- New York City 06/30/2015 (WBAI News)
Credit Eric Thayer for The New York Times
Before Mayor Bill de Blasio headed out for the start of a family vacation on Tuesday, he met with reporters to speak about how Governor Cuomo thwarted his progressive agenda in Albany. He said he started out about a year and a half ago with hope of a very strong partnership with the Governor, but has been disappointed at every turn. He accused Cuomo of deal making and revenge politics.
Here's the Q&A:
Question: Mayor, there was a quote attributed to you where you said the governor, when you don't agree with him, will often come out with some kind of revenge or vendetta. Can you elaborate on that, and tell us specifically what did you mean by the word “vendetta” in that context?
Mayor: Well, I've seen it already in just the last few months. You know, we had an experience with the Department of Homeless Services, where, suddenly, state officials were inspecting our shelters with a vigor we had never seen before, and requiring that issues were complex be addressed in a matter of days or they would threaten to cut off our funding. That was clearly politically motivated, and that was revenge for some perceived slight. And the minute we called out the fact that that was not good government – that was a political act – the governor's team backed off. We saw it in the sudden decision as we were literally about to introduce our executive budget – it was within 24 hours of the release that everyone knew was coming – the request for an additional billion dollars for the MTA, which was obviously a disruptive planned act, not based on any serious conversation or effort to work together on the substance. You know, we saw it in the – the housing authority funding, where I went to Albany in February and said, we will put forward $300 million to fix roofs, to stop people from having mold in their apartments, to address security issues – if the state will match it. And what we got back was, after a lot of drama, you know, a pledge of $100 million with lots of strings attached, that then turned into a pledge to provide a lot pet projects for elected officials, instead of addressing the underlying issues that are afflicting our residents in the housing authority. So, we've seen it time and time again. I'm not going to be surprised if these statements lead to attempts at revenge, and we'll just call them right out, because we're just not going to play that way. We're not going to accept that as anything like acceptable government practice. And I don't – I think, all over the state, people have come to the same conclusion. You know, we are supposed to be serving our constituents. We're supposed to be putting forward ideas. And when we disagree, we're supposed to try and resolve the disagreements – not engage in political games.
Question: Mr. Mayor, a two-part question. Do you believe that the governor, in this last session, has – did he act with New York City's interests at heart? And the second part is, do you regret endorsing him last year?
Mayor: Well, I – you know – would say, in the case of mayoral control, he did not act with New York City's interests at heart, and certainly not the interests of our schoolchildren and their families. On 421-a, he did not act in the interest of people who need affordable housing in this city – which is a huge percentage of the people in this city – because when I offered a plan that – you know, some very good and expert and hardworking people spent months crafting a plan that would fundamentally reform 421-a – remembering that 421-a was something, you know, great in the 1970s – that was absolutely our motive. Literally within days, the governor was doing all he could to undermine me. By then, he was saying it was presented too late, which proved not to be true. He manufactured some of the issues and concerns around labor, even though there were some other valid issues that had to be worked through. It was an attempt to undermine some real, good work that was done between this administration and housing activists and the real estate community, that actually was going to amount to a lot of reform and a much better deal for the taxpayer. Now, the responsible approach would have been to say, okay, the mayor of the biggest city in my state has presented a plan, and look at this plan, it has support from both the industry and advocates – therefore, obviously, there's something serious here. Let's see what we can do to make it work. Or, if there's concern or critique, let's address that. Why would anyone publicly trash that plan, if it wasn't about politicking and game playing and maneuvering? So, you know, that was not a serious approach to government. And, again, the proof is in the pudding. The final plan, as everyone saw with their own eyes, got resolved in a matter of a few days – and is substantially the plan we put forward, minus, obviously, the mansion tax. What was your other question?
Question: Do you regret endorsing him last year?
Mayor: Look, I endorsed the governor related to a vision that he articulated in June, that I believed in very much. And, you know, I'm disappointed that he hasn't followed through on that vision.
Question: So, do you regret endorsing him?
Mayor: That – that's not about personal feelings.
Question: Mayor, do you think that the governor's actions on mayoral control – I mean, you're attributing a lot of the fact that you only got one year to him – do you think that was part of a vendetta against you for something, or –
Mayor: Again, I want to emphasize – there is a kind of deal-making and horse-trading that he engages in that I think often obscures the truth. It gets so convoluted – I'm not sure even the people around him begin to remember where they began. We put forward a very straightforward notion of reform when it came to 421-a. It would have been very easy to have a serious conversation, and work through any differences, and keep moving forward. The ease with which the result was achieved is evidence of that. So, I think when you see solid, substantive things shot down for no apparent reason, or you see something like mayoral control of education, let me tell you, I don't understand how any governor could be comfortable seeing something that was so universally agreed upon – every editorial board, business community, labor, both parties – I would think there would be a deep imperative to ensure that that was renewed for a substantial time frame. And it's telling to me that that became fodder for, you know, more of the political deal-making. So, you know, I think it's not – it is fundamentally the wrong way to go about this work and it keeps playing out in ways that I think are sometimes about deal making, sometimes about revenge. I think each situation obviously is different. But it's not about policy, it's not about substance, it's certainly not about the millions of people affected. If I said to you, I've got a plan for affordable housing for 160,000 people – who would not say, okay, well we've got to take that seriously, we've got to see if we can get that done, that sounds great? He didn't have a hint of that response. And a lot of the other people who worked on it reported the same experience.
Question: In light of the kind of dissent – but the fall of the real estate industry politically, as we saw through these prosecutions, and the fear in Albany of being too close to the real estate industry, and the ascent of the kind of hedge-fund fundraisers who are contributing to politicians, like the governor, like the State Senate – that carries with it a belief in charter schools, which they perceive you to be hostile to. And is it possible that the Senate and the governor – the Republicans sort of, congealed over this need to embrace hedge fund political contributors who want more robust charter schools and the mayoral control became the victim of their need to assuage the hedge-fund fundraisers?
Mayor: Well, it's a, it's a very powerful question, so first I would say, as we all learned in All the Presidents Men, follow the money. The hedge fund contributors loom very large in Albany and they have way too much influence. That is a fact. I think the mayoral control decision was so different from most decisions that most legislatures and governors deal with that I don't think anybody in their right mind could have said, we give you a lot of money, so make sure mayoral control isn't extended or is extended for only one year. I think that is so far beyond the pale, that I think if there were any evidence of that specific demand, it would cause tremendous anger amongst the people in this city. I don't see that specific narrow reasoning here. I think the governor had the ability not to lead the process. I think the excuse we often heard was, oh, this atmosphere, you know, the prosecutions, and the terms about donors means we can't do X,Y,Z. To me, that was disingenuous from the beginning. In such an atmosphere, reform is called for. In fact, we look at the history of government and politics, when troubling things happen, there's often a tremendous impulse for reform, that's when a lot of very powerful reforms are achieved. It was exactly the time to embrace the notion of demanding more of the real estate industry to stop taxpayer giveaways for luxury condos and demand more affordable housing back for any kind of tax credit. So, no, that, no there's something wrong with that construct and on the mayoral control piece, you know, it was obvious, again from many conversations, even with Senate Republicans, that they did not have an ideological difference with us on mayoral control. And, that even if they had some political feelings, they didn't rise to the point, per se, where they believed their only option was to vote for one year of mayoral control.
Question: Mr. Mayor, at the same time that Albany was in session – a good portion of it, your role as a national figure was growing prominently and you launched the Progressive Agenda. Given how the session turned out, do you anticipate doing any of that differently going forward? Do you regret becoming a figure that is so closely aligned with these progressive views?
Mayor: No, I think it's necessary. I think the conventional wisdom has missed a lot of what came out of the Albany session. You know, the dead and gone and impossible -to-reach 421-a plan was largely passed. We created that. We have achieved it. Now again as I say these words, I'm sure there will be some who think now, how do we undermine it as payback? And we'll be watching very carefully and we'll be quick to alert you if we see any such engages. But it is a fact that a fundamental reform has passed and we are very proud of that fact. It is a fact that rent regulations were strengthened substantially – not enough [inaudible] folks in those 50,000 units that would be preserved that wouldn't have been otherwise. Their lives are going to be better. We look at that and say, okay, some very substantial achievements against a difficult backdrop. And the mayoral control debate, which is supposed to matter – please go, go check the scorecard on the public discourse on mayoral control and tell me we didn't win that one. I'm very comfortable. Look at editorial boards, look at commentators, look at business leaders, it's not even close. So it takes a lot of work to ignore that kind of consensus. I don't think it had anything to do with me being a progressive leader or speaking up for a progressive agenda. I think that work is necessary and as I've said, it is absolutely necessary for the future of this city and this country that we fix some of these challenges and I'll certainly continue to do it. I think this was about games being played in Albany, much more narrowly.
Question: Kind of a two part question –
Mayor: Sally, we'll miss you.
Question: I will miss – I will miss everybody here.
Mayor: Job well done.
Question: Thank you. Kind of a two part question on mayoral control – do know if – in your conversations with the Senate, did they talk about the pressure that you alluded to from the governor? Is there anything more you could say on that? And do you know where that played into the overall deal making? Like what – what they gave up – what they got, rather, for giving up the longer extension?
Mayor: I can't articulate to you how every deal was made. I can tell you that I talked to so many people directly and then obviously, got many reports from other conversations others have had and it was abundantly clear – the Senate did not have a philosophical problem with mayoral control of education. They just didn't. They had voted for it. The vast majority of Republican senators were in office the last time this came up and they were strenuous supporters of it on behalf of Michael Bloomberg. So, you know, in a lot of political life, it would seem to be just a bridge too far to have supported something so strenuously and then run the other way. And I actually think that occurred to them. And I think they were willing to work with us on mayoral control and I think they were willing to work with us on 421-a. I think the kicking point was the governor. I don't have a perfect document to hand to you. I'm basing this on many, many conversations with many people. I think a lot of the reporting that you all have done points in the exact same direction. It is clear Leader Flanagan particularly listened to the governor's guidance. And the results speak for themselves.
Karen Hinton: Let's do two more questions.
Mayor: Hold on, Hold on. They're so needy. They deserve their questions.
Question: You talked a lot about how you're friends with the governor for decades. I'm just curious, going forward, are you going to find it difficult to be friends with someone who engages in vendettas, back stabs you if you criticize his plans. Like, is that something that you can see happening?
Mayor: It's not about personal relationships. It's about the work. And I have made very clear that we are going to keep pursuing the things that the people of this city need. And we're not going to be caught up in the Albany games and we're going to make sure the voices of the people are heard in Albany. It has nothing to do with personal relationships.
Question: You know we've asked you about the governor since the beginning of the term and you've always said it's not about personalities, we want to talk about issues. But here we are. You're saying that there's a vendetta. You're saying all these things about the governor. What's changed?
Mayor: It's just the cumulated experience. And again I'm – this to me, is not a statement on ego, or personality. It's a statement on the work. I've just given you a very clear chapter and verse. I brought forward a fundamental reform that would have achieved a lot of affordable housing – shot down within days. We talked about mayoral control for 1.2 million kids – obstructed. And you go down the list, and it's hard to miss. And so from my point of view, you know, I've seen enough evidence to be able to draw the conclusion.
Question: Do you think the governor – just one question – do you think the governor is guided by any sort of underlying political ideology? Like any sort of, you know, hard-core democrat, somewhat of a Democrat? And do you think these comments today are going to have any sort of effect on what this city gets in the future?
Mayor: I can't tell you that I can place his philosophy at this point. The – yeah, I think there will be some impulse from him and his team to – again – take a critique and turn it into a cause for revenge and we won't stand for that, and we will make it very public what's happening, and the people will judge and I know the people won't stand for it.
Question: Well it was kind of a similar question I guess – what do you think is driving his actions? You said, you don't really think it's his donors. So you don't think its ideology. Is it revenge? Is it personal dislike? What do you see as –
Mayor: I didn't say I didn't think it was his ideology, I said I couldn't place his ideology at this point. Again, I'm not here to speculate on the underlying motives. It's such a clear pattern. And I certainly think if you look at the experience of the Assembly, when the Assembly constantly tried to put forward a progressive and Democratic vision and acted on it, I don't think they felt supported in that. I certainly – if I brought forward a vision for the people of New York City, do not feel supported. It's just a very clear pattern and it's a pattern that's undermining our ability to serve the people of this city and that's why it has be assessed.
Question: Your words, sir, are far more candid that many expect to hear from elected leaders, particularly about talking about other members of their own party. I'm curious if – did you –were there a lot of discussions that led you to this point, to feel like you that you wanted to –
Mayor: I think it's organic. Again, it's cumulated experience. You know, I started with – maybe a year and a half go, with hope of a very strong partnership. I have been disappointed at every turn. And these last couple of examples really are beyond the pale. I think the two are – they're different, but they come to the same point – a strong reform plan that is rejected and undermined at every turn, with 421-a; an article of faith, effectively, with mayoral control. Easiest thing in the world would have been to say, come on guys, the jury is back on this, everyone agrees on it, this has to happen. We'll all be laughed out of town if we don't extend this thing consistent with we've treated it previously. You take those two examples and I don't think you need to know a lot more – something is amiss. And to me, you know, as I looked at each of these experiences, I saw such a clear pattern and I thought it was time to start talking about it because I, for one, am not going to play by these rules.
Question: What do you envision as the path forward towards, you know, feelings – is there a path forward at this point?
Mayor: There's always a path forward in terms of the work. I've worked with all sorts of people in the course of my career – very different values, two obviously different parties, different personalities. In my experience in the City Council, I often found a lot of common ground with my Republican colleagues. Some people I had – famously had major disagreements with. We could still get together some important issues and find common ground. It's always available and I think it's what the people would like to see from us. So I thought it was important to just lay out these realities, very bluntly, but I remain ready to get to work on the substance and I think if the governor is ready and the Senate is ready, we can start immediately to address some of the key issues facing the people of this city. The door is entirely open, but we will not accept the kind of games that we experienced in these last few months.
Question: Do you think – do you think any of these has to do with some of the person travails the governor has experienced?
Mayor: I'm not interested in analyzing personal life. I don't think that's productive. I think this is a conversation about government and how we are – how we should not do government.