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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appears Live on MSNBC's Morning Joe

September 3, 2021

Willie Geist: Joining us now, the Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. Mr. Mayor, thanks for taking some time on a particularly busy couple of days for you. Update us if you can this morning what the latest numbers are. We understand last night, you reported 13 dead in New York City in a storm that frankly just took a lot of people by surprise in the city and overwhelmed so many neighbors. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Yeah. And, Willie, what a painful juxtaposition. You just started with a report on something beautiful that the city's coming back and Broadway's coming back, and people are feeling. It's literally happening right now. It's going to change life in this city and really move us forward. And then right in the middle of that, this horrendous storm, absolutely shocking, literally the highest rainfall we have ever seen in the history of New York City in one hour on Wednesday. And we've lost 13 New Yorkers. And this is unfortunately, Willie, the shape of things to come in terms of extreme weather. We have to understand we're now in the great unknown. We're in a whole different world, whether it's what we saw here or what happened with Ida in Louisiana or the drought in the Southwest, the fires in California, it’s – we're in an entirely different reality. And we're going to have to act very differently going forward.

Geist: There was so much talk after Superstorm Sandy, as you know Mr. Mayor, about New York City being prepared for these weather events as the changing climate visited New York City and all the boroughs, frankly. So, what more could have been done as you look at it? I mean the National Weather Service put out a bunch of alerts. I was getting them on my phone all afternoon about historic flash flooding. I got one at 3:30 in the afternoon and they kept coming that people should seek shelter as we got closer to the flooding. As you look at it, and these are big questions around infrastructure, but what more needs to be done going forward in New York City to mitigate some of the damage from this weather? 

Mayor: Yeah, it's a different reality. I think we have to acknowledge it's a whole new paradigm now. You know, it's – Sandy was horrible, the impact on this city, and we've been putting together $20 billion of infrastructure projects. They've been building out ever since Sandy. So, now that kind of storm, we're much better protected from, but this was a whole different reality. The flooding actually didn't happen – the lives weren't lost in the coastal areas, which is where Sandy hit. Lives were lost in places far away from any seashore because of stunning amounts of water coming down so quickly, flooding basements, and catching people unaware. This is a different reality. So, Willie, the way forward, we're going to have to talk to people early in each event about much more intense actions, travel bans, for example. We would historically not think of telling people don't go on the streets, don't go on the subways, you know, literally banning travel. This is the kind of thing we're going to have to use more often. We're going to have to use evacuation more often, but not just evacuation from a coastal area as we would have thought of in the past. In this case, we need a plan to evacuate folks who live in basements when we have extreme rain and flooding, I'm telling you, this was not part of any previous playbook, but we've got to literally change the whole way of thinking because as good as some of the projections are, they can't always keep up with weather that changes this rapidly and this radically.

Geist: That's interesting to think about it that way, Mr. Mayor. So, in hindsight, now, if you get that alert from the National Weather Service at 3:23 in the afternoon, when it came across, on the next storm, maybe will you put out an alert to New Yorkers saying if you live in a basement, you must evacuate now?

Mayor: That's the kind of thing we're looking at. And we're going to be putting together a task force to nail down the exact ground rules, but it will be a new set of ground rules. Willie, I, in the past, would not have thought of using a travel ban except in the most extreme circumstance, such as a blizzard, a truly large blizzard. But, unfortunately, when you see this kind of rain and the destructive power it had, and it came out of nowhere, just unbelievable speed with which the rain accumulated. I mean, it's – we almost have gotten a little numb to the way these records are being set, but I'm literally saying the most rain that fell in an hour in the entire recorded history of New York City. And then two weeks earlier, we had set the previous record. We're in a different world. So, I think it requires us to think of much more – much more intense responses and telling people that we're going to need them to do things differently. And where – we, in government, are going to have to sound the alarm in a different way and literally require people to not travel in certain situations or to get out of their homes in places we never would have imagined it before but now that are places where people unfortunately are in real danger.

Geist: Mike Barnicle, for those of us who live in New York City, always grateful for the New York Police Department, but particularly so when you watch these scenes last night and yesterday of special ops guys from the New York Police Department, making water rescues, something they probably didn't think they'd be doing a lot of in their career in New York City.

Mike Barnicle: Yeah. Police, Fire, EMTs. New York City has, I think, the best of the best in all three categories. And, Mr. Mayor, I think you would agree with me that the subway in New York City is the pulse of the city itself. It's the lifeline of the city itself. And you take the 1-train down the West Side of Manhattan and it's the best way to get around town. So, after Sandy, as Willie was just pointing out, the subway system was battered, especially in Lower Manhattan and yet it was battered yesterday, and it has been battered in between Sandy and yesterday. How much money will it take to really modernize the New York City subway system? What can be done if it can be done at all?

Mayor: Yeah, Mike, I think it can be done, but you're right to say it will be a huge endeavor, tens of billions of dollars obviously. And we not only need all the federal aid and the infrastructure aid that thank God is finally starting to move in Washington for the first time really in decades, serious, serious infrastructure aid. But we need congestion pricing here in New York City to provide constant revenue so that our subway system – it is not only the lifeblood of New York City, it's the lifeblood of the entire metropolitan region, over 20 million people, that everything keys off of what happens in the core, in the city, and that keys off the subway system. It has to work for everything else to work, but honestly, a system over a hundred years old, tens of billions of dollars to keep it ahead of changing weather and just decades of too little investment, too little maintenance.

Geist: Yeah. And, obviously, that requires a big partnership between Albany and New York City to get any of that done. Before we let you go, Mr. Mayor, as you stood at that briefing yesterday, you were with the new Governor of New York, Kathy Hochul. There's been some reporting that you've been calling around to labor groups to look into a possible run for the governor's office yourself. Are you considering a run to be the next governor of New York? 

Mayor: Well, Willie, really quickly, first of all, I'm collaborating and working with Governor Hochul as we address this crisis and we've been talking constantly, and I know we're going to be able to work together to serve New Yorkers. We respect each other, like each other. The politics, that's next year, that's a-whole-other world. But look, I believe in public service, I've done it my whole life. I want to keep working on crucial issues and causes particularly care about things like education for our kids. We still have a long way to go on that. These are the kinds of things I'm going to devote myself to. So, we'll see what the future brings. But right now, focus is singularly on bringing this city back, fighting back COVID, fighting back the Delta variant. We're having a lot of success in New York City doing that, dealing with all the other challenges from other nature, but New York City is going to come back strong, I guarantee you that.

Geist: So, fair to say, you're at least considering the run.

Mayor: Willie, I want to keep serving in one way or another in the future. So, I'm going to look at different options. Absolutely.

Geist: All right. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, thanks so much for being here this morning. We appreciate it. And we'll be keeping a close eye on these developments in the wake of that massive storm that swept through New York. Thank you, Mr. Mayor.


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