October 5, 2021
Errol Louis: Welcome back to Inside City Hall, as we mentioned before the break, the vaccine mandate for all city schoolteachers and Department of Education employees took effect today. All staff are now required to have at least one dose of the vaccine, or they were placed on unpaid leave, or risk of being placed on unpaid leave. Here with me now to talk about that in much more, we’ve got Mayor de Blasio joining me from the Blue Room Inside City Hall. Good evening, Mr. Mayor.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good evening, Errol, how are you doing today?
Louis: Just fine. Thanks. Let me follow up and ask you about this, the mandatory vaccination has taken effect, but that in turn means that there are likely going to be hundreds, if not thousands of teachers, going into schools with little preparation, right? I mean families are going to find out tonight, I guess they won't learn any earlier, that their child's teacher may have been replaced by a substitute.
Mayor: Well, first of all, the substitutes, Errol, in many cases are people with a lot of experience. A lot of them are substitutes who were with us last year and did extraordinary work under tough circumstances. So, I would not assume though the levels of experience, a lot of them do have a lot of experience. But to your point, will parents and kids having to have to deal with a new teacher? Well, look, it's up to the teacher. The 96 percent of teachers who decided to get vaccinated and stick with their kids and stick with their schools, they obviously are moving forward. We think some of the remaining four percent are going to think better of their decision and come back and get vaccinated and be back in some cases, even in a matter of days. But any teacher who doesn't get vaccinated will be on unpaid leave. Schools can make decisions within the school to use teachers to cover classrooms that they have already in the school and or bring in substitutes. If the substitute comes in, they're going to be there long-term, then of course they'll become that child's regular teacher. So, it'll all play out over the next days.
Louis: Do you have any sense of whether among those who have chosen not to be vaccinated who are now at risk of being suspended or even dismissed, do they cluster together in schools? Do you know of any sort of common threads geographical or otherwise that that link them?
Mayor: Not in a really major way. Look, let's start at beginning 96 percent of the teachers, 99 percent of the principals, overall, all employees combined, 95 percent of full-time employees, made the right decision, did the right thing, got that vaccination. That's a stunning figure. That's I think higher than anyone would have predicted. And again, I think that number is going to go up. So, I want to commend those who made that choice. We don't see any big overarching patterns, you know, it's relatively small numbers in any given school, obviously. And it's not even fully settled yet, because again, I think some of this is people experiencing the deadline, realizing we mean business, they got that letter now saying you're going on unpaid leave, for some people, maybe that sounded okay, but now that they're living it, I think a lot are going to say, wait a minute, this may not be such a great choice.
Louis: Okay. Let me switch topics. We are airing a series this week on the Board of Elections. I know you've been very critical of the agency. In our report tonight, though, your son was actually featured because his ballot was accidentally made publicly available. I'm wondering what concrete steps can be taken to actually reform the Board, anything you've learned over the past eight years about which way we ought to go?
Mayor: Yeah, just tear it down, start over. It's broken, Errol. It is based on an idea from way back in the last century of a board dominated by the political parties. That's an arcane, ineffective idea. It's caused endless problems. I mean, unfortunately, look, I respect my party a lot and I respect a lot of the people elected in my party, but when it comes down to the board, unfortunately, what we've seen is just consistent mistake after mistake, and too many times when the voters were the losers and people got alienated from voting or people couldn't figure out where they were supposed to vote, or the registration got nullified for no reason. I mean, this is just unacceptable. Tear it down. Do the tough work. In the short term, pass legislation in Albany to empower the Executive Director, let the Executive Director act like a modern manager and not have to go to the board for every little thing. In the longer-term, I'm sad to say it's going to take a constitutional amendment to the State Constitution, but that's what it's going to take, but let's do that hard work and then build a modern agency. If the State wants to run it, God bless them, otherwise make it a city agency like any other city agency. We’ve got Department of Transportation, Department of Sanitation, have a department for elections and let it be run in a way that actually is accountable and can get things done for people.
Louis: Okay. Let me move on to the LaGuardia AirTrain. Governor Hochul has ordered a review of the project saying, “I don't feel obligated to accept what I have inherited.” She has instructed the Port Authority to look for alternatives. Do you want her to actually halt the project? And if so, do you have a better idea about how to get a rail link to LaGuardia?
Mayor: I want to see the best, most convenient, most effective rail link to LaGuardia. I think there's a lot to be said for immediately – now that we don't have, you know, the imperial governor anymore, look at the different options and see which one is best. Some folks have said that, you know, bus service to LaGuardia could be made much more appealing and effective, that should be looked at too. But I really liked the idea of a rail link and look, I'd love to see one that's better and more convenient than what was proposed. If it turns out that the previous proposal was actually the best one, okay, then maybe it makes sense to go ahead, but we never really got to have that conversation. It's worth looking at all the options and choosing the best one.
Louis: I want to ask you a question about your final Mayor's Management Report. The number of city streets rated filthy - that's the official word - jumped by about 500 percent compared to last year, and I know that the Sanitation Department got over 3,000 requests to clean out empty lots, but only got around to fewer than half of them, 60 percent fewer than last year, about 1,200, well below the stated goal of 3,200. There are a lot of different metrics along those lines that have left the city dirtier and less pleasant. Is there anything that can be done about this in your final weeks?
Mayor: Yeah, and a lot is being done right now. I, first of all, you know, it's one of many, many situations that unquestionably was affected by COVID. That's not the end of the discussion. That's not an excuse, it's just a reality, a lot got thrown off. We're constantly, all the time, kind of putting things back together, making things more normal, getting us back to pre-pandemic standards. One of the good things has been the City Cleanup Corps. They've done a great job, an amazing job in Times Square. They did an amazing job after Hurricane Ida going out into communities. Sanitation also did an amazing job after Hurricane Ida, that took a lot of time and energy off of what they normally do. I think you're going to see a normalization in the months ahead. We added a lot of money back to the Sanitation budget. At one point we had to cut it because we were running out of money. Then we got the stimulus. We're putting a lot money back. Sanitation is picking up a lot of ground now. I think you're going to see these issues resolved greatly in the course of the next few months.
Louis: Do we need to go back to full implementation of alternate side parking rules?
Mayor: We're looking at that question. I hope not, is the truth, Errol, because I really think our – look, our number one concern is the climate, number one challenge is the climate crisis. I think a tradition in this city of people having to circle the block constantly and idle and search for a space, you know, for 15, 20 minutes, 30 minutes each night, that that's not what we want to see on any given night. We don't want to see that. I want people to have to move their cars as little as possible, and I think alternate side once a week, each side of the street is the best model. But we have to look at that in comparison to the question of how we keep the streets clean and where to strike that balance. So, that's a conversation we're having right now, as we're coming out of the worst of the pandemic, we're going to make a decision before I leave office, whether it go back to the old model or come up with a new model where people move their car less.
Louis: Okay. There were a couple of stories in the papers just recently, the FDNY, levels of alleged bias and harassment within the fire department directed toward Black and Latino and women firefighters is enormous, resulting on a record number of suspensions. There was this other story of about the apparent existence of cops who were members of groups like the Oath Keepers. I know you feel strongly that, you don't need to do loyalty tests on city employees but is there a way perhaps to screen out candidates on the front side, people who are actively hostile to diversity and inclusion, which are not just, you know, political or personal values, but it actually amounts to the operating law of the city.
Mayor: Yeah, I think it's a great point, Errol. Yes. The answer is yes, and I believe some of that is being done now, but I think we can improve it. I dare say, I think there's much less bias in the younger generations than in the older generations. So, I think some of the problem we're experiencing bluntly is folks who hold values from the past that are just absolutely inappropriate. We need to weed out on the front end, absolutely, but also anytime we see acts of bias, racism, discrimination, or let alone, extremism, anything that might be an indication someone who's not loyal to a democratically elected government and to our constitution, to the oath they took, we have to constantly be watching for those signs, but the best way to do it is not create a culture where everyone is suspect but look for specifics and act on those specifics and act aggressively. The Fire Department, as you said, more and harsher suspensions than ever when they see racist, inappropriate activity. I think that’s sending a powerful message. Firefighters who do the wrong thing are suffering consequences. In terms of the Oath Keepers, we have two cases right now under investigation. I’m hoping there is no more, but whatever number it is, everyone is going to be investigated very thoroughly. Any officer who pledged allegiance to the Oath Keepers does not belong in the NYPD. They are literally – when you pledge allegiance to the Oath Keepers, you’re saying that you don’t believe in the United States Constitution, and you don’t believe in your oath of office, and it’s time to get the hell out.
Louis: Okay, stand by, Mr. Mayor, we are going to take a short break. We’ll have more of our conversation with Mayor de Blasio in just a minute, stay with us.
We are back Inside City Hall. And once again, joined by Mayor de Blasio, joining us from the Blue Room. And Mr. Mayor, I wanted to ask you about this big investigation the New York Times published about the homelessness services provider, CORE Services? You know, the CEO of that organization, Jack Brown III, was involved with Community First Services. Before that with Correctional Services Corporation, CSC, you remember them. They were fined over $300,000, cited for ethical violations. How can they get through whatever process we have for procurements? And they're not the only one, but they're the latest, to show up in the newspaper. To get hundreds of millions of dollars in additional City contracts?
Mayor: Well, Errol, it's a very fair question. Look, I'm frustrated any time I see someone in any way take advantage of the public, the taxpayers, the mission, which is really to serve people in need. That said, I think what Commissioner Steve Banks said this morning at my press conference bears remembering. We are dealing with just tremendous challenges and we need to provide services to folks. We have a Right To Shelter law, which is the right thing in this city. The polar opposite of what we see on the West Coast, where there's this massive tent colonies of homeless people on the street. Here, we have Right To Shelter. But it comes with a huge obligation to provide services. And there's only so many organizations willing to do it. Steve said earlier, you know, look when we have a situation where something's wrong, we don't just say, we're never going to work with that organization again. You know, go away. And we have another good organization to replace them. It doesn't work that way. We have to work with the organizations we have, see if we can work with them to correct their mistakes and get them on the right path. If we can, that's great. If not, we need to get rid of them once and for all. So, I don't know enough about this case. It needs to be fully, fully investigated. I do know we're going to take money back from CORE, if any money was used inappropriately. And if they don't fix their approach, then we would have to consider banning them from any kind of City business.
Louis: It sounds like many of the providers, and that you know, includes some of the hotel operators, some of the low-income housing operators. It sounds like they have, from the way you're describing it, it sounds like they have the administration over a barrel? That they can engage in outrageous activity or have, really sort of shady checkered backgrounds and the City almost has no choice, but to do business with them?
Mayor: I don't think it's quite as dire as that, but I don't think it's a good situation either. We got to remember just how profound the need is. And there's just not a lot of organizations that do this work and do it well. Look, an organization that can't provide the service, we're not going to work with. An organization that we find a pattern of inappropriate behavior, we're not going to work with. We do have some organizations that have made mistakes or have individuals within them who made mistakes or overtly tried to cheat. But if the rest of the organization is doing work that still helps us to serve people, we're going to try and see if we can salvage that situation. So, I don't think it was quite as bad as you describe it, but I think it's a challenge. It's a tough, tough reality. Look, we know landlords have been trying, you know, to profit as much as possible, certain landlords, not all, but certain particularly unscrupulous ones, have been trying to profit off of the fate of the homeless. It's one of the reasons why we're getting out of that scattered-site housing. I remember as a young Council member, you know, doing hearings on scattered-site housing. And seeing these landlords just make out like bandits on the backs of homeless people, on the backs of the City. We're banning scattered-site housing. I said this back in 2017, we're going to phase out all that. We're almost there. I want to get out of the hotels that we're paying for by the day. Some of the same reality that we see where the City is put into a situation having to pay a huge amount. I want that permanent shelter system, we talked about 90 shelters, I’ve talked about that back in 2017. We've made a lot of progress towards it. That way we control our own destiny. We don't deal with unscrupulous landlords. And then over time, just keep shrinking down the shelter system as we get more and more people situated. And those spaces can be turned into ultimately permanent affordable housing. That's the vision we're working off of now.
Louis: Well, you know, there's one aspect of this, the accusation in this case, but it's not the first time it's happened of somebody using their government funded nonprofit to buy goods and services from for profit companies that the operator of the nonprofit actually owns. I mean, it's a kind of self-dealing that, it seems to me, you could just flat out prohibit, right? I mean like that seems like it's almost a per se violation of basic ethical rules?
Mayor: Yeah. And Errol, obviously you got to look at each case because sometimes it looks that way, but it's something different. But anything, look, if someone's inappropriately profiting, if they're violating our rules and laws, they have to be held accountable. Does that mean they can never work with us again? Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't. Does it mean their organization is banned from doing work with the City? Again, sometimes yes. Sometimes, no. The goal is not to ban every organization because there's some bad people in them or because they've done something wrong over time. You know, a lot of government agencies have done some things that were wrong over time. We don't therefore throw out the notion that that agency has something to offer. But I want to see a world in which we continue to weed out the bad apples and figure out which of these nonprofits we can work with in a fair, equitable manner going forward? But it's ongoing work. It's ongoing work because it comes out of a history that's really troubled. And we're trying to work our way out of that.
Louis: Yeah. I mean, one of the substantive reasons that are given for starting some of these additional, these side companies, is that the City is said to be slow in sending funds to their contractors so that they can't find a good say security company. Because that security company has to wait two and three and four months to get paid by the City. So, they sort of take it in house. And that's where a whole range of problems begin. Is there something on that side of procurement that you can fix?
Mayor: Well, I don't know about that specific scenario you're talking about. But I can say to you I've never been pleased by the speed with which the City pays nonprofits. And I've tried numerous meetings to push this with OMB, with our Office of Contract Services. And I know they're trying. But you know, we also all inherited laws with a lot of hoops in them, a lot of checks and balances, maybe so many as to gum up the works. I'd like to see us continue. We're in a different world now. You and I both saw several administrations ago, some really, really troubling stuff. We're in a different, better world no. I’d like to see a streamline of procurement, streamline reimbursement. I think nonprofits are often hurting for cash flow. Thank God, the City is not hurting for cash flow. I think we can do better.
Louis: Okay. And then I guess I've got to ask you just because it comes up all the time. To the extent that there's going to be in a little over six months from now a Democratic primary for governor and your name keeps getting batted around, it does really matter whether or not you're going to be a candidate, doesn't it? I mean these last couple of months in office, if you're also about to launch a campaign, it's sort of colors many of your actions very differently?
Mayor: Well, look at my actions is what I’d say. I've been very open about the fact that I've devoted my whole life to public service. And everyone knows some of the things I'm passionate about. I'm passionate about trying to get more done for our kids and families. And I'm passionate about fighting income inequality and trying to save our climate from everything it's gone through. That's pretty clear and out there who I am. But when you look at my actions every day, you can judge. And I think what we're just talking about today, the fact that 95 percent of our school employees got vaccinated. Well, look, I had to take a tough stand and say, we're going to go and vaccinate all our adults in schools. And we're not going to have remote classes. We're going to have in-person classes. I had to say, this is what we're doing and I'll take the consequences. And I'm proud to say, we now have all our kids back in school. We have 95 percent of our employees vaccinated. Judge me by my work. I think this is the kind of work people would want to see me do, whether I have a candidacy in the future or not. This is the kind of work that New York City needs right now.
Louis: Okay. And before I let you go, you're in an unusual position, the Mayor of New York City will be, I believe, actively rooting against the one shot the Yankees have at the playoffs in their elimination round against your Boston Red Sox?
Mayor: What gives you that idea, Errol?
Louis: Am I wrong? You can clear it up now, Mr. Mayor.
Mayor: I’m being very neutral. I'm not even sure – I don't even know there's a game at eight o'clock tomorrow night. Okay.
Louis: I see. And you may or may not be sitting in front of a television with a cap with a red B on it?
Mayor: No, I can neither confirm nor deny any of these scurrilous rumors, Errol.
Louis: Okay. Fair enough.
Mayor: May the better team win.
Louis: May the better team win. Okay. We can agree on that. We’ll talk again next week. Thanks very much. Good to see you and have a great evening.
Mayor: Take care now.