to say about it.
Question: Two questions on communications –
Mayor: We’re on mayoral control still? We’re staying, then we’ll do off-topic after. Go ahead.
Question: Have you spoken to Senator Flanagan personally about tomorrow’s hearing? Or was the communication that you weren’t going to testify done by aides? And do you plan to talk to him?
Mayor: I would be happy to talk to him at any time. He and I sat down, as you know, some months ago. He said he was going to hold a hearing. I said I’ll be happy to come to Albany and be part of a hearing, as I did. Have not spoken to him since. Again, I felt at the end of that hearing, it was quite clear that it had been a very substantial conversation – very sober, serious conversation. I thought people of all backgrounds said afterwards – I heard it from a number of people – it was a refreshing, serious look at the issues. And we aired a lot of the important facts, and a lot of tough questions were asked. So I felt very good about it. But if he wants to talk further at any point, of course, I’d be happy to.
Question: And Senate Democrats? Have you been in touch with any Senate Democrats to sort of marshal support?
Mayor: I’ve talked to Senate Democrats. A number of them were at the last hearing. I think a very substantial number of them actually showed up at one point or another during the hearing. I’ve talked to a number of them. There’s obviously a lot of support. We’ll stay in dialogue with everyone up to the point of a vote.
Question: Just on [inaudible] and the fact that you’re not going to attend – does that suggest that you don’t think that your presence would make an impact one way or the other? And also, are you hearing that no matter what happens tomorrow anyway, that the Senate Democrats are likely to only give you one year –
Mayor: The Democrats?
Question: I’m sorry, the Senate Republicans.
Mayor: I don’t have a projection for you. I think this is a very serious discussion. I think the presence of my colleagues here from the private sector will certainly send a powerful message to everyone in the Senate and the Assembly. I think there’s a lot of other voices that are speaking up and will speak up. I’m looking forward to reading Dick Beattie’s op-ed. I just wanted to – we should start a bidding war right now to see who will pick it up. Dick?
Beattie: Let’s try it.
But literally, I don’t say this to flatter Dick, but very few people in the history of the private sector of New York City have done more to improve our education system than Dick Beattie. So he’s someone who knows of what he speaks. But there are weeks to go here. More and more voices are going to weigh in. And I think it will be a resounding chorus calling for the renewal of mayoral control of education. So that’s my straightforward view. And again, we covered the subject exhaustively up in Albany. More than any other Mayor has previously done, in the context of renewal of mayoral control. So I think it’s been well-covered.
Question: But you’re not concerned about the downside to not going?
Mayor: I don’t look at it that way. I think, again, by any historical measure. We’ve done the right thing in terms of showing that we wanted to communicate fully, and get the ideas out and the accomplishments out, and take the questions. We’ve done that.
Question: Mr. Mayor, are you concerned at all that the investigations around the administration could cause lawmakers to lose confidence in your ability to lose schools?
Mayor: No. We know that in a democratic society, with checks and balances, you know there will be different things looked at by different oversight bodies. That’s normal. As I’ve repeated many times, in a democracy we wait for the outcomes of those investigations before drawing conclusions. That’s the American way. And so, the facts that are pertinent are what have we achieved for children? Have our schools continued to progress? Have we been able to do very tangible things to help our kids and our families? And do people who are stakeholders in this city believe we need mayoral control of education? The answer to all those questions is yes. That’s how it should be judged.
Let’s see if there’s anything else from the media on mayoral control – go ahead.
Question: Just on this sort of overwhelming support from the business community – were there any conditions attached to this outreach of support, anything that they want to see from you in terms of changes in approach or policies?
Mayor: Not that I know of, and I’d be happy to have the – hear from the horse’s mouth.
Blair Effron: None, whatsoever.
Schwarzman: I’d say none, this is delegated authority. They should do the right thing for the city.
Question: Two questions – Mr. Mayor, can you make the case for why three years is better than one? And second, can you tell us how this line-up came up? Who called who? Who was supposed to be here? Was anyone supposed to be here who’s not now?
Mayor: I know the mechanics. I can say this has been an ongoing discussion with the business community of this city for months. New York City Partnership played a leading role. This is something people have – we’ve sought out and they’ve sought us out. Because there’s a tremendous common viewpoint on this. And it’s a point of passion – when you have this many leaders sign on, and look at the names, and look who they represent in this city, look how many people they employ, look how civically and charitably involved they are – it’s an extraordinary cross-section. So, and again, my favorite reminder to you – when Rudy Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, and me agree on something, the world stops turning on its axis, and then that certainly says something about it being an exceptional issue. And we all agree on mayoral control of education. So, the outpouring of support from the business community has been absolutely outstanding. What was the other piece? I’m sorry.
Question: Just make the case for three years rather than one.
Mayor: I’m going to start but I’m going to volley the ball up for these guys to spike afterwards because I’d like them to offer their perspective as leaders of major businesses and institutions. So, what difference it makes when you have one year of stability versus three years – from my perspective, we’re trying to do fundamental things to change our school system for the better. We have a commitment to increasing the quality of schools across the board. You’ve seen the investments we’ve made in the fair student funding formula. We are on a path to bring that to 100 percent for every school in the city. We need the time to do that. We need the time to implement a more rigorous approach to teacher development. We need the time to implement these PROSE schools, where teachers get to choose to take their union work rules and their Department of Education work rules off so they can innovate. All these things have just begun – there’s so much more to do. And I’m committed to getting that graduation rate up to 80 percent over the next 10 years. And most importantly, and bluntly, the most ambitious – I want every child in this city reading on grade level by third grade – and that is a goal I’ve set for the next 10 years. We know it’s an exceedingly difficult goal. The only chance we have of getting there is if we have stability in our decision-making system. Few things that we will ever discuss in this room are more important than getting our kids to grade level by third grade, but we will not have it unless we have mayoral control, and stable, long-term mayoral control.
Schwarzman: Almost any organization that you run needs a certain level of consistency, and expectation, and order. And you have large groups of people that you’re managing – you need that for a sustained period of time to get the best type of performance. I don’t know enough to know whether three years is right, or some other number of years is right, but I sure know that one year is not right because to go through all of the kinds of uncertainty and destabilization that goes with that isn’t typically viewed as normal or smart planning.
Mayor: Anyone else like to add?
Beattie: I’ll add – I’m the founder and chairman of New Vision for Public Schools on behalf of the City. With the Chancellor’s help, we educate almost 20 percent of the high school children in New York City. [inaudible] is a member of the board. Steve is a supporter of it. We have invested on behalf of Carnegie Corporation, Bill and Melinda Gates, and many others, almost $80 million in this school system. We can’t do that – we can’t continue to function unless we know we’re going to be able to continue to do this in the long-term. We can’t do it at the risk that next year something happens, and the Mayor and the Chancellor are no longer in control. It requires long-term commitments when you’re talking about that kind of work.
Mayor: I want to give – okay, I’m going to give Anna a quick question, and the final word to the Chancellor. Go ahead.
Question: [inaudible] one year would go through [inaudible] because you’re up for reelection, so stability is going to be shaky anyway because this is a democracy.
Mayor: I respect the point, but I would argue the pattern that was originally set – seven years for the initial term, six years thereafter – for something that was brand new by the way. Now, we’ve got 13 years under our belt, or 14 years under our belt – it’s proven it should be for long periods of time because it’s already effective. I think it’s regardless of the electoral calendar. It should be about what’s effective in terms of managing the school system
Final word to Chancellor Fariña –
Chancellor Fariña: Well, I think also it goes to the idea of hiring and recruitment. We want to make sure we’re already getting requests from other parts of the country about people wanting to work here based on some of our initiatives. And how do you tell people – come on board, we think this is going to be okay for a year. You want people to know when they’re coming on board that the priority is going to remain the same. And I’d also like to add that, you know, of course I believe in the three years or more, but whatever happens should be, regardless of who’s the Chancellor and who’s the Mayor – you put a good foundation – all our initiatives are so sound that anyone following us should want to continue them. But as you’re applying for money and grants – we just applied to a multi-million-dollar grant – they want to know that that priority is still going to be the same priority three years down the line and beyond. So, I think the continuity is really important, but the hiring and recruitment I am doing right now for major positions – they want to know that they’re going to be able to have the same job three years from now.
Mayor: Amen. All right, we’re going to take a little short break and then go into other topics.
Mayor: Okay. Now, let me first talk about a couple of different matters. I want to talk about some information we want to give you today and it’s going to be the beginning of a process of providing you more information going forward. So, I want to do this for a few minutes – take any questions you have on anything that I say, and obviously my colleagues are here to talk about these issues, and then we can open up to other topics as well.
So, I’m joined by my counsel, Maya Wiley; our Corporation Counsel Zack Carter; the Commissioner of DCAS Lisette Camilo; and our Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl.
The big point I want to make is – over the last weeks, as we talked about just moments ago, there have been some investigations going on, and we too have been evaluating the work of our government, and it’s our belief that as we have information that’s confirmed, and we feel ready to announce to you – that we will be doing that directly. And one of the topics I want to discuss today is the story that came out on Friday regarding some property in Harlem, owned by the Dance Theatre of Harlem. So, I want to go over these facts with you, and there are some documents that we’ll be providing to you momentarily, and I’ll give you a quick sense of what those are as well.
The story came out on Friday – of course, now, it’s Wednesday, and I asked the members of my team, upon the story being public, to look into the situation, and I asked them to get the facts, get the history, and give me an assessment of what happened, and why, and what it tells us. Well, the process by which the deed restriction was lifted for the Dance Theatre of Harlem was consistent with the process that had been in place for the City of New York for approximately the last 25 years. So, for about a quarter-century there has been a process that’s been followed. And one of the documents that you’ll be getting today – this is a memo from April of 2010, from the then-DCAS Commissioner Martha Hirst, who refers to an earlier memo from July of 1991. This memo in 2010 codified the process for addressing changes to deed restrictions. So, this, to the best of our understanding over the last 25 years is essentially how they have been followed in cases that were governed by DCAS.
The written policy of the asset management division of DCAS was to require payment of 25 percent of current appraised value of property in exchange for the lifting of a deed restriction. So, there was an evaluation made, as you’ll see in this memo, of each property – that’s the process that was laid out. And then, if deemed appropriate, the value that was set for the decision to lift the restriction was 25 percent of the appraised value.
Now, this brings us specifically to the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and one of the items you’ll be getting is this memo from inside DCAS that lays out specifically what was in the application from the Dance Theatre of Harlem. It shows you a map, it shows you the history – it’s actually four separate lots, by the way, in Harlem, all adjoining, belonging to the Dance Theatre of Harlem. So, it gives you the history and why this request was being made.
The history goes back to 1976 – so, literally 40 years – by which point the Dance Theatre of Harlem was a very, very important institution in this city – and one could say already had reached a fairly iconic status – and was worthy of support by the City of New York. Like so many nonprofit organizations, it didn’t have a lot of resources, so, at that time, the City of New York decided to give the Dance Theatre of Harlem, for a very modest price, these four lots. Theoretically, it would be intentioned that they could use them physically, going forward. Well, for 40 years, those lots remained vacant, and, as we’ve looked at the facts of this decision, we find an important consistency related to the fact that the lots did not result in any kind of action that actually helped the Dance Theatre of Harlem or the community. They remained vacant for fully 40 years.
In recent years, the Dance Theatre of Harlem determined that to shore up their finances – they had gone substantially into debt, they were struggling, they were not able to provide the same programming that they had been in the past – and Tom Finkelpearl can certainly speak to that – they decided that they wanted to see if it was possible to sell this property and to use the proceeds to pay off their debts and to secure a financial future so they could resume a more robust service to the community. The process in the 2010 memo – that outline was followed in this case. And we also provide to you an email here that delineates the request of the Dance Theater of Harlem specifically initiating this action and their request to use this lot for this purpose.
The Dance Theatre of Harlem was required under this process to provide compensation – that 25 percent figure that I laid out to you – that turned out to be $875,000, and it was based on an appraisal of the worth of the land. Ultimately, when the process was completed and the Dance Theatre of Harlem was able to sell the land, they actually ended up getting a lower price than had been projected in the appraisal.
So, what we can say is – there was a process over many administrations for about 25 years. The process was followed in this instance. We believe it was followed typically in other instances before this administration based on the research we have so far, but we’re continuing to do more research. We have had – in our time – almost two-and-a-half years – eight instances where deed restrictions were requested and acted on. Typical years in the past, from our research so far, four, five, six, seven deed restrictions per year was pretty normal – would be acted on by the City of New York. So, we’re fairly consistent with the historical norm – a little low, in fact. So, it’s clear that the process was followed, but that’s a different question from whether it is the right process.
I will be announcing in the coming weeks a series of reforms to the deed restriction process. It’s quite clear that the decisions made 25 years ago don’t fully reflect today’s reality. We expect, rightfully, now, a much more transparent approach to the disposition of land. We want more community engagement. We want to make sure we’re maximizing the public benefit in each instance.
Clearly, in this case, public benefit was achieved, but, going forward, we want a process that is one that engages the community early and consistently. This is true, by the way, of most of our land-use actions in the City of New York. This one has been less well known, less well organized than others. We want to update the approach to deed restrictions. In the meantime, as I’ve said repeatedly, all deed resections issues are on hold, all actions have been suspended pending a further review and pending an updating of our rules.
The importance of working with communities – and this is true, again, in all land-use actions. It’s not because we think everyone in the community is going to agree – we want to hear the voice of the community, we want to see what the community needs, we want to weigh it against other considerations and come up, in a transparent manner, with a decision that we think is best for the community. We’re going to codify, again, those rules. We’ll have a public discussion about that. But I want to make clear, from my point of view, that I think it is essential – since these are rare actions – it’s essential that they be personally agreed upon by the Mayor. This has not been a habit in the past. The decisions stop short of requiring a signature from the Mayor himself. Given the importance of these matters, I’m going to make very clear in our new policy that there will be no action on any deed restriction without my personal sign-off. And I want to be, therefore, held accountable to have the right kind of public process and to make decisions taking into account a variety of factors. We’ll be working closely with the City Council in developing new standards. Again, nothing has been prepared or drafted yet, but we’re going to have a series of conversations with the City Council at the beginning of that process.
The land in question now, although held by a private developer – as I think you know, there has not been action on that site – nothing’s been built – we’re certainly going to engage that developer to see if there’s additional attributes that can be added to that project. And we’re going to talk to the community about what they might want to see there and see if there’s a way to add additional amenities. We do know, again, that the site has provided substantial financial benefit for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, so it will be solvent, going forward. We do know they will have space in the new site whenever it’s built. But because nothing has been built, we want to see if there’s any action we can take relevant to the kind of goals we would hold for any land use action – obviously, a focus on things like affordable housing. And, again, in all we do, we’ll work with the City Council in general, and in particular with the local City Councilmen for that community.
So, I wanted to give you that update. My colleagues are here to join me in answering any questions you have either about the specific instance of the case of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, or some of the things we’ve found about the broader situation. I will just say one disclaimer upfront – it’s an important one – there’s still a lot of work, as everyone knows, being done on the question of Rivington, in addition to the investigation underway. We’re still gathering facts as well, so I’m not going to be in a position to talk about any specifics regarding the Rivington case. But what I’m saying broadly about the changes we will make relating to deed restrictions – this will be true, going forward, across any and all examples once we codify the new rules.
We welcome your questions.
Question: How could you figure out the facts out on this one five days after it was published, but five, six weeks later, we don’t have answers on Rivington? Why is Rivington more complicated?
Mayor: I think this one was very straight forward – it’s as simple as that. I mean, I don’t know all the specifics, but I think this one was very straight forward.
Question: What did Rivington have that this one didn’t have?
Mayor: Again, that’s why I said up front, I’m not going to go into details about Rivington. Our job is when we feel we have all the facts in place, and we feel ready to come forward and talk to you about them, so we have them ready in the case of Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Question: You mentioned that you’d be reaching out to the developers of this [inaudible] land. At this point, the City doesn’t have any more leverage over them. But if [inaudible] that the administration’s already been talking to the developers, at least in some capacity, I’m wondering when those discussions began – whether they pre-date –
Mayor: I don’t – you have to be more specific because I’m not familiar with what you’re saying.
Question: That members of the administration have had conversations with the developers of –
Mayor: Again, that’s why I said you’ll have to be more specific because of the generic – I don’t know what you’re referring to. So, you’d have to say who you specifically think –
Question: There were emails, apparently, traded back and forth between members of your administration in which they discussed a certain number of affordable housing units.
Mayor: I haven’t seen that. I mean, I would be happy to discuss it if there’s some evidence of that. I have not seen that. Now if any of my colleagues know about it, I welcome it, but I have not seen that.
Question: Okay. The other question is that Council members raised the issue – the issue was raised I should say that the City Council may have had to approve this project in this case because of the fact the deed restrictions actually imposed prior to the creation of the City Council by the Board of Estimate, and prior to the creation of DCAS, I should say, by the Board of Estimate, so the process that was put in place in the memo that you shared may not have applied in this case. Can you respond to that?
Mayor: Yes, and I’ll pass it to my legal colleagues. We read your story carefully. And as your story notes – not in all cases. There are some cases where it would be true that it might require City Council or City Planning Commission action. There are others not. This one – I’ll speak as a layman and let the lawyers speak as lawyers. This one was, I think, a much more narrow situation and really it came down to an administrative decision. The City of New York very clearly made a decision in 1976 to grant this land to the Dance Theatre of Harlem to support the Dance Theatre of Harlem. In today’s reality, that meant the Dance Theatre of Harlem needed resources. They could not use the land reproductively for their own goals – they were not bankrupt, but deeply in debt. This was how they could appropriately be helped, and again, everything was done in accordance with the rules that have effectively been in place since 1991. So our interpretation is this was not one of those examples that would have required a City Council action. Would you like to – either one of you add?
Corporation Counsel Zachary Counsel, Law Department: Sure, I mean there’s not really much to add to what the Mayor’s said. With respect to this transaction, which was a very simple and straightforward – and where the use of the property was well understood – that is for the purpose of, for the benefit of an organization like the Dance Theatre of Harlem that was engaged in providing a cultural affairs benefit to the City. The consequence of removing the deed restriction was to permit the Dance Theatre of Harlem to get an infusion of resources to support these public-benefit uses and the formula that had been consistently applied at least since April of 2010 – was applied in this case so that the city would receive $875,000 in exchange for the removal of the deed restriction.
Mayor: I just want to take a moment. Tom Finkelpearl has, I think – literally may have the best perspective in all of New York City on our cultural institutions across the board and the both the glories of their work in New York City, but the challenges they face. And the Dance Theatre of Harlem has been a particularly beloved institution, but it has faced real big financial challenges over time, so Tom could you give us a little bit of that background.
Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, Department of Cultural Affairs: So, just to go back a little bit, so the legendary Arthur Mitchell founded Dance Theatre of Harlem. He was a student of Balanchine and a great choreographer. And this is an amazing organization that’s not just spread throughout the city, but spread throughout the world. And also, spread the culture of Harlem, which I think has a tremendous benefit for this city. In the process, in the years that followed the foundation, it gained international reputation, but there are always some sort of managerial issues in terms of – not in terms of artistic excellence – which was at the highest level internationally. And so, in the recent years, having this asset, which was a completely non-productive asset for this organization. That having been a director of an organization about the same scale as this, I can understand that being in debt, the way to go forward was to sell this property. You have to understand that Dance Theatre of Harlem, at a certain point, had stopped being an international touring company. It had just become a dance school in Harlem, essentially. So that international perspective, even having the season at City Center was gone. And so the current leadership looked hard at this, and their goal is to get this incredible New York City asset back on to the road, back down into City Center – that’s been achieved. They need financial stability, and this was the way to do it. So I don’t know if there are any other – but that’s some perspective.
Mayor: Yes, we’ll take any and all questions – anything on that history topic?
Question: Yes, I have a question. The developer here is a company called BRP. They wanted a contract on the property long before the deed restriction was lifted. [Inaudible] certain that that company did not [inaudible] was not in a position to acquire this benefit thanks to its donation.
Mayor: Well, first of all, as your newspaper accurately reported, that donation was made, and I had nothing to do with it, and no one in this administration had anything to do with it. The fact is this decision was made on the merits. It was made because of a very tangible need that this organization had and the standing the organization had in the city. And it was made through the same process that’s been in place for 25 years. It’s very straightforward. There will be in a democratic process, people who give donations. That is a true statement. The question is not does someone give a donation? The question is what is the quality of the process in any governmental matter? Is it followed consistently? Is it followed properly? Were decisions made in the public interest? That’s exactly what happened here. Now, as I said, this is a decision that never reached me. And, going forward, they all will reach me. This is a decision, I think, was handled ultimately appropriately. I’m not happy with the outcome with Rivington. As I said, I can’t go into details because of the investigation. When we’re in a position to give you a more specific information on Rivington we will. But I’ve been very clear, I do not like the outcome in the case of Rivington. But here, a process was followed and a public good was achieved.
Question: [Inaudible] campaign finance laws, the developer with business in front of the city, could only give $400 – created the 501(c)(4), they were able to give $10,000. Why are you opening yourself up to all sorts of questions about anything your administration does with people who have business in front of the city can give unlimited sums?
Mayor: Again, we’ve – I’ll start, and if any of my colleagues want to add, I welcome them. But I think we’ve been over this many, many times. If we follow all the laws to achieve a proper goal, I would say the things we talked over the last few weeks – pre-K, affordable housing, and a Democratic State Senate – those were the goals. Those are good goals for New York City, from my point of view. Everything was done with the guidance of the Conflicts of Interest Board. Again, a rarity in public life that pre-guidance, pre-clearance was sought so consistently. Everything was disclosed. And decisions of government were made for the reasons of what was right from a governmental point of view and what was right from a public point of view. So, I think, and we’ve talked about the bigger context we have been discussing nationally. Meaning, there’s been concern raised about campaign donations in our society. A lot of that has been directed, for example, at Secretary Clinton. I don’t accept the notion that in a democratic society, it’s wrong for people to be wrong politically. What’s important is to have real clear standards and clear adherence to things like conflict of interest regulations and disclosure regulations – all that’s been done here. When you go and look at how the decisions were made, I think what you’ll find is, in vast majority of instances, the public good was served, the process was right.
Now, again, we’re going to go and get you a lot more information on Rivington. I don’t like the outcome on Rivington. I think there’s a lot of reasons that we’ll overtime be able to talk about – they have nothing to do with campaign contributions, but they have to do with having to have a better approach. So my viewpoint is, we have been really consistent about high standards and when we think a policy is not what it should be as is clearly the case with the deed restrictions – it is not transparent enough, it’s not modern enough, it doesn’t engage the community enough – and more factors should be taken into account going forward. We’re saying very clearly, we’re going to change that policy across the board. And nothing will happen on a deed restriction in New York City until a new policy is in place. And, again, we will work closely with the City Council on that.
Question: With all due respect, Mr. Mayor, I know you’ve said over and over your administration has acted transparently, legally, and everyone should trust it. From one of the specific questions, we have not been able to get answers on exactly what happened, exactly who benefitted, and exactly why, exactly what outside advisor was communicating with you why and when. So how can people trust that – you’re telling us [inaudible]
Mayor: I just don’t – I don’t accept your formulation. We have provided a vast amount of information over two-and-a-half years. Again, I’m very interested – that – I’ve said to you, there are people in this state and people in this country who provide no disclosure of where their donations are coming from. Put some energy into that, I would advise. because we’re being very open with you. If we’re so open – there’s a reason we’re so open. We believe it’s the right thing to do. And we can absolutely affirm to you that decisions made by government were made for the right reasons. So, in time, again in the context in some cases of investigation, a lot more will be revealed. We’re very confident about where this road is leading us. We’re very, very confident that, as more and more facts come out, you’re going to see a very good picture. But, you know, if you think that people should not give campaign donations under the law, well then the question is not was it right to give campaign donations under the law. Apparently, you would want to change the law – great, change the law. But you cannot hold a double-standard about existing law. Existing law is existing law. And we went beyond existing law in terms of disclosure.
Question: I just wanted to ask, you talked about financial difficulties of the Dance Theatre of Harlem. In the past, Michael Bloomberg – or it was supposed Michael Bloomberg – had given donations anonymously.
Mayor: Yes, I should have done that. Shouldn’t I, David?
You didn’t suggest that. You could have done that.
Question: In this situation, it seems as if what the City did in order to achieve the same goal was to give away – we’re talking about this as an asset of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, but in fact it was an asset of the City. The City gave the Dance Theatre of Harlem in order to support their work four decades ago. For four decades they did nothing with this City asset and very recently they profited for [inaudible] or whatever it would be, you know two and change million dollars for this asset.
Mayor: They non-profited.
Question: Is there any argument?
Mayor: No, they non-profited. I want to really stop you there. Look don’t – be careful of circular logic, in my opinion. In 1976, the City said here is this land for a very nominal cost, and the goal was to help the Dance Theatre of Harlem do what it was supposed to do for – be a big part of the community and important cultural contribution to New York City. Here’s the problem – one, the land was never used. So, right there, we have fundamental problem in policy. You make a policy decision 40 years ago, and we four vacant lots to show for it. That’s not progress. That’s not good use of land. Second, in the meantime, as Tom laid out, this very important institution has really come upon hard times. They need a solution. Now, all sorts of methodologies are used to support non-profit organizations, including by the public sector. I think this was a very fair instance of saying we had already given the land, they control the land, they were asking for a change in the deed restriction, they already own the land. This was a way of supporting them and helping them back on their feet, through the land they already owned. It was very logical in my point of view – very consistent.
Question: [Inaudible] City be concerned that they had this property that they didn’t use to any public benefit for that time? I mean shouldn’t there be a process for the City to take back if it’s giving away these very valuable assets? [Inaudible]
Mayor: I would go the other way. If there was an assumption that the organization was not doing good work or the organization couldn’t survive, this would be a very different decision. And I do think it’s important to recognize – look, policy is based on consistent standards, but every instance is also specific at the same time. This was a very, very specific fact pattern. And given that fact pattern, to say this was an appropriate way to help this organization back on their feet, which was the original intention. You know, not to be a strict constructionist here, I think it is absolutely consistent with the intention of our City leaders four decades ago. It was a perfectly sane decision. So they will – they now have had the resources to get out of debt and be financially stable. And to have some space in that building going forward whenever it’s built. I think that’s a perfectly good decision.
Now, that being said, I want the process to be very different going forward. Even though that one got to the right decision. In the case of Rivington, I don’t like the decision. What they have in common is a process that must fundamentally change. Yes?
Question: Mayor, back to the subject of donations – it’s one thing to have the right to make a donation, and then it’s one thing for a City official to make a business decision on the merits or how it benefits the City. Separate from whether or not you think that [inaudible] in its dealings, do you believe it’s appropriate for City officials to hit up people who have business before the City for a donation to a political fund? And can you guarantee New Yorkers that this was not happening as a matter [inaudible] in your administration? That City officials in the course of doing business weren’t mentioning the Campaign for One New York, suggesting that donations would be welcome.
Mayor: Let me generalize the answer because I want to make sure we’re thinking things the same way, and my colleagues may want to jump in here. I’ll do my layman’s version. I think – and correct me, because you two know better – what we have put out in terms of documentation – but we had proactive guidance we sought from the Conflict of Interest Board. And I really would ask you to look at this history of how many administrations went and sought this much proactive guidance from an ethics board and then followed it consistently. And the proactive guidance differentiates each type of endeavor deeply, deeply – they’re all different. Campaign for One New York is entirely different than something one might do for a reelection campaign – is entirely different than something one might do for a reelection campaign – is entirely different than something someone might do to support a change in the State Senate. So, I want to really emphasize each and every area of interest was – had different ground rules, different realities per the Conflict of Interest Board, and we followed the guidance in each case. So, the broad answer to your question is, I don’t know of any City official who failed to follow the guidance. I believe everyone took the guidance very, very seriously, constantly asked for clarification if they needed it, and followed it scrupulously.
Want to add anything?
Maya Wiley, Counsel to the Mayor: I would just add that, I think, the premise of what we all obviously understand and agree that we need to protect the public trust and are fairly confident the public trust was not actually violated here – but in terms of the process, we’re not really talking about a situation where the government decision makers on specific transactions were actually out asking for money in the process of the transaction, which is a little bit, I think, what your question may have suggested, and that’s very far from the reality of how the business of government is actually being transacted.
Mayor: And further, the guidance, again, makes clear a whole set of restrictions and limitations, and those were followed – that’s exactly the example of a kind of limitation.
Question: From a policy – not legal – but from a policy perspective, why should there be a $400 limit on donations by folks who have business before the City [inaudible]?
Mayor: Look, I don’t want to critique the decision of the Campaign Finance Board. The Campaign Finance Board for our elections in New York City has come up with a set of rules that, by and large, I think are very sound. I have said, at the other side of the rainbow here, if you follow the logic pattern, would – and the thing I would like to see happen – is to systematically end the process of political donations across the board. We would have to reverse Citizens United and Buckley v. Valeo. We’d have to change State law. We’d have to change City law, but that’s where we ultimately, I think, should go. But while we’re in this reality, particularly post-Citizens United, the New York City campaign finance law I think is one of the best in the country and I, you know, generally speaking, think it’s very well drawn.
Question: [inaudible] asked you a yes or no question – whether or not you had personally solicited donations from anyone who had business before the City. I need it to be a yes or no answer.
Mayor: Because I’ve tried to – there’s a very simply reason why I want to be scrupulously careful in this answer – because, so far, despite my efforts to explain to you there was specific legal guidance for different types of endeavors, I don’t think, bluntly, there’s been a full recognition of that. So, if, again, we want to talk about each type of work – followed different legal guidance – yes, we followed the legal guidance very consistently, very scrupulously. But then you have to accept the guidance is not a one-sentence thing – it’s a detailed set of rules about how to proceed. What – to affirm Maya’s point – is abundantly clear is never do we allow any of those considerations to affect the government policy-making decision. In fact, as we will be showing you more and more in the coming weeks, a stunning number of donors and supporters not only did not get things they hoped they would get, they got rejection of things they hoped they would get because we ran a government that was clean and appropriate. We said the public interest comes first. We’re making decisions on the merits. It doesn’t matter if I’ve known someone for 20 years, if their goal is not the right goal, we’ll say no, and we’re going to show you a whole lot of evidence of that.
Question: [inaudible] not asking a legal question, I’m asking just a factual, binary –
Mayor: Again, I’ve given you a good, clear answer.
Question: Mayor, just to sort of follow up on that – you keep saying that you’ve been following this guidance and you’ve seen stories about people giving donations and then contracts for trash bags or whatever. Would you be able to point us in the specific direction of what this guidance was and why you believe that examples like that weren’t problematic or against what –
Mayor: So, I’ll start, and, again, my colleagues – my more learned colleagues may add or define. We’re in a situation where investigations are going on and we’re being careful about respecting the boundaries of those investigations. And, at the same time, we have an obligation, when appropriate, to put out information in any way we can. This is an example of something that was perfectly appropriate – on the Harlem matter – to get a lot of information out right away. And whenever we can do that, we’re going to be doing more and more of that. So, that will be true of any matters of guidance, general or specific. As we are able to, we want to give you more and more information on that. But what you will see – I’m confident – is that decisions were made for substantive reasons, they were made in the public interest. In fact, I believe as each new fact gets uncovered, it’s going to show you a very striking and consistent pattern of the public interest coming first.
Any thing you want to add?
Mayor: That’s a good question.
Mayor: Because we should – I agree with that.
Mayor: Let’s give you a handful more and then to off-topic. How’s that?
Question: So, back to the Harlem Dance Theatre – just to clarify, when a nonprofit does seek that type of deed restriction and it’s going to profit in a way that is supposed to help bring some life back into their operations, do they have to present any sort of plan of their management? Part of what Commissioner Finkelpearl talked about was – the management was the problem – not the artistry, but the management of the organization.
Mayor: So, Tom can talk about what the plan for the resources that the Dance Theatre of Harlem got is. And I think it answers your question, because, yes, it is consistent with the standards we would hold of how an organization should comport itself.
Commissioner Finkelpearl: So, the plan – I’ve spoken to [inaudible] over there – is three-part – debt reduction, capacity building, and board-restricted funds. So, board-restricted funds is now an endowment fund, it’s a fund that can be used to, you know, bridge over cash shortfalls. So, that’s how they plan to use the money and they’ve already relieved the debt.
Wiley: No, I think – just to be very clear about the memo you have is the deed restriction lifting process. And the reason the Mayor is suggesting that there needs to be a policy review of what the appropriate procedure should be is that it doesn’t actually take those kinds of things into account, it only takes into account the evaluation, the appraisal of the property, and ensuring that that 25 percent is paid in exchange for lifting the deed restriction. [inaudible] especially in this administration that values income inequality and eradicating income inequality – obviously, public benefit and the way in which the public benefits is also an important part of the equation, as well as the transparency and community accountability.
Mayor: So, I think the answer is, this one did turn out well in terms of those standards, but is this the kind of thing in a more transparent system and a more community-focused system – those issues should be aired up front.
Question: With respect to the point that you’ve made about the fact that you disclose all your donors and sought out this guidance and we should look at all the other nonprofits or 501(c)(4)’s who don’t disclose anything – I think a lot of other compliance lawyers or nonprofit lawyers, election lawyers, political lawyers have said that they would advise a client not to get involved with the fundraising at all if you were a political who was arguably the beneficiary of a 501(c)(4), like the Campaign for One New York. You sought the guidance from COID to personally solicit funds, to be actually personally involved in the fundraising –
Mayor: I think there’s a huge value judgement – respectfully, it’s a perfectly fair question, but I think there’s a massive value judgement in that. If you believe – again, I think where there’s a dissonance – and I’ll my damnedest to get this across – we are trying to change things. If I was doing everything the way they were done in the past, well, fine. If I thought the status quo was just dandy, I wouldn’t have been trying to put together resources to change it. But instead of doing what was done in the past – because, look, let’s be real about what was done in the past. In some instances, there were leaders who could just do it right out of their own pocket and provide a huge amount of resources for whatever they believed was right in terms of advertising campaigns, or whatever it might be, or to organizations that they wanted to curry the favor of – obviously, that’s not me. There have been organizations formed by elected officials to pursue their policy goals that would not disclose anything. We know that. This is recent in New York State history. We know this. So, we come along and say here’s our core agenda, it revolves around fighting income inequality, things like creating full-day, pre-K for all, and a very ambitious affordable housing program for half-a-million people. We’re going to put together the resources to achieve those goals – those are going to be fights. They were fights – you got to see it with your own eyes. We believe it’s appropriate to put together resources to achieve those policy goals on behalf of the people, but we’re not going to do a thing without guidance from the ethics panel, and then we’re going to follow it scrupulously, and we did. It’s the same with pursuing a change in the State Senate. Both my predecessors were very actively involved in supporting a State Senate that they believes was the right direction. I believe something different. Again, I could do it out of my own pocket. I went and sought guidance. We tried to do it in the way that was appropriate, and disclosing every step a long the way. This is about value, and any judgement you make – again, this is going to be a critical process for the weeks ahead of talking about these issues, examining them – that’s your job, I appreciate that – but there is a values issue that has to be addressed here. We were trying to break a status quo that was very well entrenched. We decided this was the right direction, but we only did it in ways that conformed with our values, which included free clearance from an ethics panel – boy, would I love you guys – someone to do the fact check on how many mayors, governors, presidents, etcetera went for pre-clearance from ethics panels, because it is not the norm – and scrupulous reporting of any and all donations so all the questions in the world could be asked about them. [Inaudible] about each and every donor, and what you’re going to find more and more is that there is no favor that they achieved through being involved. In fact, the decisions were consistently made on merit. But guess what? A lot of those people actually believed the goals that were trying to achieve were good goals. They believed in our pre-K plan. They believed in our affordable housing plan. They believed in making changes.
Question: [inaudible] you didn’t feel any fear or discomfort about being personally involved with the fundraising even though that could invite the kind of questions that you are now finding yourself –
Mayor: I think if you go for ethics guidance and follow the guidance, then it’s not a theoretical question, it’s not a feelings question. It’s not what you, or any other journalist, or anybody thinks – it’s factual. This is a panel – again, we have the most rigorous ethics laws of anywhere that I know of here in New York City – much stronger in so many ways than the State of New York, as we know. If you go and get guidance, and follow the guidance – here’s what I don’t think is being addressed also – if they said no, we wouldn’t have done it. If they said only do it on Tuesdays, we would have only done it on Tuesdays. To go to a government ethics panel, and seek guidance, and then follow that follow that guidance to the letter is exactly what public officials should do.
Last question –
Question: I’m confused about the guidance. Are you referring to guidance that was provided to you – written guidance by the ethics panel – or internal documents –
Mayor: The ethics panel – I think I’ve said this a bunch of times.
Wiley: The Conflict of Interest Board.
Mayor: The Conflict of Interest Board – I’ve said it over, and over, and over again.
Wiley: If I can just clarify one thing that I think we’re conflating in this conversation – it is absolutely permissible under the ethics rules for a City officials to request donations for people who had business before the City. The distinction here that is complex, and that’s getting lost is, pending transactions. And the process that we had in place was to review to understand whether anyone had any pending transaction. That does not mean that folks who are in different parts of government who have no connection to the discussions about fundraising have to preclude themselves from going through their regular government business with those entities. And I think that that’s –
Mayor: But clarifying that each – and to Melissa’s question earlier – each and every type of interest was different, meaning it’s a different set of standards for something like Campaign for One New York pursuing affordable housing and pursuing pre-K than if you’re talking about an electoral situation – no City official is in a position to solicit donations.
So, we’re going to finish up. We’ve done a lot on this. We’re going to take other question now – other topics. And again, let me conclude [inaudible]. This is the beginning of a series of discussions where we’re going to be in a position soon to provide a lot more information. We’re going to come forward with updated deed restriction change rules, working with the Council. We’re going to, again, noting the dynamic of the investigations and respecting that at various points, we’re going to be in a position to provide you with a lot more information on different areas, so stay tuned.
Now, we’re going to talk about some other things of interest in New York City. So, I’ve kind of done that. Karen, you’re my witness – I’m not going to do any more on that. We’ve really covered it exhaustively. We’ll be back soon on other matters.
Mayor: My friend, I’ve got to do some ground rules. If there’s other areas of interest, great, let’s talk about it. If not, we’ve covered it for today. So this is – we’re looking for other areas of interest. Jen?
Question: There was – I want to get your thoughts on the [inaudible] plans for the towers in Brooklyn Bridge Park. And also, there was a meeting [inaudible] right after [inaudible] the developer had given money to the Campaign for One New York. I want to know if the towers [inaudible]?
Mayor: First of all, I appreciate your question because it allowed me to hear your accent and it reminded me of my youth when you said the word – park. I don’t – we’d have to look back at that meeting. I don’t recall a meeting with him where any of this came up, but I just – I’d have to look back. On the question – what’s the first part of the question?
Question: Just your thoughts on, you know, getting rid of the [inaudible].
Mayor: It doesn’t make any sense to me. We’re talking about affordable housing in the middle of one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in New York City. I can’t think of what would be a more appropriate thing. And I – you know, I used to be the Council member for that neighborhood and I supported appropriate development in the park to sustain the park, which is a fantastic amenity for Brooklyn. It’s 80 acres, but it’s a very complicated physical plan, it needs a lot of money for maintenance. I decided long, long ago to support private development for the maintenance of the park. But also, when we came in, we said, if there’s going to be development, we want affordable housing to be part of it. I can’t understand why on earth the State of New York wouldn’t join us in that. So, we’re going to move forward.
Question: [inaudible] potential conflicts of interest. What do you think of that?
Mayor: I think that’s a smokescreen. Let’s get real – that has no bearing on anything. There’s no facts. There’s no reason not to move forward with affordable housing and development that will support a park. Again, we have to recognize there is a set of standards – those standards have been followed scrupulously. We’re not going to stop doing the work of government every time someone comes up with an excuse not to act. And affordable housing is deeply necessary in this city. The resources to run an 80 acre park, which is benefiting tens of thousands of people is necessary. We’re going to keep moving forward. Anna?
Question: There have been at least 46 fatal drug overdoses on Staten Island so far this year, which is on track to be a lot higher than 2014, the last year which the Health Department has certified numbers. I’m just curious, what do you think is not going right in this case? Why does this keep happening? And are you planning on meeting with the Borough President and the [inaudible] just to see – I mean, you keep adding funding, new programs, but, like, it’s still happening.
Mayor: Well, it’s a complex matter. I wouldn’t minimize it and say you keep adding funding and programs and it’s still happening. A lot of these things are just beginning and we think they’re going to have a very real impact not just on Staten Island, but in many other parts of the city. The Bronx is bearing the brunt of this crisis as well, for example. I’ve spoken to the Borough President repeatedly. I’m certain we’ll be speaking again. I’ve spoken to the District Attorney. I’ve spoken to Senator Lanza. We all share an intense commitment to figuring out what will change the situation. As you know, unlike a lot of other matters of public policy, this one’s particularly tough because we don’t get the warning signs in many cases that someone is even on this track. But what we are going to do, and we talked about it in the budget presentation – we’re going to make a lot more treatment available, we’ll create a much simpler system for anyone – a loved one, a friend to connect someone to treatment and keep them connected to treatment. We’re going to do a lot more in schools to try and convince kids of how dangerous this is. We’re going to provide a lot more of the reversal drug. But this is – what we did announce in Staten Island – I believe you were there some months ago – but then what we did further in the budget – this is a beginning. This has become a huge problem. It’s going to take more and more innovation, more and more investment to get ahead of it, but I do think we got some the right steps. And to answer you question about will I be talking to the leaders of Staten Island on this constantly – absolutely.
Question: [inaudible] meet with you and have, like, a meeting about this problem. Is that something that you would do?
Question: This fellow in Times Square last week who was arrested for punching a tourist, and he was walking around with a sign that said – Free Hugs – he had been arrested five times in the past just in the last few years doing the same thing, and he seems like he has some mental illness problems. So, two-part question for you – why is the City allowing someone to go around punching –
Mayor: We’re not, obviously. Continue –
Question: But he was allowed to [inaudible]. Some critics have said that Kendra’s Law is not being used effectively.
Mayor: We believe very much in Kendra’s Law, which is why we announced something the City of New York has never had before – an approach to try to actually put Kendra’s law into action and increasingly that’s taken effect – very, very complicated stuff. Look, it would be lovely if this were a simple situation. It frustrates me though, and I imagine it frustrates a lot of New Yorkers, but there are a lot of specific rights that citizens have. We have a very cumbersome legal process and judicial process. It’s not open and shut. It’s just not. If it was easy – if someone was a repeat offender to simply get them off the streets and keep them off the streets period we would do a lot more of that. It’s not easy but we are going to find ways to do it better. And look, this individual was apprehended quickly and the message we want to send in Times Square is that if you do anything wrong we are going to get you very quickly. You’re not going to get away. The place is very well watched. But we need to do a lot more to apply Kendra’s Law. It’s going to have to be done legally and appropriately but we have to do a lot more. Melissa—
Question: Mayor, a question from my colleague who’s doing a follow-up on the MTA – [Inaudible] His question is should the City have allowed a business to store flammable material under an elevated railroad track. What is your understanding of what happened and what is your response?
Mayor: Well, I know that business pretty well because a lot of you I think were there after the explosion in East Harlem a couple of years ago and that florist shop there under the tracks was a real anchor for the community there after that. Its right around the corner from where the explosions happened and they supported the community, helped people keep going in a real place of solace in the midst of all that. And you along that same stretch is La Marqueta for example, which has kitchens and food, it has restaurants and over-the-counter food, etcetera. So these are important parts of the community. We are obviously going to check to make sure that we feel good about the standards that are being held in terms of safety. If there is anything we need to strengthen, we will. I think it’s important to say these are parts of the community that are well respected, important to the community. We have to balance that obviously with a constant focus on safety.
Question: My understanding is that there is a City property managed by [inaudible] and the question becomes –
Question: The question becomes, why was it permitted to give a large amount of flammable materials stores under such an important piece of –
Mayor: Again, we are certainly going to look at that and the notion that there will be businesses there makes all the sense in the world to me. Like any business, we have to make sure that health and safety standards are being followed. So, we will go back and look and see what the current rules are and make sure they are being implemented fully – see if there is any updating. Look, sometimes there are accidents – we are still evaluating. Sometimes there is just a pure accident in life, but I think we know that they provide a valuable function to the community, but we obviously care deeply about safety. We want to make sure things are handled right. Bobby?
Question: Can I ask a question about Freedom of Information Law? I’m wondering why –
Mayor: No, you can’t. Wouldn’t that be ironic?
Question: Why the decision to try to shield from disclosure communications between the Mayor’s Office and someone like Jonathan Rosen, who is an outside consultant who doesn’t have any formal role.
Mayor: There are lawyers with me. Go ahead, lawyers.
Wiley: Freedom of Information Law actually provides exemption from communications between the City and itself and its agents. And in certain circumstances there are folks who are not City employees but are acting as agents of the City.
Mayor: Look, if someone’s an advisor I will speak as a non-lawyer – just common sense. People are advisors. Again, I beseech you to look at history. There is no one who has held office who hasn’t had a group of advisors and with each one of them you have to know how to handle them properly and treat them properly. Jonathan Rosen is someone who I have consulted with for years and years, and we made a legal determination that that was a category that was different and appropriate. It’s just as simple as that.
Wiley: And let me clarify one point, if there is a communication with Jonathan Rosen that is not about his relationship to advising the Mayor or the City on city business, we do disclose those communications.
Mayor: Either again I think you are either willfully missing the point or not listening carefully. If someone is advising me as he is advising me because he is a friend, because he is a colleague, because he is advising me, no one has to pay him, he can advise me. If it’s something for a client, as Maya just said, then it has to be disclosed.
Question: Can you explain what the legal precedent for that is? And, if I were to email you for advice unsolicited, would that not have to be disclosed?
Wiley: It’s based on whether the person is acting as an agent for the City. So, you giving me advice – although I’d love to receive it –
– that would not necessarily transform you into an agent. So, it is certainly not the case that anybody in communication with us who we have a relationship with is necessarily covered by the exemption. It’s very narrow –
Mayor: It’s very narrow.
Wiley: It’s very specific and it’s something that as we said we look at each communication to determine whether or not it should be disclosed because it doesn’t relate to that.
Mayor: So look, again, a little bit of history I think would be exceedingly valuable. I’d urge someone in the room to do this research. Every administration that has come in – I’ve watched all the administrations since Koch. Every administration came in with two kinds of people – the people that came into government and the people who were very central but not in government. [Inaudible] outside advisors, close confidants of the Mayor, people who have often been a part of their work along the way to becoming Mayor. It’s just every single time. Giuliani brought Peter Powers in, but he had other folks who were outside – the same with Koch. I mean just over and over again the same pattern. There is a handful of people who have been advisors of mine for years and were so consistently sought in terms of their knowledge and input that we thought they absolutely legally and appropriately we’re in a different kind of category. But you are exactly right, if someone casually offers advice that is subject to FOIL. There is no question, someone who once a year, twice a year, or three times a year offers advice or something. Of course that’s liable to FOIL. Yes –
Question: At its preliminary budget hearing, the Conflict of Interest Board testified that they are not funded to the level that lets them meet their mandate for trainings. And in the executive budget there was about a $90,000 increase but at the preliminary hearing the Conflict of Interest Board representative said we can’t [inaudible] people because we can’t give raises and they said the Office of Management and Budget has denied them several requests for more funding.
Mayor: That is news to me, but your timing’s impeccable. There is still more time ahead in the budget process. We will now put this on the agenda and see if something more needs to be done there. Last call –
Question: Is there a breakdown in the fact that you wouldn’t know about that?
Mayor: It’s a very large government and it’s a very detailed budget process and – I hope you are sitting down – every single agency says they don’t have enough resources, every single time in the budget, literally. And I am not making up a coy statement. Every agency has a preliminary executive – always says they need more money. So, that doesn’t get reported to me that’s not breaking news, but what should be reported is when OMB comes to the conclusion that there is a valid lead going on that or if there is a jump ball. If OMB says, look, this is a debatable point, we have questions but we still think it’s important that you hear this perspective. But I would never be told just generically, another agency wants more money. It would have to go through an OMB filter.
Question: I’m wondering how many people have been consecrated as mayoral advisors [inaudible] and what the legal basis for doing so? Is it your certification that they are?
Wiley: So, first of all, we don’t consecrate that would be a promotion. There are very few. We assert the exemption, we can certainly talk about it offline but there are very, very few people. And I just want to reiterate it doesn’t mean we actually, absolutely disclose communications with every one of those individuals when it’s not in the context of that direct agency-agent relationship. We have turned over communications with all of them frankly in connection with them but there are very few.
Mayor: But it’s a handful.
Wiley: Yes, you can count them on less than one hand, I believe, but I will come back. I just want to make sure I am not forgetting anyone.
Mayor: Thank you, everyone.