November 13, 2015
Brian Lehrer: Brian Lehrer on WNYC. And with us for the next half hour or so is the Mayor of the City of New York, Bill de Blasio, to answer some of my questions and some of yours. We can call this a people's news conference. Just give us a well-focused question and be respectful and keep it issue-oriented, and you can call in at 212-433-WNYC, 212-433-9692. And Mr. Mayor, we appreciate your openness to this. Welcome back to WNYC.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you, Brian.
Brian Lehrer: And let me begin with the big picture as we're heading toward the halfway point of your term. Is the central organizing principle still to reduce inequality, and what would you say have been the biggest strides towards that goal?
Mayor: Yes, the central principle is to reduce inequality. And I think the big strides have been full-day pre-K for all our kids, after-school for all our middle school kids. We're on target with our 200,000-unit affordable housing plan, obviously going at the number one expense in New Yorkers' lives, which is housing. By the way, the after-school and the pre-K help kids, help address inequality for the future, but they help right now because they take big expenses off the budgets of families that oftentimes can't make ends meet.
So, all of that. Obviously, paid sick leave. We're very proud of that, which we got done in the first month of the administration, covering a half million more people who had not been covered by previous legislation. That's all a beginning. We've got to go farther on minimum wage. And the State of New York really must act on this. It's time to get a pathway to a $15 minimum wage for everyone. And this is something I'm working on on the national level as well. So I think we have a set of core achievements focused on addressing income inequality. We have to do more here in the city, but we've got to get the state government and the federal government into the work of addressing income inequality.
And one other point. There is no inconsistency between addressing these fundamental issues and raising the standard of living of all New Yorkers and dealing with the day-to-day nuts and bolts of government. We're very proud of the fact that we have filled almost a million potholes. We're proud of the fact that Vision Zero is reducing pedestrian deaths and reducing accidents. Obviously, crime down because of the efforts of the NYPD. So we have to do both the day-to-day work of making the quality of life better for New Yorkers, but we have to raise the standard of living, especially for the 46% still at or near the poverty level in this city.
Brian Lehrer: The Governor is on board now, as you know, with a very broad implementation of a $15 minimum wage. Do you take some credit for leveraging that issue to the fore, even though he may have gone even bigger than you anticipated?
Mayor: Well, I'm thrilled he did. This is what I'd say: I think there's been a movement around this city, this state, this country over the last year. I think it is – talk about a Tale of Two Cities. Talk about a difference a year makes. A year ago, you may remember, I wrote a op-ed in the Huffington Post talking about how in the 2014 elections, candidates all over the country, including Democrats, were not talking about income inequality. They seemed afraid to talk about it, afraid to talk about a tax on the wealthy, afraid to talk about raising wages and benefits. I think the Fight for $15 Movement’s had an incredible impact. I think a lot of what labor's done, I think a lot of what cities like New York, but many others in terms of raising wages and benefits. I think it's all added up and it's created momentum.
I'm very happy the Governor's taken that position. Now we need the State of New York to act, and that is another level higher than taking the position, is getting the legislature to go along. We're going to be working on that very hard over the next six-plus months, and I would urge your listeners to let their representatives in Albany know how important it is that we get to a $15 minimum wage for everyone.
Brian Lehrer: Two years into this, is inequality the best word to frame the central issue? We did a poll largely on inequality of people in our area, the first WNYC public agenda poll, and one of the key findings was that a large majority of people said it's okay for wealthy people to get wealthier as long as everyone else also has a good chance to get ahead. So maybe it's not inequality per se that people are concerned about, rather than lack of opportunity for everyone else to thrive these days. What do you think?
Mayor: I think it's a great question. And I would say, first of all, I'm glad you did your poll. I think a very powerful New York Times/CBS poll, back from June I think it was, showed a clear majority of the American people across region, across ideological background, believe inequality is one of the most pressing issues of our time. They want to see the wealthy taxed more. They want to see a better distribution in terms of income and benefits. I think this issue has really gained momentum, and I think this year, next year, are going to be the crucial breakthrough time to change a lot of national policies, and a lot of the national debate. I’m going to certainly be focused on that.
But why I would argue it is the right phrase: Because trickle-down economics has dominated our national discussion since Ronald Reagan was elected. It has been proven wrong time and again, and yet it still in too many ways dominates policy decisions at different levels of government. Meanwhile, the 1% has gotten wealthier and wealthier, more powerful all the time. The concept of growth in our view of economic policy as a nation is broken, because growth and wealth accrue to a very small number of people. We reward wealth – we do not reward work. The middle class has effectively gone backwards over the last quarter century in terms of real earning power.
Therefore, I think you have to go at the heart of the matter. Unless the 1% pay their fair share, unless we go to the core of a system that still favors trickle-down economics, we can't raise people's standards of living. So I think you have to talk about inequality to get to the breakthrough we need.
Brian Lehrer: And the number one concern expressed by people in our poll was about the lack of affordable housing. 80% in the city called it a very serious problem. That was more than anything else we talked about – we asked about in the survey, more than crime or quality of schools or anything. And that will come as no surprise to you, I think, and you've made it a very high priority. But there seems to be some serious concern among community development people to your approach, based on an article on Vice News and some reporting WNYC has done.
In a nutshell, the concern seems to be that your mandatory inclusionary zoning approach is leading to a lot of real estate speculation around the city, because if your plan is to build-in lots of new density, and that includes lots of, say, 70/30 projects, 70% market rate, 30% guaranteed affordable, that's still on balance going to push up rents higher in lots of neighborhoods and gentrify people out. How much can you respond to those concerns?
Mayor: Oh, I can indeed. First I want to commend your poll, because one of the things I've said to the media over the last few years is I did not need a poll to know that it was the top concern or one of the very top concerns of my fellow New Yorkers. I spent years and years at the grassroots hearing from people all the time – this is the thing that really keeps them up at night. Are they going to be able to live in their own city? Are they going to be able to afford to be here?
So the plan we came up with bluntly addresses the market reality. So one could say we are victims of our own success in New York City. We are a more popular place for people to live than ever. We have literally our highest population in our history. We are well on our way to a nine million-person city. We have companies from all over the world that want to be here, that are growing here. It's had a very dramatic impact on real estate prices.
And you've seen gentrification, which is a double-edged sword. It must be discussed as a double-edged sword. You've seen gentrification reach more and more neighborhoods. As a Brooklynite, I watched what happened when there wasn't government policy related to places like Williamsburg and Bushwick. I saw the changes, Bed-Stuy, the changes that happened there, with no counteracting policy by the government. So what happened? Huge amount of gentrification, thousands and thousands of people pushed out. No affordable housing built. No balance in the equation at all.
Our plan acknowledges that New York City will be a place that's economically strong for the long haul, where people are going to want to be, where our real estate prices will be high. And therefore we say, okay, the government comes in, sets a very clear standard with mandatory inclusionary zoning that any time we allow rezoning, there's going to be a lot more affordable housing than the past. 50% of our affordable housing plan focuses on preserving affordable housing in place, stabilizing affordable housing for the long haul. You saw what we did in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village a few weeks ago. If the government does not step in and stabilize existing affordable housing, we lose it if market forces are allowed to dominate the equation. And then, finally, a very aggressive strategy around legal services to stop people from being illegally evicted or harassed.
So my answer is look around at what market forces are doing on their own. If we were to step back, if the government were to say, "Well, we're just not going to get involved," we would lose a huge number of affordable units and we wouldn't build new affordable units. Instead, we say we have an aggressive strategy, raising the bar on the developers like never before. They must build affordable units if they want that rezoning.
Brian Lehrer: How about the so-called “Piano District”, as an example, the real estate rebranding of some of Mott Haven in the Bronx to build two 25-story market rate towers? Residents there are concerned that that will gentrify the area and run them out. And if my understanding is correct, and correct me if I'm wrong, that's two 25-story towers with no affordable requirement. Are the city's hands tied because no rezoning is involved?
Mayor: I do not know the specifics around those towers. We can certainly get you a good answer. This is part of why I believe rezonings bring a lot of value as a general statement. When you have as-of-right development and developers are not required to do any affordability whatsoever, that's where I think a lot of problems occur, where you get the dynamic of gentrification without the countervailing approach to create the affordability.
This is why I think rezonings are a necessary strategy.
Now, remember, gentrification, again, double-edged sword. It brings with it some positives. In many cases, it brings with it additional amenities for community and employment opportunities, etc. But it brings real negatives, too, that have to be addressed by government policy. I would say in terms of Mott Haven and in terms of the Bronx in general, our job is to go in and make sure that people who have affordable units, we to the maximum extent possible, could preserve for the long term. And, again, to put those legal services on the ground anywhere we're doing a rezoning and even beyond to stop illegal harassment and eviction.
So I think the bottom line here is when you look at any community that is going to be subject to market forces, we've got to get some good out of that equation, because, again, there are some positives that go with gentrification, but we've got to balance and fight back against the negatives and ensure that affordability is protected. By the way, in many communities the number one source of affordability is public housing, which is why we put such an emphasis on stabilizing the finances of NYCHA for the long haul, because if we don't do that, that's where our mother lode of affordable housing for over 400,000 people would be threatened. And I've been very clear: We will never allow privatization of NYCHA. We have to stabilize the finances so those 400,000 people are protected for the long haul.
Brian Lehrer: So before we go to calls, to make a segway from our previous segment, I don't know if you heard the end of it, do you support the federal proposal to ban smoking in people's apartments in NYCHA buildings?
Mayor: I think the goal was a good one. I think there's some challenges we're going to have to work through. The bottom line here is this plan would not take effect likely for another year or two, and we have real issues we have to work through with resident councils and folks on the ground about how we would handle it. Honestly, how we would enforce it creates real challenges. That being said, the goal here I think is commendable. What we see all over the country more and more is public facilities obviously have no-smoking rules that didn't used to. But more and more we see private sector facilities, too, workplaces, hotels. There are many, many no-smoking hotels now. There are no-smoking luxury apartment buildings.
I think what's becoming clear is a no-smoking policy protects the health of our people, particularly our children and our seniors. It is particularly important in neighborhoods where there's a problem with asthma, and that's in a lot of our lower-income neighborhoods. I say that as someone who has asthma myself. If I go by smoke, I feel the effect immediately, and I don't have a bad case of asthma compared to many folks. So I think the goal is right. We've got to figure out how to make it work on the ground – there's a lot to work through. But you cannot have second-hand smoke pervading a public housing building without creating a real health danger to its residents, and that's why the policy is motivated by the right goal.
Brian Lehrer: Alice on the Lower East Side, you're on WNYC with Mayor de Blasio. Hi, Alice.
Caller: Hi. I have a question about Vision Zero. I remember Don't Block the Box, and my first question would be why don't you bring it back? It's sort of a no-brainer. Funds for the city, [inaudible]. You could pay the salaries of the enforcers even, because there's so many people sitting and running through intersections. I checked with my local officers and they said that is still a law and it was never not a law. I don't see the signs anymore, but I never see it enforced. And I just wonder how you can achieve Vision Zero with so many people running through yellow, red lights and then actually sitting in intersections?
Mayor: Well, Alice, I appreciate the question. I will do my homework. My strong belief is it still is being enforced, although I understand your point about maybe you don't see the signs as much. I'll check on that. I would argue the core Vision Zero enforcement need is around speeding and is around failure to yield to pedestrians. That's where, bluntly, the city did not do enough enforcement in the past. We have doubled now the speeding enforcement. We tripled the failure to yield to pedestrian enforcement. That is, I think, a lot of why pedestrian deaths are down 25% since Vision Zero began.
But I think, to the core of your question, this is a work in progress in the best sense of the word. Vision Zero has just begun. We're going to make it much stronger and deeper over the next few years. So I will take your suggestion to heart and see if there's more we should be doing about blocking the box.
Brian Lehrer: There has been a recent rash of traffic-related deaths making headlines despite the Vision Zero program. Does that obscure the bigger picture or is there backsliding?
Mayor: No, there's no backsliding at all. The numbers are abundantly clear. Last year the lowest number of pedestrian deaths in a century in this city, and actually continued progress, additional progress this year. We had a horrible run of tragedies, but it does not change the fact that the formula's the right formula. More enforcement of speeding and failure to yield, lower speed limit, speed cameras, and traffic redesign, the intersection redesigns, which are happening constantly. And Wwe've booked those for years to come. There'll be more and more of those going forward. I believe that fundamentally this is one where the numbers don't lie. There's a lot of people alive today because Vision Zero was applied so aggressively.
Brian Lehrer: Vincent in Brooklyn, you're on WNYC with Mayor de Blasio. Hi, Vincent.
Caller: Hi. Good morning. Thanks for taking my call. Good morning, Mayor.
Mayor: Good morning.
Caller: Before I ask the question, just let me clarify and say that I was an avid supporter of you during your first election, and I am from Brooklyn, New York. My question centers around Broken Windows, because you have strongly been advocating for that policing policy. And I just wanted to know, obviously under the direction of Bill Bratton, did Bill Bratton inform you that the phrase "Broken Windows" was used by the Nazi Germans to identify a segment of their population that they wanted to target to oppress and victimize on a path to Jewish genocide? And can we count on you to abandon the use of that name and change the policing policy immediately by firing Bill Bratton? Thank you.
Brian Lehrer: What would you like to see change on the ground, Vincent?
Caller: [inaudible] it's already been documented that they're targeting Black and Brown people and the working poor, and primarily it's a s revenue-raising form of policing that really oppress culture.
Brian Lehrer: All right.
Mayor: Let me have at it, Brian. Vincent, I appreciate your support in the past. I appreciate you're from Brooklyn. I appreciate you care, but I disagree with you fundamentally. Bill Bratton has done more than anyone to reduce crime in this city over the quarter century, and I think that needs to be the first thing we think about in this discussion. When someone is killed, when someone is attacked, that's the fundamental violation of rights. And Bill Bratton is the person who brought in CompStat and Broken Windows and the strategies that turned around the crime situation, and we're going to continue with those strategies because they work.
What I think you're saying that I would find some common ground with, I don't know at all what you're talking about in terms of that history of the phrase, I've never heard that before, and I think the phrase is associated with successful policing and not anything else, but what I would say we understand about this strategy is it has to constantly evolve, it has to be constantly updated. Of course, it has to be applied evenly across communities, but Broken Windows is based on community demand for service by the police.
There was a time in this city when, I remember it vividly, your car was stolen, there was a robbery, a lot of times people felt the police were not necessarily going to respond very vigorously, because there was so much crime and they were going to pay attention to quote/unquote "more serious crimes." A lot of people in communities of color felt they did not get enough public safety support. We have strived to make sure that all communities are treated equally in terms of getting the help they need to be safe, but at the same time, we have to make sure that the strategies are constantly evolving.
So for example, Vision Zero, we just talked about. Vision Zero is a version, the enforcement piece, is a version of Broken Windows. More enforcement on failure to yield, more enforcement on speeding. Where's an example of changing Broken Windows in another direction? The reduction in arrests on low-level marijuana possession. That was a case where we said we're going to use the broken windows theory, but we're going to apply it differently, because we think this is an area where we should do less in the way of arrests.
So as Commissioner Bratton's talked about, the peace dividend: One million fewer interactions between police and community members of the kind that, bluntly, were often negative. Obviously, much less in the way of stop-and-frisk and much less in the way of marijuana arrests for low-level possession.
Brian Lehrer: Another crime story in the news today. You got that unusual rebuke by a judge from the bench yesterday – the judge who sentenced Tyrone Howard, the accused killer of police officer Randolph Holder. You had criticized that he was previously offered a drug treatment diversion program rather than given prison by the judge, Patricia Nunez, for a previous drug offense, but she said yesterday in re-sentencing him, quote, "Shame on those politicians who now point fingers and try to blame the judges for a program that they themselves wanted. I would suggest that the Mayor look into a mirror and ask himself whether or not it is his own policies that he's in favor of, whether those policies make someone think they can shoot a cop. Do not blame the judges." What's your response?
Mayor: I think that's outrageous. And I don't know this judge. By the way, the judge attacked Commissioner Bratton, too, and I think she owes him an apology. This is ludicrous. This judge was part of what happened here. It went horribly wrong. The judge apologized profusely, now suddenly is turning the table. That's ridiculous. I think some who I think handled the situation wrong should own up to it, not try and pass the blame. But much more to the point, what we're doing here is making sure that crime goes down without doing things that alienate police from communities. And obviously, the numbers show that crime continues to go down. What we need is fundamental reforms at the state level in terms of our bail laws.
From what I can see of all the information that was available to judges related to Tyrone Howard, it's not mysterious to me that this is a person who should not have been walking the streets, but I do think we need clearer laws in Albany that give the judges the power to consider the dangerousness of the suspect in making bail determinations and requiring them to consider the dangerousness in terms of any diversion programs. So, yes, the judges deserve more support and reforms in Albany, but at the same time I think judges have a lot of information in front of them, including many instances of Mr. Howard violating parole and probation orders. It was not mysterious that this was someone who was not going to play by the rules.
Brian Lehrer: David in Harlem, you're on WNYC with Mayor de Blasio. Hi, David.
Caller: Hey, Bill. How's it going?
Mayor: Good. How are you?
Caller: I am a veteran and a teacher. And I met you the other day at the veterans ceremony. And I mentioned I had been out of work for three years because the DOE fired me, and right away you said, "Welcome back, brother." That really made me feel accepted and it took some of the edge off. And I'm a big supporter of you, but I fear that the elite and the media are trying to paint you into a corner where you're not of the people, even though your agenda is completely about working class poor people in New York. And I would like to know from you, are you going to change some things about the way you interact with the public so that people really see you as the human being that you are and that you are one of us and that you are representing the working and the poor people of this city and that we have real commonality with you? Because I'd really see it as a shame if you went down as a one-term mayor. And I really hope you'll be able to connect with the everyday New Yorker that's not being told the truth about you by the media and by the elite of this city.
Mayor: Well, David, I appreciate that question deeply. This is what I'd say. We're going to tell our story. I have not changed one iota. I am here to address income inequality and to support working people and to keep this a city for everyone. And everything we started this show with, talking about the achievements already, speaks to that. I think you're right to say I have to bring it directly to the people. We had a town hall meeting last night in Jackson Heights, Queens. We did about two hours of questions from community members. We're going to be doing a lot more direct to the people opportunities like that –I’m going to be out in different neighborhoods. Obviously, this is another version of talk to the people through a show like this.
So I am never surprised when someone is fighting for fundamental social change, and particularly economic change, that the message is not exactly relayed accurately by some people. I'm never surprised by that. I think we have a long history of folks, particularly when you start talking about economic fairness and taxing the wealthy, it is not a surprise that some people interpret that inaccurately. But the message hasn't changed, the goal hasn't changed, the policies haven't changed. What I will do, to your point, is bring them directly to the people more.
Brian Lehrer: The town hall forum that you mentioned on education last night in Jackson Heights was just your second. And you've got a lot of criticism coming from the press for not taking more questions in general that are off your topic of the day and from the public as well, because it was only your second town hall meeting. Do you feel there's a tug of war between you and most of the media to frame what's important? Why have you been so closed in this respect?
Mayor: Well, I disagree with your characterization. I've had endless media availabilities since I came into office, and a lot of other opportunities to talk to both everyday people and community leaders constantly. What's abundantly clear is we're going to be doing a lot more in communities and going directly to people and not allowing anyone else's interpretation, but going right to the people with the message.
Look, I think it's absolutely fair. When we've had some big topics we're talking about, we want to keep the questions on that topic. And a lot of times the media has 10 or 20 questions on that topic. That's what we should in many cases keep the press conference to. Plenty of other opportunities like this and many others where there'll be a whole host of questions of all types.
Look, I thought it was important at the beginning of this administration to focus on getting the work done. We had a very aggressive plan that we wanted to start very quickly. There's no way we would've gotten this much done if we had not put all the time and energy at City Hall we needed to to get it done. But now that these things are moving, I'm going to be out in communities talking to people about, listening to people about what they need and what we have to add to our effort. But I'm very comfortable that we have the exact right balance now with a lot more talking to the people and just cutting out any intermediary.
Brian Lehrer: Daniel on Long Island, you're on WNYC with Mayor de Blasio. Hi, Daniel.
Caller: Hey. How's it going? So I'd like to challenge a little bit that characterization that Mayor de Blasio hasn't necessarily strayed from the progressive ideals that he came into office with, especially just on one issue that took place last week, which was the endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president. And I'm wondering why, Mayor de Blasio, you wouldn't favor somebody who is much closer to you on the progressive ideals on income inequality, on free education, on legalization of marijuana, on all these different issues, why you wouldn't go with Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton? And I know you worked on her campaign, but is that really enough to sacrifice your voice as fighting for the people and fighting for equality to go and endorse her? I'm curious as to why that happened.
Mayor: Well, Daniel, I appreciate the question. Who said I'm sacrificing my voice? My view is that a progressive leader remains a progressive leader regardless of who you endorse. And I'll certainly speak to the endorsement position, but I want to be very clear. Part of why I've been working with my fellow mayors and with progressives around the country to build a progressive movement to address income inequality is that we need to do this for the long haul. And all of us have to raise our voices. It doesn't matter who's in office and which state they're in – we're going to keep pushing for higher wages and benefits, for taxing the wealthy as they should be taxed, and for raising standards for working people and doing things like full-day pre-K and paid sick leave.
So I'm very, very comfortable in telling you, whoever is in office, in Albany or in Washington, if I think they're not working on behalf of working people, I'll make that very clear. But the endorsement was for this reason. I've said from day one Hillary Clinton's extraordinarily talented and I would argue the most qualified or one of the most qualified people in history running for president in terms of what she's done before she might become president. And that's very important in this equation. The ability to get things done as the leader of the country, the ability to get things done around that progressive agenda is crucial.
I said in the beginning, I had the greatest respect for her, but even despite that respect and friendship, I wanted to see her agenda played out more clearly in terms of addressing income inequality. She did that systematically. I think a lot of people around the country asked her to do it. She did that. And the agenda she has put forward now would close the carried interest loophole, would adopt the Buffet Rule in terms of taxing the wealthy. It's obviously very strong on things like pre-K and paid sick leave. She came out against the trade deal, which I think was a very important moment.
So there is no sacrificing of voice or the ability to push for progressive change. I just think she's the person who's going to best achieve progressive change.
Brian Lehrer: How about Donald Trump doubling down on his plan to deport 11 million people here illegally? He could get the Republican nomination the way things are going. If he was elected president and tried to do that, would you actively resist in some way as Mayor of the City of New York?
Mayor: Unquestionably, unquestionably. This is outrageous. And we really need to fight this right now, because what he is saying, to call it un-American is an understatement. It is inhumane. He's talking about deporting people, using as his example, a plan that was inhumane, that was proven to be in so many ways immoral, which led to the deaths of many people. It's unbelievable that he could talk about mass deportation of an entire community of people, 11 million-plus people.
So to me, this is a real moment of truth for the United States. People should condemn Donald Trump's plan immediately. If we are going to start mass deportation, we have lost our moral authority in the world. We can't be the nation of immigrants and the beacon to the world and then start mass deportation of hardworking people. It doesn't make any sense.
Brian Lehrer: Would you have a way to resist?
Mayor: Look, this city has always said we will set our own standards in terms of dealing with our fellow residents and neighbors who happen to be not documented. Now, let’s be abundantly clear. If someone has committed a violent crime or if someone is involved in anything that would endanger people, we deal with that, but every day the 500,000 or so folks who are here, everyday working people, happen to be undocumented, we have done a lot to try and support them. And our police force believes that we have to keep an open door to them if we're going to be able to fight crime in all communities, which is why we keep some separation from the federal government and from ICE on these issues.
But on this specific issue, if Donald Trump thinks he's going to be able to deport people out of New York City, he's got another thing coming. We're not going to allow innocent people to be forcibly deported from this country.
Brian Lehrer: Last question, and then you can add anything you want as a closing remark. David, on Twitter, asks, "Any thoughts on the racial situation at Yale where Dante is at school?"
Mayor: Well, first of all, I'm interested in Dante's view on this, and I haven't heard it enough because he's been so busy with his studies, but I know he has his own views. But I would say, from my vantage point, what's going on at Yale, what's going on at University of Missouri, is a moment of truth. It is clear that students of color, they don't just feel marginalized, they have been marginalized in many ways. And this connects immediately to the Black Lives Matter movement, that a lot of core truths are being dredged up now, finally, that should've come up a long time ago, that people of color in this country experience daily, hourly discrimination, and it does not conform with our values. So I think these movements are very healthy and I think they're going to force a lot of cultural and political change in this country.
Brian Lehrer: Mayor Bill de Blasio, we always appreciate you coming on and taking questions from me and from the listeners. Thank you for doing it today.
Mayor: Thank you, Brian.