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Transcript of de Blasio WNYC radio program June 22 with callers asking about mayoral control fo schools, Rikers, mass transit crisis in NYC. Mayor says Cuomo controls buses, subways.
NYSNYS News
Text of press release.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 22, 2017
CONTACT: pressoffice@cityhall.nyc.gov, (212) 788-2958

TRANSCRIPT: MAYOR DE BLASIO APPEARS LIVE ON WNYC

Brian Lehrer: And it’s a morning on which 1.2 million New York City schoolchildren are waking up to hear that the Mayor will no longer control the education system after June 30th because the New York State legislature couldn’t agree on an extension of mayoral control last night before they adjourned until 2018. Unless they pull off some post session magic, a seven-member Board of Education with divided accountability and 32 local school districts will take control of the system up through eighth grade.

We will start there with our weekly Ask the Mayor segment with Mayor Bill de Blasio coming to you on Thursday on this week because I’ll be taking a summer Friday off tomorrow. Good morning Mr. Mayor, welcome back to WNYC.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, Brian.

Lehrer: Do you think this is really the way it’s going to be now for the city schools or is there some post-session negotiation that starts now?

Mayor: Look, I think everyone in this city should be deeply concerned that the Legislature had a chance to resolve this by the end of their formal session and didn’t. And I think there should be strong voices all over the city saying that they need to get back and finish this work before June 30. Now I will say the conversations yesterday were intense throughout the day, I ended up speaking with all four of the key leaders in Albany throughout the day numerous times. My last conversation was around midnight with the Majority Leader of the Senate, John Flanagan. So to be fair, a lot of work went on yesterday, a lot of effort to try and craft a larger resolution of the issue. So I don’t think that’s for nothing, I think that’s important because it opens the door to resolution. But the fact that it didn’t get done should worry everyone because you know, things can spin out of control in Albany. And I think what everyone needs to do now – all those folks who have been supporting mayoral control of education understand it’s the only way to keep our school system moving forward – those business leaders, labor leaders, parents all over the city need to send a very clear message to Albany – get back there and finish this work.

Lehrer: And listeners our phones are open for our Ask the Mayor segment on mayoral control of the public schools or anything else. 2-1-2-4-3-3-WNYC, 4-3-3-9-6-9-2, or you can tweet, just use the #AskTheMayor.

Am I right that – well let me not ask you that, I’ll ask you this. We know the Senate Republicans wouldn’t renew mayoral control because they wanted a higher number of charter schools. What role did the breakaway Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Caucus, led by Jeff Klein of the Bronx, play in this failure? Here’s Klein speaking yesterday. He, as I understand it, agrees with the Republican position.

[State Senator Jeff Klein: “I’m hopeful that we can pick up the pieces, renegotiate, and come back as quickly as possible and do the things we need to do for the City of New York.”]

Lehrer: So he says renegotiate, you say pick up the pieces and renegotiate. How much do you blame Jeff Klein and the seven breakaway Democrats for this, if at all?

Mayor: I don’t think it’s time to assess blame because there’s still a way to resolve this. I think what’s important here and commendable is that the Speaker of the Assembly, Carl Heastie, laid out a very clear vision at the beginning of this process and said mayoral control of education needs to be treated on its own merits. It needs to be seen just the same way as fundamental matters of governance are addressed for every part of the state, including those sale tax extenders for upstate and income tax extender for New York City. He put it in the same bucket as those, as fundamental governance matters. I think that’s absolutely right. And any resolution here has to respect that ground rule.

But in terms of the different players – look to be fair to everyone, everyone was talking to everyone yesterday. We were talking with the Governor, the Senate Majority Leader, the Assembly Speaker, and Senator Klein throughout the day. I was and my team was. Let’s give people a chance to come back and fix this, but they’ve got precious little time. Its June 22nd this morning, we’ve got precisely eight days so that’s when the proof will be in the pudding, Brian, of what happened. And if God forbid mayoral control lapses then there will be more than enough to talk about who is responsible. But they’ve got a chance right now to avoid something that would be absolutely destructive for our school system and 1.1 million kids. They’ve just got to come back and get it done.

Lehrer: You mentioned Speaker Heastie having what you see as the right position – that mayoral control is an essential function of government – but my understanding is that Speaker Heastie is more adamant than you are about not increasing the number of charter schools and would not accept a compromise. So, is that true and would you urge Heastie to make a deal for some split the difference number that he is not currently willing to make?

Mayor: I want to be very clear about this – there’s two ways to understand this, meaning two important parts of the equation. Speaker Heastie is 100 percent right that there should not be a legislative quid pro quo. He has been abundantly clear about that, he said he will not participate in that and obviously would not, as you said, he’s not going to pass any of the other things if mayoral control is not passed. There are issues around the charters, and obviously I spoke at length about this yesterday during the press conference. I had several conversations with the Majority Leader John Flanagan on his concerns about charters and trying to see if we can find some common ground on what we’re doing in our schools every day to work with charters. I’ve said repeatedly we have ample experience working with charters, including our pre-K program, our afterschool program for middle school kids, our upcoming 3-K – all of those by the decision of this administration included charters as stakeholders in those efforts, and we work with a number of charter schools every day productively. There are some differences politically with some charter organizations, obviously well known, and there’s some we think are doing a great job and some we think need to do better. But if you look at day-to-day life, there’s actually plenty of cooperation with charters happening. And I’ve talked at length with Leader Flanagan about that. So I think a lot of the discussion is what can we do from the City perspective to keep striking that balance and show that we’re being fair to everyone. But I don’t think that’s a legislative matter. I think that’s about what the City of New York can do, and that’s an area where I think we can keep working together.

Lehrer: But is there a path to yes without Speaker Heastie compromising on the number that’s in the charter school cap?

Mayor: 100 percent, Brian. I’ve always believed – you know, I was a legislator – there’s always a path to yes. And a lot of times it takes being creative and looking at different factors or looking at different issues entirely to put something together that people feel comfortable with.

Lehrer: You have anything to suggest that’s not [inaudible]?

Mayor: I’m not going to do that publicly. Obviously, that’s what – all day yesterday people were having those conversations, and I think it’s well understood that things were closing in some good ways. There was some real coming together. That’s why I’m disappointed that it wasn’t finished. And I think there is still time to finish it. But again, I think the Speaker has laid out a fundamental concept which makes all the sense in the world – let’s respect this as essential governance. No one – Brian, no one, including John Flanagan, including Jeff Klein – no one said they have a better system of governance than mayoral control. And so, why don’t we say – let’s stipulate that – that we all agree on that and now we’re trying to figure out a variety of other matters just to get this done and move forward. And I think the Speaker’s been right to say – let’s codify that reality. This thing has to stand alone.

Lehrer: And just one other thing on this before we move on to some callers and then some other things from me. I don’t know if you’re even willing to engage in this yet with your saying there’s still a chance before June 30th to undo this. But if this goes forward – I remember the old seven-member Board of Education from the system before 2002. The Mayor appoints two members and each of the five borough presidents appoints one. That’s why it wasn’t considered accountable to anyone in particular, all that split power. Are those people in place? Do you have two appointees on some shell Board of Education right now?

Mayor: We obviously have a current panel that we have the majority on and have named members to. That’s going to continue up until June 30. God forbid – and I appreciate the point you’re making very much, Brian – God forbid we get to the morning of July 1st and Albany has not acted – well first of all, I think there’s going to be tremendous frustration and anger expressed in this city if that ever happens. But then we would have to constitute that board exactly as you say. There will be no majority held by anyone – no one fully accountable. That will immediately – as we heard yesterday from our Chancellor and from the former Deputy Chancellor under Michael Bloomberg that the immediate drag that this will create on our school system – the things that will not be able to happen quickly, the costs involved. By the way, the cost of reconstituting that Board of Education is projected at $1.6 billion over the next ten years. That’s an entirely additional cost to everything we’re doing on education. We would demand that Albany pay that if they’re forcing this on us. And then Brian, we’d have to start the election process for 32 local school boards – all of which would have the power to name their own superintendents, determine their own budgets. A lot of the things that we now are doing in the school system that people believe in – Pre-K for All, Computer Science for All, Advanced Placement courses in every high school – all of that would no longer be universal. It would be at the whim of each of 32 local school boards, ergo I’m sure a lot of folks would lose pre-K. Our 3-K initiative – extending it to three-year-olds could not move forward. You’re talking about a sea change and a vast amount of new cost. And then unfortunately, the door opening to the kind of corruption we knew with the local school boards which was legendary. One of the things the Deputy Chancellor said – the former Deputy Chancellor – said yesterday was when he was a teacher, wanted to be an assistant principal, they literally showed him or they told him about a price list. If you wanted to become assistant principal, you had to give money to the members of the local school boards. You had to buy your way to advancement in the school system. That literally happened under the old system. That can never be allowed to happen again. So today, I have an open mind hoping that Albany will come back quickly and finish the work which was moving along well yesterday. But if we get to June 30 and Albany hasn’t acted, we’re entering a whole new world.

Lehrer: Peter in Huntington wants to ask a question about mayoral control. Peter, how does this look from Long Island?

Question: Thank you, Brian. It’s a very interesting subject, and my question is – obviously just to the east of the city, the entire area of Long Island is made up of 127 separate districts not controlled by one individual or one group. And I’m wondering after what the Mayor has just said what he thinks about how Long Island is run versus the city and why one works and the other one won’t?

Mayor: Look, I never tell any locality what to do, but I do believe mayoral control of education is good everywhere. We had Arne Duncan do a phone press conference with me a couple days ago – and obviously former federal Education Secretary – and he said look, part of the problem with education in America is that in most places, there is not an accountability structure and so things like early childhood education just never get done. Look at New York City – we have pure accountability. Everyone can hold me personally responsible. I said we’ve got to do early childhood education like never before. We went from 20,000 kids in full-day pre-K to 70,000 kids in full-day pre-K in the course of just a couple of years. We were able to move this whole system in unison with a single standard, a single vision. And now literally every single year, 50,000 more kids are getting full-day pre-K for free than would have otherwise. And there’s a stunning multiplier effect – what it’s going to mean for those kids and their families. So I think mayoral control and a single elected official being fully accountable is the optimal system everywhere, but each locality has to decide for themselves what they want.

Lehrer: Anna in Manhattan, you’re on WNYC with Mayor de Blasio. Hello, Anna.

Question: Yes, hi. Hi, Brian. Thanks for taking my call.

Lehrer: Sure.

Question: I wanted to ask Mayor de Blasio about Rikers Island. Mayor de Blasio, how will you ensure that the voices and experiences of people like me and my family that are being most harmed by Rikers Island will be incorporated in your plan for closure? The question is because my son was sitting for six years on Rikers Island waiting for trial. He was only charged, and then he was waiting and waiting for six years to get his day in court. So I would like to know how he will listen and incorporate our experiences because I’m not the only one, and it has impacted my life a lot, my son’s life – six years of being punished on a torture [inaudible] island waiting for trial. How is he going to take into consideration our suffering and experience? That’s my question.

Mayor: Anna, thank you very, very much for the question. Anna, I want to first ask – has your son finally gone through the process and what is his situation?

Question: Well, the situation is that after six years of torture and abuse on that island, people are not willing at that point to go to trial anymore, putting their life at risk again and again.

Mayor: No, but I’m saying what’s his situation? What’s his situation?

Question: Therefore, he took a plea deal, which is inevitable. And it seems that that’s a pattern that happens over and over in the court.

Mayor: And where is he now, Anna? Where is he now?

Question: Now he is in Mid-State Correctional facility upstate. He took a plea deal because he could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Mayor: [Inaudible]

Lehrer: Anna, can I just ask you – Anna, also – do you think that the fact that it was a centralized jail for the city at Rikers Island had something to do with it or could the same thing that happened to your son have happened, in terms of the waiting time, if we had something like five borough jails, as the proposal is from the former chief judge right now?

Question: I believe that the chief judge proposal is excellent. I believe that people should stay in borough jails next to the courts. It will be easier even to transport them, and it is much easier for families to visit them in their own boroughs. And hopefully, it gets also speedier to put them through the court system.

Lehrer: And Anna, I’m going to leave it there. And I really appreciate your call and good luck to you and your family.

Mr. Mayor, you are now unveiling a close Rikers plan, right?

Mayor: Yes, we have, Brian – and I want to speak to Anna’s point – but just to say upfront, we have laid out much more detail on how we’re going to through the process of closing Rikers Island. And it’s going to take a lot of different pieces. I’m going to be blunt with people throughout this process – just how difficult, just how complex it is to get this done because remember, it’s been there for 85 years and the criminal justice system was based on the availability of that space. But look, there’s so many things that have to be fixed in the criminal justice system. We’ve had an era of mass incarceration that we are overcoming in this city, but it needs to be overcome in the entire country. The plan we’ve put forward would speed efforts, whether it’s bail reform, alternatives to incarceration – a number of things, obviously first and foremost driving down crime so fewer and fewer people are arrested, fewer people are going into the justice system. We fundamentally believe we have to get to 5,000 inmates in our jail systems to be able to close Rikers once and for all, but we believe it can be done with all of these tools. In the meantime, we have to take better care of the inmates who are on Rikers now and also have to protect the officers who are there now.

So the plan lays out all those pieces with timelines that we’re going to be showing publicly. We’re going to be having everything online as we move through the pieces. To Anna’s core point – and to your point, Brian – first, there is a fundamental problem with the criminal justice system and with the culture of our corrections system, and it is not just on Rikers Island. It is in any jail that we have to address more fundamentally. Getting out of Rikers does not solve the underlying problems of the criminal justice system or the culture of the correction system that needs to be fundamentally reformed, so I really appreciate your point Brian because if people think ‘you leave Rikers you end up with a set of other jails, and then just everyone take your attention from the issue and move onto something else.’ That is irresponsible. Those challenges will still exist.

To Anna’s point, six years awaiting trial is unbelievable and unacceptable. Obviously we know what happened to Kalief Browder, which was unacceptable. We have to continue to speed the trial process. That is about the state and the Office of Court Administration providing enough judges, enough resources. It’s about the prosecutors, the DAs speeding up their process. We can contribute in other ways with what we can do in terms of supporting alternatives to incarceration, and obviously what we do on the front end, which is reducing crime, reducing the number of arrests because we reduce crime. So it’s – everyone’s going to have to focus on this, but it’s crazy that anyone waits anywhere near that amount of time for trial. There is not a speedy trial guarantee in America, and it’s supposed to be in our constitution. It is there. It’s supposed to mean something, but we’ve got a lot of work to do to make it real.

Lehrer: Today, you had not accepted the suggestion of Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito and the former chief judge in his report for five borough jails, so that it’s proportional and geographically located where people are actually arrested. Do you now accept it?

Mayor: No, the fact is exactly what I felt before I feel still. We want to have the additional jail capacity so we can get off of Rikers. We need to see a commitment from the city councilmembers in the districts that have been initially proposed to specifically start the land use process to achieve it. All of it is theoretical Brian unless a councilmember comes forward and says I’m going to support the placement of this facility. We’re going to have a whole public process around it to make sure it’s’ done the right way, but otherwise it’s theoretical. We need to figure out which specific places, which councilmembers are ready to come forward and work with us to get that done. That’s the bottom line.

Lehrer: You had accepted four boroughs, but not Staten Island. Is there a reason? I think I have that right. Is there a reason not – Staten Island that is different from the others?

Mayor: Well, well there’s two – absolutely there’s a reason. There’s very small number of inmates from Staten Island, and obviously there’s been opposition from the local councilmember. And it’s not – whether we think it’s a perfect system or not, everyone who pays attention to our City Council and our land use system understands how central the role of the local councilmember is, so this is why I’m trying to make this very real, very practical. We’ve got four other boroughs. We need a specific location and a specific councilmember to step forward at an appropriate location, and I say I’m ready to get this process going because as we’re doing all these others things – driving down the number of folks who are incarcerated, right now we have 23 percent decrease in the number of inmates in Rikers since I came into office. We’re going to keep driving that down with every tool we have, but we can’t get off Rikers unless there are specific places where the local leadership accepts a jail facility. It just cannot happen with a vote of the City Council, so I’m at this point making this central point – let’s get real. Let’s do that in the places where the vast majority of inmates come from. Let’s start that process now so we can keep on schedule to get off of Rikers.

Lehrer: Gary in Middle Village, Queens – you’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hello, Gary.

Question: Hello, Brian. Hello, Mr. Mayor. Thank you for taking my call. As a resident of Middle Village, we know the M train is about to go out for 10 months and we understand the need for that. But someone has to be our advocate to get the alternate services to work better, so that we have an alternate route. On Sunday night, a whole lot of people and me were stuck for two hours at the Bushwick stop waiting for the 54 bus. It took two hours. And when the bus came, three buses came of course, as we watched 10 buses go by in the other direction. And this isn’t one night. This is like every other Sunday, there’s an hour wait to get into the city. And plenty of people work on Sundays and Saturdays. And the other thing is too that according to the schedule, that means four scheduled buses did not show up at that stop. And this is between 10 and midnight. And there was a very elderly woman sitting right next to me who was like all upset and was like I’m waiting two hours here.

Mayor: Yep.

Lehrer: Gary, it’s a horror show. What’s your question for the Mayor?

Question: So we need an advocate who will talk to the MTA. I understand that this is the Governor’s problem. But we definitely need an advocate to you know stick up for us that the alternative services work while these understandably needy repairs are done. But also one other thing, even when the M train comes back, the connection between the M train – we all have the app, we’re all watching the app. And by the way Mr. Mayor, if you need it, I have tons of screenshots on my phone of apps where we’re waiting for 50 minutes and then three buses show up.

Lehrer: Mr. Mayor, talk to Gary.

Mayor: Gary, I very much appreciate this question. And I can understand 100 percent how frustrating it is that people just can’t get around and they’re stuck. And I particularly appreciate the point about the elderly woman. This is a situation that’s unacceptable. And we are – I’m going to be that advocate. My four members – we now have a fourth member that’s just been approved to be on the MTA Board, Carl Weisbrod, who was our Chair of the City Planning Commission, very respected guy in this city. My four members of the MTA Board are going to fight for a series of changes in how the city approaches the subway system, including – excuse me, the state approaches the subway system, I’m sorry – including when the subways are going through repairs and there’s supposed to be alternative service. So I think what we can safely say now – and as Gary said, very importantly, I’ll always say it – the MTA is run by the State of New York, it’s run by Governor Cuomo. He has control of the MTA. He’s acknowledged that fact. I have said he has to come forward with a plan to address what is now a crisis in terms of electrical breakdowns, signal breakdowns, constant delays. And then on top of that, when there is legitimate work being done on a line – an actual plan to handle the riders and not let it be something as crazy as a two-hour delay. It doesn’t make any sense. They have a lot of buses and they know if they’ve got a problem that they have to get people moving. So we will not only will I be that strong advocate, my four members of the MTA Board – but we’re demanding a bigger plan to get to the underlying matters and to shift resources of the MTA budget to the subway system, which is by far the most important thing the MTA does.

Lehrer: Now, the Governor is asking for even more control of the system than he has. He appoints a plurality of MTA Board members, but not a majority. Is more explicit gubernatorial control of the MTA a necessary thing for action or a desirable thing, like mayoral control of the schools?

Mayor: He already has it is the number one point. I have not seen the bill. I don’t want to – it just came out, and I want to be careful not to speak to the bill until I’ve seen it. But I would say this – whatever happens on that, it isn’t the central point. He already has power. He names the head of the MTA. He has a working majority on that board. Everyone knows – remember during the snowstorm years ago when he decided personally to shut down the train system – there’s no one who has an illusion that anyone is running the MTA but Andrew Cuomo. So look, I want him to succeed. I want him to succeed at figuring out a path forward. But it really requires acknowledging that the 5 to 6 million riders a day on our subway system are the most important thing the MTA does and that resources, and attention, and strategy should shift to our subway riders. The other things the MTA does are important, but nothing is important as getting our subways right.

Lehrer: On appointing the leadership, the Governor as you know has now got Joe Lhota, the Republican candidate against you for Mayor in 2013, back to his old post of running the system. Is the Governor, in your opinion, trying to poke a stick in your eye yet again by doing that? Or is he just putting a solid pro in the job?

Mayor: Yeah no, I think it has nothing to do with politics. Joe Lhota and I ran against each other, but I have a lot of respect for him. I think he did some very good work as head of the MTA, particularly obviously in dealing with the Sandy crisis. So again, I don’t know if that’s been 100 percent formalized or not, but whatever that situation – it sure as hell is not about politics from my point of view.

Lehrer: And Lhota says more overnight shutdowns may be necessary to get track repairs done more quickly, even though that would inconvenience people at those times. Do you support that?

Mayor: I want to see the plan. And I want to see – and this is the whole point – I want to see them lay out a vision that’s transparent to all of us of how they’re going to actually fix these underlying problems. Now look, people – people are mature about these points. I remember all the discussions about the L train and what it’s going to take to fix the L train for the long term. A lot of people came to the conclusion – L train riders came to the conclusion – that they’d rather have one complete shutdown to get everything fixed once and for all than stretch it out over a longer period of time. They understood it would inconvenience their lives, but they wanted it fixed. I think people can deal with things like that if they see actual timelines and they’re given the vision of what the improvement in their life will be at the end of the process. And what are you going to do in the meantime to get them around that’s realistic – that’s not just words, but will actually help them get around. So, that’s fine if he has a real plan and we all can confirm it and verify it.

Lehrer: I want to ask you about one other thing that WNYC is reporting on before we run out of time – the federal immigration enforcement agency, ICE, showing up in a human trafficking court in Queens last Friday – something our reporter, Beth Fertig, witnessed and reported on. I gather the City Council Speaker is holding a news conference about this later this morning. Can the City do anything to prevent ICE from going into courtrooms to detain immigrants, especially something like the human trafficking court, where many defendants are treated as victims, not criminals?

Mayor: Well, first of all, I think it’s absolutely unacceptable for ICE to come into court facilities in a way that takes these victims and makes them worry they may be deported. I mean this is the worst of all worlds. You have some poor, young woman who has been trafficked, who’s been abused, and then would be sent back to some place where her situation might only get worse. Our mission should be to help victims of trafficking to get out of that life and into a better life. So ICE being present there is absolutely unacceptable. The courts are run by the State. I believe that Judge DiFiore, who runs the court system, is equally upset about this. And we’re going to do everything we can to work with the state to stop that from happening. When it comes to what we control, schools for example, hospitals – we’ve made very clear, ICE agents are not allowed to walk in. They are stopped at the door by our security personnel. The only way they can proceed with anything is after they prove to us they have a warrant, and then there’s a specific protocol for how to handle it. They do not get to just walk in. And I think that should be the rule everywhere.

Lehrer: Could the State – does the State have the authority to put that same limitation on the courts?

Mayor: I have no doubt in my mind – I’m not a lawyer – but I have no doubt in my mind that any – any entity that controls a building – like the City of New York, we control our schools, we control our hospitals, our public hospitals. We set the ground rules for security. And even though everyone understands law enforcement – in an emergency situation, everyone defers to law enforcement. In something like pursuing a warrant, then local law enforcement has the right to set the ground rules for its own turf. That is something that’s very clear in our Constitution – the way the federal Constitution acknowledges local power – state and local power. And yes, you can say – you don’t just get to walk in, you only get to be here under certain conditions when you’ve proven the validity of your warrant and under ground rules that we set. That’s the City’s approach. I think the State can take the same approach.

Lehrer: We’re out of time. Mr. Mayor, thanks a lot. Talk to you next week.

Mayor: Thank you, Brian.

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