05/03/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/03/2019 15:22
May 3, 2019
Brian Lehrer: It's the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning everyone and we begin as usual on Fridays with our weekly Ask the Mayor segment, my questions and yours for Mayor Bill de Blasio. Our Ask The Mayor lines are open at 2-1-2-4-3-3-WNYC, 4-3-3-9-6-9-2. Or you can tweet a question for the Mayor, just use the hashtag #AskTheMayor. Good morning Mr. Mayor welcome back to WNYC.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning Brian.
Lehrer: Let me start with two questions about the rent laws of interest and relevance to so many New Yorkers obviously. And for people who don't know, the State Legislature is starting to debate the rent laws in earnest now before they expire in June. This is a four year set of rent laws. They need to be renewed or changed by next month. And one question is what to do about the rent increases currently allowed for improvements to buildings or to individual apartments. One camp says eliminate these increases all together and they are asking you to support that position. Another camp says those increases are okay temporarily if a landlord pays for upgrades but only until the improvements are paid for. Right now they can put that you know, rent increase in permanently. So it's going to change in one way but which change in the law do you support?
Mayor: Yeah Brian very quickly, the way the rent law has worked is as just as you described it. It's been absolutely lenient. It gives landlords, big, small, rich, poor, the ability to increase rent when there is an improvement made to the building and then that increase is never taken back even when the improvement is all paid for. That's ridiculous, that has to end. Because it's one law for all types of buildings, including you know, much smaller buildings and affordable housing and a whole host of things - I think it is fair to say you can have an increase but just for the period of time it takes to pay off the specific new expense. I think to say we are going to - you have an improvement to your building, your apartment, you know that gets paid for but nothing more and it lapses once it's paid. But I will tell you something. I appreciate why people are pushing for something even more and that's going to be a real live option up in Albany and there is going to be an intensive debate which we'll certainly be in the middle of.
Lehrer: You made a distinction just now between small landlords and large landlords, do you think there should be different rules?
Mayor: It's a good question. I want to be cautious in answering that because I just don't know enough about how the law is structured to know what that would mean. But I do know that so long as there is one law for everyone we have to be mindful of the many, many small landlords, who by the way overwhelming try to treat people fairly and don't have a lot of money and we have to be sensitive to that too, a lot of those are folks who provide affordable housing in this city. But there is now question that the current law, that's the MCI, the Major Capital Improvements, the current law is absolutely broken, must be changed and tenants are being overcharged and while we are at it, getting rid of the various decontrol measures that have been around in the past that have made it easy for us to loose affordable housing. I'm very, very hopeful that Albany is going to be very aggressive. It's really important that we have a new Democratic State Senate. They've shown how aggressive they are about righting the wrongs of the past and I think they are going to take actions that are going to help us protect affordable housing for decades to come in this city. This is going to be a watershed moment. One of the most important things that's going to happen in recent years, you know, for affordable housing, is about to happen this June and all New Yorkers should be involved pushing to make sure the Legislature really comes up with aggressive new rent laws to protect tenants.
Lehrer: One of the bills being considered is for so- called 'good cause' evictions or stopping what the bill calls unconscionable rent increases. And that one would apply to all buildings, not just ones in the current rent control and rent stabilization systems. And it would basically limit rent increases to one and a half times the local rate of inflation, one and a half times the consumer price index increase for that year. People couldn't be evicted for not paying rent. That increased by more than that in a given year. Should the Legislature pass the 'good cause' evictions bill?
Mayor: I haven't seen that bill enough to be able to comment fully. I would say it is not accurate to suggest that every building is the same and the only factor is rate inflation. I just don't think that's the way to look at it. I think we have to recognize that we need our buildings kept in good shape for our tenants. And that does involve making sure there is viable economics. So I'm not sure that's the right way to go about it. What's most important here, I really want to say to all of your listeners, let's focus on the most important elements of this equation in Albany. It's addressing the decontrol realities that exist now where we lose a huge amount of affordable housing. Those need to be fixed. I think they will be fixed in Albany and it will keep a lot more housing regulated and affordable. It's fixing that MCI issue so landlords can't overcharge when they make repairs - it's the preferential issue, it's a real big one to make sure that the rules are much more fair to tenants who have those preferential rents. Those to me are the big changes that will affect literally millions of people and we have to get those right. That's where my focus is.
Lehrer: I'm a little surprised that you haven't seen the 'good cause' evictions bill enough to have a fully firmed opinion on it. This is the darling of the progressive wing in Albany right now and they are fighting to get it taken seriously by the Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate Majority Leader -
Mayor: No Brian, respectfully that's your characterization, it's the darling of the progressive wing. I would say the progressive wing is focused on ending the decontrol that has pervaded for years and caused us to loose thousands and thousands of units of affordable housing and dealing with preferential rent, protecting folks who have preferential rent and dealing with MCIs. These are the issues, the vast majority of people I speak to are concerned about including tenant activists that I have known a long time. So be careful that we not say because a few, you know, I'm sure well intended and noble and progressive voices raise something that that becomes the darling. The thing that really matters to millions people is fixing those big items that will affect their lives. That's where my first focus is going to be. But to the point about legislation, you know we just got through the state budget and I think in the end it was a very positive outcome on most levels because we got congestion pricing and the plan to fix the subways. We got the extension of mayoral control, mayoral accountability for education, got a lot of other important things done, up to the point in the budget like election reform, protecting reproductive rights, a lot happened in Albany. The next big phase is going to be concentrated in June. So I am going to be looking at a lot of legislation between now and the beginning June to come up with final positions but the real action is still about a month away.
Lehrer: I'll ask you just one follow up on good cause. Cynthia Nixon ran on this kind of idea, what they call universal rent control. And part of the notion there is all the things that you have been talking about so far, that the Legislature is primarily talking about, vacancy decontrol, preferential rent protection, etcetera, are kind of backstop measures to prevent further erosion to affordable rents. What some of the advocates want to do is expand in our you know, in our area where affordability is in such a crisis state, expand it outside New York City and Nassau and Westchester to more parts of the state, more parts of the region and also expand to more buildings that aren't in the current rent stabilization system rather than just try to protect what's there.
Mayor: I think, I respect that desire a lot, especially when it comes to getting outside the five boroughs. I'm someone who believes rent regulation should increasingly become a state policy and a national policy. You know there was referendum in California that unfortunately didn't pass this time although I think it will in the future to create rent regulation for the whole state. I'm a believer in rent regulation, I think it should be extended widely. And it's worked here but remember right now in New York City, between two and 2.5 million New Yorkers benefit from rent regulation right now. That's on top of 400,000 folks who live in our public housing, that's on top of the 700,000 folks who will be reached by our affordable housing plan when it's all done, new affordable housing and preserved subsidized affordable housing. But also the things we are doing here like providing the free lawyers to stop evictions, the things we did here like having two years of rent freezes, all of these are part of a strategy to protect affordability here. And I think these are the pieces that make sense. I am going to look at the legislation, there may be other pieces that I think make sense as well. But I don't - I feel like you are minimizing the vast impact of fixing these fundamental problems that have gone on for decades like decontrol. I think it's not just about holding the line. I think that's going to allow us to go on the offensive if you will, and start to net gain serious amounts of affordable housing each year in combination with all of the other things we are doing. So I think it's going to lead to a lot more every time you keep an apartment regulated then that's under my purview with the rent guidelines board. And again this is a rent guidelines board that has kept rent increases very low even two years of rent freezes, so everyone who is affected by that, their reality changes, their household economics change, when folks are not hit with ridiculous MCI charges, that allows them to keep living in New York City when preferential rents are not changed overnight that helps people keep in their apartment. These are really big, tangible deals. So I'll look and see if I think there are other things that can be done and should be done. I absolutely believe in rent regulation for the State and for the country, but I do not think it is fair to minimize how powerful the reforms that are on the table are right now would be for everyday New Yorkers.
Lehrer: Sandra in Manhattan, you are on WNYC with the Mayor de Blasio, hi Sandra.
Question: Hi. I have a situation and it's very puzzling, it's very disappointing. I have two sons in New York City public high school, they are at different high schools, they are fraternal twins, they are at different high schools. And they are in 10th grade. And I was looking forward to them taking the PSAT in October as 11th graders, the National Merit qualifying test. And both of their schools don't offer it. So they cannot, as of this point, they cannot sit for the PSAT, test in October of their junior year, this October coming up. I was just - I'm very annoyed, I'm very annoyed and disappointed that they won't even have a chance to qualify for a Merit scholarship, they won't have a chance to qualify for honorable mention, they won't even have a chance to have a practice with a standardized test before taking the SAT.
Lehrer: Mr. Mayor?
Mayor: Yeah Sandra I want to look into this, I mean as you probably know we have started to offer free SAT tests, SAT tests for kids in New York City public schools and that's been a really important step forward, lot's more kids taking the test and it's helping us, we actually -
Mayor: We've had the highest number of kids go on to institutions of higher learning last year than we have ever seen. 59 percent of our graduates and that's a really good, really good indicator. But on the PSAT, I need to find out what the rule is and what the standard is and what we could and should be doing so Sandra you'll give you information to WNYC, I'm glad you are raising not just in the case in your family but what it means for other folks and I'll find out where we are going on that.
Question: Okay, thank you so much.
Lehrer: Sandra, hang on - we'll get your contact. Related kind of - I'd like to ask you next about school segregation in New York City beyond the eight specialized high schools that you're trying to do something about. There was a fiery City Council hearing on Wednesday, I see. The education news site, Chalkbeat, says, 'Enrollment to the city's Gifted and Talented programs is almost the reverse of city demographics with white and Asian students who make up roughly a third of the system at large filling more seats, most programs begin in kindergarten and children have to take a test when they're about four years old to gain admission.' From Chalkbeat - and they add, 'Experts say that testing children so young is unlikely to yield reliable results and more likely a measure of financial advantage.' So, that's my question - do you agree that early G&T tests measure financial advantage more than actual giftedness in the ways they're administered in New York City today?
Mayor: I'm going to look at that report and my team will as well. I have to say there's a couple of different issues that kind of, in my view, collide a bit here. One is the question of testing in general. I think the goal needs to be to get away from high-stakes testing. In a lot of ways that's obviously central to my belief on why the situation with the specialized high schools is broken - that it all depends on a single three-hour test and simultaneously has ended up with a situation of absolutely extreme segregation that is unacceptable in this city.
So, I'm not sure the solution to anything is more testing. I do think we have to create more fairness in our Gifted and Talented system, and we've been doing that with opening up more opportunities in districts that did not have enough. But I also think we have to figure out a way - and we're talking about it right now - to expand beyond the notion of Gifted and Talented. Gifted and Talented by definition reaches a certain percentage of our kids.
The Equity and Excellence idea that is the governing philosophy we've had in place for years actually wants - desires to go beyond that. That is not just about how you pull out a few particularly talented kids and give them a separate path, but how do you bring up the entire school, how do you bring up the entire approach, so more and more kids benefit intensely. There could be a lot of kids who under the current version of Gifted and Talented don't get into one of those programs that are still very, very talented kids with a lot of potential. We want to reach them too.
So, the idea here is to do something even more fundamental to make schools better across the board. And we're going to have a lot more to say on that in the coming months because we can't - you know, we can't stick with the current assumption that is just about how a few kids get more fairness but it's still a few kids. We need to figure out how to serve the many.
Lehrer: You wouldn't say the word segregation in your first term. Now your current Chancellor, Carranza, talks about it openly. Is that a central goal now - desegregate New York City schools? Would you put it that way?
Mayor: I would say a variation on what I said from the very first day it was raised. We now have - the variation is this, we've now found ways starting at the grassroots with Districts 1 and 3 and 15 to have a community process that really fosters diversifying our schools and desegregation in a way that really works. We didn't have that a few years ago. That's something we had to actually work our way toward with community members.
We have now re-examined how we're approaching middle school and high school admissions. So, we're going to have a lot more to say on that and we have a diversity working group that's done outstanding work that I'll be meeting with soon and they're going to come out with another report on the next steps we can take.
So, I think compared to a few years ago, we found a lot more ways to act on this issue. But I also want to say very openly, Brian, that a lot of people are somehow, in my view, one - treating the segregation problem as a problem that began in the schools that can be addressed fully in the schools. I just want to emphasize - because it's just a matter of honesty - that's just not the truth. The truth is, it is about a long, you know, centuries old history in this country and in this city of bigger segregation of - [inaudible] racism and income inequality of housing segregation. There are so many other factors that do not allow us to use the schools as the only way to create a more integrated society.
And I really feel like we have to have a blunter conversation about this in the city. And the second thing is the Equity and Excellence vision is, to me, much more profoundly important to the future of our schools than any other factor. Focusing on early childhood education, focusing on third grade literacy, and holistically bringing up our schools across the board in all communities is much more central to the future of our schools than the efforts to diversify - which are very important but inherently will take real time and won't be equally applicable everywhere just because of democracy. So, I want to really level with people that the most pressing issues facing New York City public schools are completely our efforts around early childhood so we actually reach kids where they can learn the most - pre-K, 3-K, third grade literacy, and really fully implementing an Equity and Excellence vision.
Lehrer: Then on early childhood, one other things about Gifted and Talented - Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is calling for testing all four-year-olds for G&T. Would you support that and how much of a solution would that be to anything in your opinion?
Mayor: So, look, I think Eric Adams is trying to fight for equity and I really appreciate that. I think he passionately wants to see more fairness in our schools. Again, I'm not so certain more testing is the way to achieve that because I have concerns about testing in general particularly with younger kids. I do want to look at the recent report. I do want to consider how we deal with ensuring that the current approach to Gifted and Talented is more equitable. And again, we've tried to do that by putting more G&T programs in districts that didn't have enough and opening up more access.
But, again, the goal has to be ultimately to transcend our current pretty narrow approach to Gifted and Talented and go to something much more inclusive. And that's something we're working on right now.
Lehrer: Sam in Manhattan, you're on WNYC with the Mayor - hi, Sam.
Question: Good morning to both of you. Thanks for taking my call. I'm offering a change of pace for you. I've been [inaudible] in my over 40 years living [inaudible] Central Park West and 92nd Street about the helicopters. And as you know there was a terrible disaster [inaudible] East River with a Liberty one going - dunking, killing three or four people. My real question is who are they if they're not Liberty helicopters, not sightseeing. I see them flying. I see them hovering over the reservoir in Central Park. I call 3-1-1 and then in a week they tell me [inaudible] sightseeing so it's alright. Well, my question wasn't whether they were or not, I want to know who they are. Are they New York City Police? Are they Homeland Security, Saudi Arabian air force? Who is flying in the skies over my head?
Mayor: Sam, I appreciate - you're a good New Yorker to want a clear answer to an obvious question. It's not the Saudi Arabian air force - I can strongly confirm that. We should find out - if there's been a pattern around Central Park that's something we actually can figure out and get you an answer on. And please give your information to WNYC.
What I've noticed from decades and decades of looking up and trying to figure out why there was a helicopter somewhere is - the first guess is usually the NYPD, that they use Aviation a lot when there is - immediate aftermath of an incident. So, that's often the best guess. But sometimes, of course, it's news helicopters if something is going on. But we can certainly get you a take on that.
The sightseeing helicopters - we've done a lot to contain them, to reduce where they can go and how frequently they can fly. I agree with you - I think it had gotten very excessive. So we did a lot to cut that back. But if it is sightseeing helicopters, that's something we can push hard to address. So, let's get the first answer - who are they - and then we can figure out the next steps.
Lehrer: Tanya, you're on WNYC with the Mayor. Hi, Tanya.
Question: Hi, Brian - and thanks for taking my call. Hello, Mayor. I'm Tanya. I'm from Brooklyn, New York - and my problem is I understand about the development of affordable housing and you want us all to take the transportation of the trains and the buses - but for me, who parks a car, living in Brooklyn, we have to change - the parking regulations are four times a week. That is killing us here in Brooklyn. It's harder for us to change and everybody is trying to get on one side. And it's a lot of development, which is good, but where are we - people who do want to use mass transit - what are we to do with our parking, leaving our cars in the streets?
Mayor: Tanya, it's a great question and up until five years ago I drove my own car, of course, and I tried to find parking in my neighborhood in Brooklyn and I spent many a night circling around and then trying to make sure I was paying attention to the alternative side and not forgetting, and you're right it's a big hassle. So, I'd say a couple things. I think the first thing I would say to people is, whenever possible I do think New Yorkers going forward should - if you don't need to own a car in New York City, you shouldn't own a car in New York City.
If you can use mass transit or you can use Zipcars or whatever it is - car services, you name it - I think it just makes so much more sense at this point in our history because parking is so tight and the cost of owning a car here is so high. But I know some people really do need a car and we need to be sensitive to that, and I do think you're raising a really important point. I think there are some places where we have alternate side more frequently than we need it to be and I've been raising this issue and I'm going to raise it again based on this phone call.
I think we need to access around the city - there's some places I know have already been acted on where people have to move the car more times a week than were needed and we were able to cut it back. So, I want to see that happen more frequently where we can. I'm sure one of the issues is going to be in some places, you know, if there's a need for a particular reason for more street cleaning - okay, we all want clean streets for sure but I want to make sure that that standards is being applied very precisely because the fewer times people have to move their cars the better.
Lehrer: Tanya, thank you.
Mayor: Tanya, leave you information, please, so we can follow up with you.
Lehrer: Please do for that - for your location in particular. I'm not sure I get four times a week - that's alternate side [inaudible]. I need to follow up on something from last week because you wound up having to correct something that you said on last week's show about your fundraising guidelines for your potential presidential run that it turns out wasn't turn. You said here that you haven't spoken to lobbyists for years and that's why it's okay that companies that want things from your administration are donating to you. You don't talk to their hired lobbyists -
Mayor: Woah - that's not what I said. Let's be clear. The first part, I made - I should have defined better but when I give you the details I'll think you'll see my point was consistent. The second part is not what I said, so, please be a little careful about that.
Lehrer: Well, you - well, let's go through this piece by piece. You had to clarify on NY1 on Monday to say that you do meet with some lobbyists. Would you clarify that here as well?
Mayor: Yeah, absolutely. Since - I'll get you the exact date - but it's been years. I have met with a handful of lobbyists and they were all of the type that were not the third-party lobbyists. And this is the crucial thing. Starting - this was basically over the last two years. The third-party lobbyists are the people - when you say lobbyists this is what the vast majority of people are thinking, I certainly think of when you say lobbyists - someone for hire who works for multiple interests and advocates for them and they get paid to do that. That is different than a - just for example - a labor union leader who because of their interpretation of the law is they need to sign up as a lobbyist too. They're still a labor union leader elected by their members to represent them. Michael Mulgrew is a good example. I think he's one of the people that came up on this list.
Lehrer: And would you take campaign donations from him?
Mayor: Absolutely, and I want to be very clear - but let's separate the idea of lobbyists - if the head of the teachers union comes to see me, and their lawyers say, by state law, he should apply to be calling himself a lobbyist, even though it has no resemblance to the kind of lobbyists that you and I would normally be talking about - if he comes to advocate for his members, we still put up online, I met with a lobbyist, we say who it was. But that is not the traditional definition of lobbyist. The other day, I met with someone who happens to be an actual lobbyist of the type that we're talking about but it was not for one of his clients - he was talking about an entirely different issue on behalf of a non-profit organization. So, I'm saying something very simple, very clear - I should have said the full definition when I spoke to you last week. I don't meet with traditional lobbyists, I don't meet with third party lobbyists about the business they have before the city. I just don't. And if someone, and I want to be clear about the second part of the equation, and I really would say I've not heard and example raised that deviates from what I'm about to say to you. For five years and four months, we have made all government decisions based on the merits. People can present their point of view. It doesn't change the fact that people can be my friends, people can be my political supporters - does not matter how we make our decisions, and no one has, in my view, presented any evidence to the contrary. We make our decisions on behalf of the people based on the merits, period. So, then what you and many journalists say, and I don't blame you, is appearance, appearance, appearance. I'm trying to set a very clear standard - we make our decisions based on the merit, we are more transparent about who is meeting with lobbyists than any administration has ever been and almost any other government in this country. Anything I do, anything top officials in the administration do, in terms of meeting with lobbyists, is put online, and in the end we are going above and beyond in a lot of these standards. There's no legal requirement. We're adding voluntary standards of greater transparency and greater restriction, but what really matters in the end is how we make our decisions. We make our decisions based on the merits, not on who meets with us.
Lehrer: The Daily News did its cover story on this yesterday, reporting that your deputy mayors, commissioners, and high ranking aides spoke with 130 of those hired gun lobbyists in about the last year. So since your appointees represent you, in a real sense, what remains of the claim that you don't meet with - that your administration, let's say, doesn't meet with those lobbyists?
Mayor: No, Brian. Brian, again, I really want - this is such important stuff, it's very important we be precise, and I'm going to ask you to be precise too. I never said my administration didn't meet with third party lobbyists. In fact, we decided to put it online so everyone could see. Therefore the power of the transparency is, if you or anyone else says, I see ex-official met with ex-lobbyist, and they have - you have a concern that they may have unduly, somehow, affected an outcome, then we have to speak to that. But the reality is, for those lobbyists, they are representing different - you know, they represent businesses, they represent hospitals, they represent whatever interest it is, they come in with their viewpoint - we're still making decision based on the merits. You get to then say I see you've made this decision, I see this lobbyist met with your folks, or I looked at a filing, campaign filing, I want to ask about whether it influenced - and then we have to answer, and I'm very comfortable with all that transparency giving you the opportunity to ask those questions because I know who we make decisions and I know how my team makes decisions, and it's on the merits. It doesn't matter what our relationship is with someone, we're making the decisions on the merits.
Lehrer: But one more follow-up on this. Going back to the original story, The City news organization used the example of the law firm of Abrams Fensterman 'in the fall of 2018, two partners wrote three checks' to your PAC 'totaling $15,000…At the time, they'd retained two lobbyist firms, Bryan Cave and Suri Kasirer, to influence the Office of Mayor on zoning changes that could significantly impact their real estate clients.' So if your deputy mayor or commissioner meets with those real estate lobbyists, who might be hired by your donors, the public shouldn't have any concerns about that?
Mayor: No, listen to what I'm saying. I really feel like I'm being very clear here and I'm going to say it again. The public has a right to know, and unlike any previous administration in this city, we are giving you that full vision. Now, where I come from, Brian, that's something that people in the media and watchdogs to say hey that's great because you're obviously - if you're very comfortable showing us exactly who met with who, then you must not have anything to hide and that is the truth. You can ask me anytime you want. I see this lobbyist met with this person on this topic, how did you make that decision? I see someone donated to your political action committee, how did you make that decision? I'm very comfortable talking about the outcomes. You know, I've spent years and years listening to the people of the city. They would be very concerned if they thought a relationship lead to the wrong outcome. But if we can be very clear about how we made decisions, and you'll also see many, many times those lobbyists came in and we decided against them, we decided against people that we have longstanding relationships with because we just didn't agree with them. This is what matters in the end - what is the decision and why was it made, and was it in the people's interest. So the fact that we're being extra disclosing - we didn't have to create a website to show every time I meet with someone who lobbies, who is registered as a lobbyist, even though, again, it's not the third party lobbyists. It's not the classic for hire lobbyists. We didn't need to create a website to show what every senior administration official did and who they met with so that you could ask any questions you want on any topic. We are perfectly comfortable with that process and that disclosure.
Lehrer: Also on voting, on early voting, now coming to New York under the new law the legislature passed in Albany, there are 38 early voting sites I see. You want 100. Right now 40 percent of all City Council districts have no early voting sites. Can you just decree as Mayor that there be 100 early voting places or what's next in that?
Mayor: Brian, it's such an important issue, and I know that WNYC has focused on this a lot and I appreciate it. You know, early voting is absolutely crucial - it gives everyday people an opportunity to vote, you know, that's not just election day, where the polls have been horrendous, poll sites have been ridiculous, long lines, dysfunctional. The Board of Elections has created a situation where people expect breakdowns and confusion when they go to vote, and it discourages voting. If instead we can have multiple days in advance - nine days in advance - poll sites all over the City where people can go in early, and according to their own schedule, and on weekends, and vote early, it would be transcendent. It's going to allow for much more participation, it's going to make Election Day go a lot easier because there won't be as much crowding. This is crucial to the future of this city and our democracy. And by the way, 2020 is going to be, I think, the biggest turnout in our lifetimes and we have to get ready for it. So, I said to the Board of Elections do not do the minimum, do something smart, do 100 or more poll sites around the City, and I offered them $75 million to pay for it. And their deadline was Wednesday, and they blew the deadline, and they came back with the absolute minimum number of sites. They proposed - this is just a crazy situation to think about - for a place as big as Queens - Queens has 1.2 million registered voters and the Board of Elections said there should be only seven early voting sites for the entire borough of Queens. That just shows you how out of touch the Board of Elections is - and we offered them the money. So, this morning, I sent a letter - actually, our DemocracyNYC team and our Chief Democracy Officer sent a letter to the Board of Elections, saying if you can't find the sites, we'll find them for you. We've offered 200 sites that are available for the nine days before the election, ready, willing, able, disabled accessible. The Board had said they couldn't find sites, which I find pitiful because they've had months since the legislation was passed to find these sites. We found them for them. So, that letter is in their hands now. The $75 million is in our Executive Budget proposal. They should just move ahead and put up 100-plus early voting sites so we can actually have more democracy in this city.
Lehrer: What's the obstacle? Is it really that they can't find sites? Or is it some kind of power play?
Mayor: Look, first of all, it's a Board of Elections that doesn't actually believe they have to make voting easier, and that system is broken. Let's be clear, the Board of Elections structure is broken, it has to be changed. The first step is to pass legislation in Albany to empower the executive director and let the executive director run the agency like a modern agency and not be at the behest of a partisan Board. I don't know why we have a partisan Board at this point. It doesn't make any sense. If I was given direct ability to create a City agency to run our elections, we could create a modern, effective agency and it would have all of the accountability every other City agency has. But the Board of Elections is a thing onto itself. You know, it's governed by State law, the political parties have the say, and it does not work. In the meantime, they can't say they don't have the money, because we put the money in our budget. They can't say they don't know where the poll sites are that would work for this, because we just sent them a list of over 200 options. So, it has to be a matter of will. I don't know if it's a power play, or if it's incompetence, or if it's a lack of desire to see people voting. Look, both parties in this State, for decades, tried to inhibit voting, let's be very clear. This was one of the States in the entire country that had the worst election laws where turnout kept plummeting -
Lehrer: Because that protects incumbents of both parties, right?
Mayor: The incumbents believe that. And we've tried to do the exact opposite. We just passed a referendum we're very proud of to make it even easier for people to run for office with just low-dollar donations and much higher matching funds, and it proved to be immediately effective in the Public Advocate race. We've created a DemocracyNYC campaign and a Chief Democracy Officer. We put the money forward for the early voting. So, the City of New York is doing all of the things to show the Board of Elections the way and to show change to make voting easier to get more people participating. But this arcane Board of Elections stands in the way every single time.
Lehrer: I know we're over time - can I ask you one quick presidential race question?
Mayor: Sure -
Lehrer: Or are you up against your next thing?
Mayor: No, go ahead.
Lehrer: You said yesterday to reporters that you're going to announce sometime this month whether you're going to run. And to qualify for the first televised debates, which are next month, you either have to have one percent support in certain polls or received donations from 65,000 people, including 200 donors apiece in 20 states. Would you qualify as of today, based on that donor number?
Mayor: To the best of my knowledge, no, but, again, there's a lot to play out. The debates are important. There's a lot of other factors in how, you know, something of this importance - a campaign of this importance emerges. So, that's something to think about, but, right now, the decision is one I want to make with my family, obviously. It will be made in the month of May. And then if I do decide to become a candidate, we'll start dealing with all of those strategic questions.
Lehrer: Is the early vote - I'm sorry, is the first debate timing key to when you're going to announce?
Mayor: Well, you know, again, I think the debates are a factor, but I think they're one of many factors. No, the decision is about what makes sense for my family, what I believe is the right thing to do. And I want to emphasize that, I, in making any decision, have to weigh family, have to weigh what I think is in the interest of New York City and the ability to get things done for New York City. I also have to weigh how we have a different and better discussion in this country about our future, because, right now, New York City is hurting because of a whole host of federal policies that are broken, whether it's climate change, infrastructure, you name it - all of that stuff is hurting us. So, I'm going to look at all of those factors, especially the family factor, and come forward with a decision.
Lehrer: Thanks, as always, Mr. Mayor. Talk to you next week.
Mayor:Thank you, Brian.