July 26, 2021
Bobby Cuza: Welcome back to Inside City Hall. As we reported before the break, Mayor de Blasio is now requiring all City workers, not just health care workers to either get vaccinated or to be tested weekly starting in September. The expanded mandate comes amidst a sharp increase in COVID cases across the city due to the highly contagious Delta variant. Mayor de Blasio joins me now from the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx where he's kicking off City Hall In Your Borough week today. Mr. Mayor, welcome back to the show. A much more bucolic setting than we are used to. That is not the Blue Room at City Hall.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Yeah. Let me tell you, this is pretty good, Bobby. The New York Botanical Garden, amazing jewel in the crown in New York City. Extraordinary art exhibit happening up here too. I got to tell you, I've gotten a great taste of the Bronx already. I was on City Island for lunch at Johnny's Reef. Amazing Bronx, great place that everyone should go check out. And we opened up an affordable housing development in Melrose and you know, great things are happening in the Bronx we'll be highlighting all week. I'm certainly going to be spending some time on Arthur Avenue, indulging my Italian favorites. There's a lot of good stuff happening. And we're going to be talking about a lot of changes that we're helping to make to address the issues of the Bronx. So, stay tuned all week, all Bronx, all the time.
Cuza: You are working remotely this week. Let's get to the vaccination mandate that we heard about today. You say that we are now moving beyond the purely voluntary phase of the vaccination process. It seems like at this point, you've decided that the stick approach is going to be more effective than the carrot approach? Fair to say that what the City has done up to this point in terms of outreach and incentive programs is, I don't want to say it's not been working, but maybe not working quite fast enough?
Mayor: Well, let's be clear. It worked for a long time, very fast. And we now have about 4.9 million New Yorkers who have had at least a one dose. Look, in terms of the overall population, almost 59 percent of all New Yorkers have had at least one dose, 71 percent of all adults. I mean these were numbers we planned on, hoped for, dreamed of. But now we need to do more because the Delta variant. When we started out, we did not have the Delta variant. It has changed the playing field fast. And we need to take it very, very seriously. It is dangerous. So, now it's time to mix – yes, we'll keep the carrot, we'll keep the incentives, the free vaccination. Vaccination in your home. You want to get vaccinated in your home, we'll send someone over to do it. We'll keep all that. But it's time for mandates. It's time to climb up that ladder, add more and more tools to our tool belt because we got to get this done. And you know, New York is taking a very aggressive stance. I've decided we've got to lean into these mandates. And as New York has acted, the nation is following. Now, you saw today a whole host of actions around the nation, the Veterans Administration, the State of California, more and more places are deciding it's time for these mandates so we can stop the Delta variant once and for all.
Cuza: You've gotten a little bit of pushback from some, some municipal unions, including the unions representing firefighters and EMS workers. They have a few different bones to pick. I'll get into a couple of them, but just generally speaking, the stance that they seem to be taking is that they are pro-vaccine, but also pro-choice. What's your response to that?
Mayor: First of all, we're in a very dangerous moment. If we are going to save lives, people need to get vaccinated. And that begins with our City workforce, who we all depend on. And we need them to be safe, we need our City employees to be safe. We need them to be safe for their colleagues, for their families, for the people they serve. Second of all, we're giving them a choice right now. We're saying, get vaccinated, the simpler better choice, the safer choice. Or if you really don't want to do that yet, get tested every single week. But then that's your responsibility to get tested every single week. We're also saying to the people who fail to do those things, there will be consequences. It's time for more personal responsibility, Bobby. Again, months and months of generosity, voluntary approach, incentive. Everything's been free. Everything's been easy. Okay guys, now we have a new threat. The Delta variant has changed the situation. Time to step up, time for personal responsibility, time for people to come forward and help protect each other, protect this city.
Cuza: Last week, when you announced the mandate for health care workers, I believe I heard you say that the testing will actually be available onsite at people's workplaces. I assume that won't be the case across the City workforce? And the firefighters union, for example, was wondering whether testing would be done on work time or whether there would have – whether that would have to take place off work time, whether there might be some overtime compensation for that? Have those details been worked out?
Mayor: Not all those details – in the case of the hospital workers, obviously they're in a facility that provides the vaccinations and the tests anyway. For other workers that will really depend. I think people will have some responsibility for ensuring they get their own tests. We'll work out those parameters. But again, wouldn't it be simpler if people just got vaccinated? Wouldn't that make everyone safer? If you get vaccinated you're going to survive COVID. If you don't get vaccinated, you could die of COVID. It's as simple as that. You get vaccinated, there's less chance you're going to spread COVID. If you don't get vaccinated, there's more chance you're going to spread COVID. This is pretty basic. So, we're leaning in. We're saying vaccination is the better option. If you really want to do the testing option, you can, but you also have to take responsibility to make sure it happens.
Cuza: I know you've been asked about homelessness and the decision to move thousands of homeless individuals out of hotels and back into shelter. I've heard you sort of explain the justification and the reasoning behind that decision in general. But I wonder whether there's any chance you might reconsider given the circumstances? The fact that things have changed in the last few weeks, I think an argument could be made that it's pretty risky to take homeless individuals, maybe dozens of them in some cases, who may be unvaccinated, whether or not they have access to the vaccine and put them in a room together in that kind of congregate setting?
Mayor: Well, they all do have access to the vaccine. That's the point. Look, we're an incredibly compassionate city and it’s something we should be proud of. We provide, God forbid, anyone's homeless – I always say there before the grace of God go all of us. If someone's homeless, we'll give them shelter for free, food for free, medical care for free. All we want to see is people get vaccinated. We've been providing the vaccination for free and making it readily available for homeless folks. So again, homeless people are, you know, don't forget smart, discerning people like everyone else. You say to them, hey, it's time to get vaccinated for your safety – I think a lot of homeless people are going to hear that and we're going to make it really easy for them. But everyone's got to get the point now. It's not where we were before. Delta variant is a new ball game. And it's a tougher opponent. And it's time – anyone has said, oh, I want to see how it goes. Okay, 150 million Americans got vaccinated. I think that's a pretty good sample size. They – we know it's safe. And we know the alternative is very, very dangerous and could involve death. It's just not even close anymore. So, we're going to move people back to shelter. We're going to do it the safe way. We're doing it with the leadership of course of our health care team. We're providing as part of today's announcement, vaccination requirement or testing requirement for all our employees in shelter. And we're going to make a vaccination available to every single homeless person. All they got to do is take advantage of it.
Cuza: You've used the metaphor of climbing the ladder, taking sort of more and more aggressive steps in terms of vaccination mandates as appropriate. I wonder if the City reserves the right to implement just a full blanket vaccination mandate on City workers, where there wouldn't even be the option of weekly testing, but you would just have to be vaccinated or else? Is that something the City is within its legal right to do?
Mayor: Bobby, where we are now is to say a mandate that involves a choice. We're certainly going to watch what happens with this mandate and with the trajectory with the Delta variant. We're making all our decisions based on the data and the science. And we're also going to watch what happens on the national picture. What does the federal government decide to do, et cetera? We've got to stop the Delta variant. So, right now these are the best ways to approach it, but we're going to reserve the rights to do anything and everything to keep New Yorkers safe going forward.
Cuza: All right. Mayor de Blasio, stay right there. We've got some more questions for you. But, right now, it's time for a quick break. We will have more with Mayor de Blasio when we come back. Stay with us
Cuza: Welcome back to Inside City Hall. I'm once again joined by Mayor de Blasio, who's joining us from the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Mr. Mayor, I think it was buried a little bit in the news today about the new vaccination mandate for City workers, but the City is unveiling a new app – this NYC COVID Safe app. This is essentially a vaccine passport that the City will use to confirm that City workers have a negative COVID test, but this could be used by the private sector as well, right?
Mayor: Yeah. This will be available to everyone. It’s starting next week. And it's another tool. Some people like using a paper vaccination card, that's great. Some people using the Excelsior Pass from the State, that's great. This one we think is very user-friendly – you can keep test results, vaccination proof, and it just makes it a little easier, because I do think, more and more, this is the kind of thing that's going to be asked of people to access all the things that we love in life. And it makes sense to make it easy for people to keep track of this information.
Cuza: In terms of the private sector, at this point, you are advocating for a full vaccination mandate as far as the companies can go, at least, in the private sector. So, have you gotten any word back from private sector companies? Do you think that that's the sort of thing that, that is coming?
Mayor: Yes, I do. We're definitely hearing feedback from the private sector. First of all, a lot of folks in the private sector like it when the public sector goes first and blazes the trail. There's some real appreciation, I've heard, for the fact that we said it's time for mandates. We have this mandate now for City employees, but private sector organizations have more options in many cases, because the way they're structured legally they have more rights to make certain decisions. So, I think each private entity should go as far as they possibly can. And I think you're going to see a lot more. I think the action that we took here in New York City is being heard and felt all over the country and the public and the private sector. I think you're going to see more and more private companies coming forward and saying, we're going to insist on vaccination if people want to work for us, if people want to experience what we have to offer. We're going to insist on vaccination, because that's the way to guarantee everyone's safe.
Cuza: We heard a lot about City health care workers last week, since they will be the first ones up when it comes to the vaccination mandate. Today, you talked about City workers in congregate settings. There's some questions last week about police officers, but I haven't heard a lot of talk about teachers. It seems like it would be especially problematic for a teacher in elementary school, in particular, who has got a classroom full of 32 kids who are, by definition, unable to get vaccinated. If that teacher is unvaccinated, then, clearly, she's putting those kids – she or he, is putting those kids at risk. So, is that something that could happen? I mean, the testing opt-out option is going to be available to teachers as well.
Mayor: Well, right now the date for all City workers is correlated to the first day of school. You know, what I said this morning is, everything's happening in September. September is going to be the pivot of this entire comeback in New York City. A lot of businesses are going to bring back their employees in September who are not yet at the workplace, school comes back full strength, folks come back – of course, a lot of folks from traveling, from vacation. In September, New York City really comes alive. We have got to be in a strong position. So, that's why in September, on the first day of school, this mandate now will take effect for all City workers, all agencies. The good news is, at Department of Education, we've had a really strong vaccination uptake. And I think you're going to see a lot more before school begins amongst the adults, the staff, but you're also going to see – we're going to be doing big a drive to get kids vaccinated, 12 years old and up, getting them vaccinated in time for school to begin. And look, I'm a parent. My kids went to public school. I sure as hell would get my kids vaccinated if they were going back to school, especially if they hadn't been in school last year. I think a lot of parents are going to do the sensible thing, as has been done for, you know, measles, and so many other diseases before. I think the pendulum’s swinging, Bobby. You know, there was a period of time where there was doubt and questions, concerns, fear, and I appreciate that, and I understand it, but after 150 million Americans have been vaccinated, and now we have an urgent and dangerous threat in the Delta variant, it's time. And parents – if I were a parent, I would say, don't take a chance on the Delta variant. If you can get your kid vaccinated, go right now, get them vaccinated.
Cuza: All right. I'm going to switch topics a little bit, ask you about a few other things. One of them being the rezoning in SoHo and NoHo – this is something that's going before Community Board Two tonight as we speak. This has obviously been a rancorous debate, particularly as it relates to affordable housing in the rezoning plan. What do you think are the odds that this makes it through? Are you concerned about the fate of the rezoning?
Mayor: Yeah, I wouldn't call it rancorous. That's interesting, Bobby. I think that’s just another day in New York City. There's been a lot of passion on both sides. But the most powerful point here is, we've got to build affordable housing in the more privileged neighborhoods too. This is almost 1,000 units, 1,000 apartments in SoHo, a place that most working people could never dream of living. I think that's great. And we're going to be able to do a lot more to help small businesses to help the retail sector that's hurting, that needs opportunity in that area as well. So, yeah, I'm pretty confident. The fact is, a lot of elected officials have said they agree with this. It's time to do re-zonings like this in privileged neighborhoods too. And I feel good that we're going to get this done.
Cuza: Last week, your administration put out some data about the mental health response teams that have started responding to 9-1-1 mental health calls. This is in parts of Harlem and East Harlem. The initial findings seem to be promising. It seemed that on the calls that these mental health teams went out on, the people they were responding to were more likely to accept help and less likely to go to the hospital. Presumably, you'd like to see this expand even citywide, but, of course, that may be out of your hands at this point and in the hands of the next mayor.
Mayor: Well, I put in the budget enough resources for it to expand to all precincts. This initial approach has been successful. We're going to keep building it out. The goal is in the second half of the fiscal year – so, going into 2020, to get this into every single precinct and then keep going, make it absolutely full strength. This is the way of the future, and something that, you know, I feel strongly, and my wife, Chirlane McCray, feels strongly – we want mental health services made available more broadly all the time and, ideally, made available by professionals, by folks who have the right training. Our police officers were asked to do mental health work for years, for decades, without it really being their specialty. Why don't we, in the cases where we can, send civilians, send social workers, send people with the right expertise – it works. And so, it will be citywide and we put the money there to make sure that happens.
Cuza: Mr. Mayor, last minute or so, I wanted to ask you about Bob Moses, who we learned just in the last few days had passed away – civil rights pioneer and actually had a connection to the Bronx, where you are now.
Mayor: He did. He did. You know, what an amazing figure in American history. He actually was a teacher in the Bronx and saw the Civil Rights movement growing at the beginning of the 60’s and decided that was his calling. He played a pivotal role, one of the great strategists of the Civil Rights movement, someone who kept at the work for decades and decades. The sad part though, Bobby, is, first, we've lost him, and we are going to have flags at, you know, City buildings at half-staff to honor him. But the other sad part is, the fight for voting rights has come back, because there is a such a painful, systematic effort – unfortunately, I have to say it – by Republican leaders around the country to deny people their voting rights. And it's like Bob Moses’ life went full circle. But you know what? We're going to fight it. Lots of people all over the country going to fight it. His dream will not be deferred and we honor him.
Cuza: Alright. Mayor de Blasio, we are going to leave it right there. Thank you, as always, for joining us. I'm enjoying the bird chirping in the background. It's a beautiful soundtrack.
Mayor: Come up to the New York Botanical Garden. I'm going to promote the Bronx, everyone. You want to see something beautiful? New York Botanical Garden is the place to be – open to all. Fully open, come on down.
Cuza: Alright. Mayor de Blasio, thanks again. We will see you next week.