July 2, 2021
Brian Lehrer: It’s the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning again, everyone. The time now as usual on Fridays for our weekly Ask the Mayor segment, my questions and yours for Mayor Bill de Blasio. Our Ask the Mayor lines are open at 6-4-6-4-3-5-7-2-8-0, 6-4-6-4-3-5-7-2-8-0, or a tweet a question with the hashtag, #AskTheMayor. You never get a busy signal on Twitter. Again, just use the hashtag, #AskTheMayor, we’ll watch those Twitter questions go by and pick some good ones. Good morning, Mr. Mayor. Welcome back to WNYC.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, Brian, and just want to do some breaking news with you first. Just of course, a very happy Fourth of July to you and all your listeners and hope everyone’s really going to enjoy the fireworks, the Macy’s fireworks on the East River, and the Coney Island fireworks on Sunday night, but also have some breaking news about our Hometown Heroes Parade. Now this is coming up Wednesday. We’re going to honor the health care heroes, the first responders, the essential workers, the members of the media, everyone who was there for us during COVID and saw us through, want to urge all New Yorkers, if you want to be a part of this absolutely historic parade up the Canyon of Heroes, all are welcome to come and enjoy and see the heroes that we’ll be saluting. It’ll start at 11:00 am on Wednesday, July 7th, and then there will be a ceremony at City Hall. We’re going to honor as Grand Marshall, nurse Sandra Lindsay, who was the first person in the United States vaccinated, and the host of the ceremony will be the anchor of Good Morning America, Robin Roberts, and it’s going to be a very, very special moment for the city.
Lehrer: Are there going to be rules and regulations for what you have to do to go in line the route? Are there going to be any limits on crowds or people? I certainly remember some of the ticker tape parades we’ve had in the past, in recent years for sports teams and other things, and you’d get like hundreds of thousands of people out along that route.
Mayor: Yeah, I mean, look, I think everything’s a little different because people are still not used to going out to big events, but we want to really encourage people to come out and salute these amazing health care heroes and essential workers who really deserve all the thanks we can give them. So, look, if someone’s vaccinated, this is very similar to what we’re doing on Sunday with the fireworks. If you’re vaccinated come as you are, if you’re not vaccinated, feel free to come and join in, but you know, the advice from our health care team is to wear a mask to protect everyone around you and, obviously, be aware, keep distance as best you can. But the fact is this is outdoors and it’s really a moment to celebrate folks who just, you know, without these folks New York City wouldn’t have made it through. I mean, it’s as simple as that. This was the biggest crisis in the history of New York City. These are the folks who were the heroes. They’re everyday working people. They often don’t get the accolades they deserve. Here, we’re treating them like, you know, the generals of wars and the astronauts and the champions in different sports. We’re giving, working people the salute they deserve, and I urge all New Yorkers who can come and be a part of it and let’s thank them.
Lehrer: Let’s take our first call on the new, New York City budget for the new fiscal year that began yesterday that was passed by the deadline on Wednesday, and the call comes from Alex, a public defender in Brooklyn. Alex, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Thank you for calling in.
Question: Thanks so much. Good morning, Brian. I am a first-time caller and a long-time listener, and I’m really excited to be on your show today. And Good Morning, Mr. Mayor.
Mayor: Good morning, Alex. How are you doing?
Question: Oh, thank you. I’m well, thanks. Well sort of well, honestly, I’m pretty outraged about what’s happened with the passage of this budget because this is a budget that is increased funding for the NYPD by $200 million and local district attorney’s offices by combined $36 million and other law enforcement functions, but it has failed to provide any even nominal funding to organizations that the [inaudible] those targeted and funneled into the legal system by these exact government entities. And it’s going to shortchange low-income, New Yorkers, communities of color and deepen inequities that we defenders see every day in our work, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic. And Mr. Mayor, I know that you have run on a platform and spoken at great length about a tale of two cities. This budget, Mr. Mayor, is creating and furthering a tale of two cities. These legal services organizations, which one I am a part of, we provide essential services and fight for the constitutional rights of every day New Yorkers who have disproportionately struggled in the past 18 months. And you’ve locked us out. You’ve left us, our clients, and many willing to New Yorkers hanging out to dry without even cost of living increases or any nominal payment.
Lehrer: Mr. Mayor?
Mayor: Well, Alex, first of all, I really, we disagree and I’m going to explain why, but I do want to thank you for the work you do, and I believe in that work, and that’s why we have continued to increase funding for legal aid and legal services for years, including creating the right to counsel with the City Council, where New Yorkers facing eviction have the ability now to get free representation on a level not being done anywhere else in the country, and I’m very proud of that. So, we really believe and have invested in free legal services for people in need, and it’s made a huge difference. It’s one of the reasons, for example, a lot fewer people have been evicted – this is pre-pandemic – a lot fewer people evicted because they could get legal aid support that the City of New York paid for, that they never did before my administration. So, I do believe in this, and I put my money where my mouth.
On this budget, we were dealing with a set of imperatives. We have a profound gun violence problem that has gotten much worse because of COVID, we’re starting to turn the tide, but we’ve got more work to do. Therefore, we invested a lot in community-based solutions to violence, especially the Cure Violence Movement, The Crisis Management System. That’s where you saw the biggest percentage increases. There is a very small increase in the police budget for precisely three reasons. The reforms that the City Council and I agreed to in March, that included investing in civilians to do work, to create dialogue, and to address issues between police and community. That was one of the adds to the budget. There’s some new IT costs to help the police to do their work more effectively. And then there was the overtime issue, which we’ve cut back on overtime substantially, but we found based on all the challenges last year that we had to adjust that number upward a bit to get it right, and that’s literally it. It’s a very, very small increase in the scheme of things, while the real crucial investments have been in those community-based solutions to violence. So, we’ll keep looking always at the needs of legal aid and legal services. That’s something I’ll continue to keep an eye on if there’s any other adjustments we need to make, but for a long time, that has been a major, major area of investment.
Lehrer: Alex, I don’t know if that’s the answer that you want to hear that satisfies you but thank you for being a first-time caller and please call us again. You are getting it from the other side as well, you might’ve seen the New York Post report today that advocates for hiring more police officers complain that President Biden’s federal budget allocates money that you could specifically use for increasing the size of the force because of the increase in shootings, but you didn’t take advantage of it. What do you say to that side?
Mayor: Well, that’s not the whole reality. The money that the president focused was for certain cities that were dealing with much more profound gun violence problems than New York is. We have a problem, Brian, I’m not trying to minimize that. We have a lot of work to do to turn it around, but a number of other American cities are unfortunately going through much, much worse, and that’s where that money was targeted. But look, right now, we have a police force of 35,000. I think that’s the right number. We need to take those officers and continue to apply a neighborhood policing approach. Re-bond police and community, there were real challenges last year, we have to overcome them with more dialogue, more working together, more reliance on community-based solutions to violence. I think we are hitting the right balance point and we’re going to be talking next week about new information coming in that is showing some real progress on fighting gun violence. Major gun – excuse me – a major a gang take down in Brooklyn was announced yesterday. A lot of pieces are starting to come together. Courts are coming back rapidly, thankfully. So, I think we’re starting to move, you know, clearly in the right direction and we have the size police force we need to do that.
Lehrer: One other police question. I watched you on NY1 with Errol Louis on Monday, and you were asked about police behavior at some of the protests last summer, and you said certainly some mistakes were made. We learned some valuable lessons. And then when he asked you about police behavior in Washington Square Park, just last Sunday during pride, you said we had some issues between police and folks who were there in the park. I think some of that could have been handled better. Chief Harrison and I talked about that. So, my question, Mr….