- Brian Lehrer: It’s the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning again, everyone. And we begin this Friday, 11 o’clock hour as usual with 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 you can tweet a question, just use the hashtag #AskTheMayor. And good morning, Mr. Mayor. Welcome back to WNYC.Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, Brian. How you doing?Lehrer: I’m doing okay. Thank you. And let me start it with what looks like good news and bad news about Opening Day at Yankee Stadium today.Mayor: A different kind of Opening Day.Lehrer: Absolutely. Opening Day for the COVID vaccine supersite that is only for people who live in the Bronx. And from what I’m seeing, the good news is that they have thousands of appointments available. The bad news is that means there are thousands of unclaimed appointments. How does it look to you?Mayor: Oh, I think it’s going to be extraordinary. I’ll be up at Yankee Stadium shortly. We’re going to have a wonderful celebration of this site opening up. And I’m going to be joined by one of the great Yankees of all time, Mariano Rivera, who’s going to really help us to get the message out to the people of the Bronx in multiple languages, that it’s so important to get vaccinated. And we really want to make sure that this is for the people of the Bronx. This is for folks who have been hit very hard by COVID. This is for folks who haven’t been able to get appointments previously. So there are still appointments remaining, I want to emphasize that. I’m sure they will go very fast, but anyone who wants one of those appointments who is a Bronx resident only, can go to somosvaccinations.com. That’s S-O-M-O-Svaccinations.com or 1-8-3-3-SOMOS-NY. And this center will be open every day at Yankee Stadium, 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. As we get more supply, we’re going to expand those hours, go to 24/7 eventually. But there are appointments available. I’m sure there’ll be snapped up quickly, but people should take advantage of this opportunity for all Bronxites to get vaccinated.Lehrer: You’ve cited, of course, vaccine hesitancy as a reason for disparities in COVID-19 vaccine coverage, especially for people of color. But we’re wondering if a bigger issue might still be signing up for appointments? Like what’s the City doing to help those with weak internet access or poor technology skills to work with the appointment websites?Mayor: Well, not only the points you raise about access to the internet and skills with the internet, but also there’s language issues. And for a lot of seniors, they’re just not comfortable going online. So, anyone who qualifies, so folks 65 and up, and the folks who qualify in those essential worker and public service categories can call 8-7-7-VAX-4-NYC. So, it’s 8-7-7-V-A-X-4-N-Y-C, and make an appointment on the phone in multiple languages. We are improving the website. And so, the website experience now is better because it clarifies where there are open appointments available. Doesn’t make people go through as much upfront, makes it simpler in that way. And again, our plan is ten languages in which people can directly apply with the applications themselves for appointments in those languages. And of course, in other languages available through translation service, all for free, of course. But we’re going to make further improvements to the website to make it more user-friendly. And we’ll have definitely more to say on that in the next few days.Lehrer: Emil in Fresh Meadows, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hello, Emil.Question: Hi I’m a 69-year-old male who’s also a cancer survivor. I’ve been trying for over three weeks to get an appointment using your website and the phone. Website is crashing, the phone an hour and a half hold, and then they hang up. Finally getting an appointment with New York State at Jones Beach for tomorrow morning. Why do I have to travel 30 miles each way to go get an appointment for a vaccine when I live in New York City? You mentioned that you opened up 17 pop-up centers throughout the city. None of them, none of them are in Northeast Queens. That includes Fresh Meadows and Bayside and White Stone and Little Neck and Douglaston. We have people here that also need the vaccine and we’re not getting anything. The closest place to get a vaccine is Hillcrest High School, and they never have appointments. So why don’t you consider Northeast Queens and try to get that improvement on the website which is impossible, and the phone calls? To get through on that phone number that you gave, you have an hour and a half wait until you finally get to speak to somebody, if you get to speak to somebody at all.Lehrer: Emil, thank you. Mr. Mayor?Mayor: Thank you. Emil, look thank you for everything you’re saying, because we have to continue to do better. That’s the bottom line. I do want to make sure that folks in Northeast Queens get served better. There are more sites coming. Emil, right now we would be doing three times as many vaccinations a week or more if we had enough supply. And we’d got to put this in perspective, Emil and Brian, that we are still being starved of supply. I’ve called upon the federal government to demand that the other pharmaceutical companies help Moderna and help Pfizer. That’s still an area where we could see a lot more progress. I’ve called upon the federal government, the State government to let us use second doses now and backfill the supply in the coming weeks. The things that would allow us to speed up, we need more help. And we want to have more sites and we want to serve Northeast Queens better, and other parts of the city. We have focused the sites on where the sheer horrible impact of the coronavirus was the very worst, where the most people died, where we saw the most suffering and the most potential new suffering if we don’t get people vaccinated. But we want to serve everyone. Emil, waiting an hour and a half on the phone, certainly not acceptable at all. And I’ve been monitoring what’s going on with the phone line. Most people are having a much faster experience in that. I’m very sorry you had that experience. And I’ll follow up to find out if we have to add more customer service reps or whatever it is, we will do that immediately. But we need to get everyone served and we have to keep just doing a better job, more sites, better customer service, et cetera.Lehrer: And there is the Citi Field. We mentioned Yankee Stadium, also Citi Field supersite, which is near all those neighborhoods that he mentioned about to open. Do you have a date on that?Mayor: We’re getting an exact date on Citi Field. It again, Citi Field would be up already if we had had the supply. So this is what’s so frustrating. New York City could be doing half a million vaccinations per week right now. We just don’t get the supply. And so my goal is to see a lot of these sites go to 24 hours. And then to go deeper into any community that doesn’t have enough sites. We could be doing so much on the ground right now, but we just are not getting all the help we need. And again, two things I think could really make a difference – getting the entire pharmaceutical industry to participate in the vaccination production. That’s something that I think is an area of tremendous possibility and getting that greater freedom to vaccinate with the second doses, we need State and federal help to get that done.Lehrer: And one more up on that. The City promised to release data this week outlining where vaccine recipients live by ZIP code. Is that data still coming?Mayor: No, it’s – I’m going to be very clear. I’m the person who made the promise. I said, we will do ZIP code data. And I did not say it’s ready this week. I got to find out the day it will be ready. And we’ll publicly announce when we’ll have it by. This data, there’s a lot to be done to get it right on all this. That’s why we wanted to make sure first to give the citywide data, which I announced on Sunday. Obviously, very sobering. Points out there are real disparities that we need to overcome. And one of the ways we’re going to overcome those disparities in vaccination is with targeted efforts like we’re doing today at Yankee Stadium. That’s just for Bronx residents. That’s a part of the way to bring greater equity. But we will be publishing ZIP code data so people can see exactly how vaccination is going. And I’ll get you a date for sure on when that’s going to be.Lehrer: We had a call-in this week for taxi and rideshare drivers now that they’ve been put on the vaccine eligible list, about how they protected themselves so far and acknowledging the context of the already devastating pre-pandemic finances for so many yellow cab medallion owners, because of all the competition from the app companies, et cetera, crashing their market value. And we got a call from the driver named Dorothy from Brooklyn, who had a question for you that I couldn’t answer. So, we invited Dorothy to call back today for Ask The Mayor and she did. So, Dorothy, hello again. And here you go. You’re on with the Mayor.Question: Yes. Good morning, Brian. Good morning, Mr. Mayor. It’s been a pleasure for me to talk to you today. My name is Dorothy, as Brian said, and I’m 64 years old. I have lost all my retirement and I cannot make more than a minimum wage as a [inaudible] driver. The only thing I have is debt. You promised to help Mr. Mayor. And in August, you said, if the White House and Congress changed, you will work with our union for debt forgiveness. The Comptroller said it would only costs the $75 million over the 20 years. So the City with a [inaudible] budget of $90 billion. The Democrats won like you said [inaudible]. Please don’t tell us the City’s given us free bankruptcy advice. [Inaudible] is an insult. We want debt forgiveness. And you can help make it happen. When will you keep your promise to us? Not the TLC, we want and need City Hall [inaudible]. Mr. Mayor I know you are in the end of your term, I’m asking you to make it as a legacy. Please thousands, thousands of old people, older than me are suffering right now with no money, no food, no health care, no housing. [Inaudible] it’s about to collapse on us because of the debt –Lehrer: Mr. Mayor, debt relief for taxi drivers. Let me get you an answer. Dorothy. Mr. Mayor?Mayor: Dorothy, thank you so much. And Brian, very, very appreciative that you got Dorothy on so I could hear from her directly. And I feel immediately for Dorothy because she’s going through so much and it’s just horrible. And the story of how all this happened is a very painful one. And I think the bottom line is we’ve got to find some way to help. We haven’t been able to up to now because of everything else. Because of the fact that we’ve been in horrible financial straits as a city. But I think the possibility now is much better. Dorothy’s point is really well taken. We have a much better situation in Washington that very well might give us the resources to do something better and help these drivers. Look, we fought to get these drivers minimum wage. They didn’t have it before. We fought against the for-hire vehicle companies, the Ubers and Lyfts who I think were acting oppressively towards working people. There’s been a lot of things we tried to do to get people relief. But I hear Dorothy loud and clear. If we get money from the Congress, I want to find a way to help these drivers. I don’t have a specific proposal yet. I want to be very clear. There’s different options out there, but if I’m going to embrace one, I have to be absolutely convinced it will work. But it hinges on getting the relief we need. And I do think that that’s a real possibility now for the first time. I mean the election in Georgia opened the door to the kind of stimulus that could finally give us the ability to help these drivers the way they deserve. So that is something I hope to have more news on once we see what really happens in Washington, if we’re going to get a true stimulus that helps us back on our feet. So we can help deserving working people like these TLC drivers.Lehrer: This question was in play before the pandemic caused the fiscal crisis. Why didn’t you do it then rather than now? Wait for help that may or may not be coming from Washington?Mayor: You know, Brian, there were proposals over time. Proposals that would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars or more. Some proposals were in the billions. The original sin here really is because of lack of regulation of the lending. That’s what got these drivers in this horrible situation. The lending was regulated by the federal government and the State government. And we only found out too late, how bad the situation was. But we were not in a position to afford that kind of relief. It just was always true. And I appealed to the federal government for relief for these drivers, State government. We could not get that. And now look again, if we get the kind of stimulus that gives us real resources, I want to do whatever I can to help these drivers. But this is a very painful, complex history. And it’s not as simple as we could just write a check and make it go away. We need much more in terms of help to be able to address this. But I want to, I feel for them, I want to find a way to help them.Lehrer: Jacqueline in Bed-Stuy. You’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hello, Jacqueline.Question: Hi there. I am currently working as both a contact tracer and a case investigator. And first I want to share two things I have learned from this job, which I do largely with immigrant populations and not in English. And then ask what you can do. The two things I have learned are that a huge number of people who have tested positive in poorer communities actually don’t know that they shouldn’t be walking around. They tell me, I’m fine. And don’t realize that they have a communicable disease. They are not watching cable TV, listening to this show, anything like that. Secondly, a lot of people simply can’t skip work if they’re feeling fine. They don’t have the means. I doubt that the programs we have in place are replacing their salary. What can be done? I think a lot of the immigrant communities we’re dealing with, the undocumented, that’s not a question we ask them. [Inaudible] lack of information, you know, and I think sometimes I think flyers throughout those neighborhoods saying, did you know, if you test positive, you actually can communicate COVID – I’m concerned with these poorest immigrant communities. And I think there just must be some kind of informational thing that could be done? And how could salary be replaced if you are working off the books?Mayor: So, okay. That last piece was very, very important to clarify. Jacqueline, please leave the information with WNYC because I want our Test and Trace leadership to follow up with you and hear about these experiences so we can do everything we can to reach people better. Jacqueline, are you part of our Test and Trace program? Are you saying that that’s where you’re working as a contact tracer?Question: Yes. So, essentially I’m working for a health company under the auspices of New York City Health + Hospitals. Yes, as a temporary pandemic job, basically.Mayor: And thank you for doing that work. It’s very, very important. I hear the frustration, but I know every time you’re talking to people, it’s giving a much greater chance that people will get educated, will get the support they need. Look, first of all, paid sick leave is a crucial point here. For folks who do have a kind of job, who’s on the books, paid sick leave will cover them between what the City has done, what the State’s done, for just a period of quarantine, which is now per the CDC 10 days. It used to be 14, it’s now 10 days. Paid sick leave covers that timeframe. So, people should not have any loss of income. They should be very comfortable taking the time they need to quarantine. If someone’s working off the books, I agree with you, that’s a challenging situation. And we got to see if we can find better solutions. And I want the leadership at Test and Trace to talk to you about that and see how we can address that. For the folks who don’t know that it’s a danger to be out there if they are infected, this is a real challenge because there is misinformation, there’s lack of information. You’re right. You know, some people watch cable news all day, some people never see cable news. But this is why Test and Trace is so important because trusted voices, including a lot of neighborhood voices and people speaking to people in their own language, is part of educating people as to the dangers and letting them know if they live in a multi-generational home, we’ll get them – they can stay in a hotel for the 10 days for free, or if they need to stay in their home, we’ll get them food, we’ll get them medicine. This is what Test and Trace, and particularly the Take Care initiative within Test and Trace, is all about, is helping people understand how they can navigate and be safe. But we know, constantly, we have to educate people better. So, this is helpful, and Jacqueline let’s follow up with you and see what we can learn from your experiences. Lehrer: And she mentioned people who don’t have the ability to take a day off from work even when they’re sick or if they’re feeling well, but they may be contagious. I think that also plays into the disparity in who’s getting vaccines. And I wonder if there’s a way for the City to help those who might have jobs that are not flexible enough, mostly low-income people, you know, to take a number of hours off and make an appointment to go to Yankee Stadium or somewhere to get a vaccine. Mayor: Well, it’s a real interesting question, Brian – is there a different kind of approach or a different kind of incentive? We’ve talked about this but haven’t found really the right way to do it yet. Again, the paid sick leave I know is tremendously helpful for a lot of folks. And because we have, you know, more and more places, flexible hours that would be outside of the work hours, that helps. But to be very clear, blunt, the lack of supply is screwing up all of this, because if we had supply of the vaccine, we’d be 24 hours all over the place. We would be deep, deep, deep into a variety of communities. Right now, 60 percent of our vaccination sites are in the communities hardest hit by COVID, primarily African-American, Latino, and Asian communities that really bore the brunt. But we can’t run them on the hours we need to, that would help so many working people. But I will definitely go back to our team, our health leadership, and see if there is something particularly for folks who might be undocumented or might be working off the books that we can do to incentivize vaccination. Lehrer: Later today, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and as I understand it, all of the leading mayoral candidates, will be coming together for a joint news conference calling on you to drastically reduce or altogether suspend ballot petitioning. And for people who don’t know, that’s the process of collecting thousands of signatures from eligible, in this case, democratic voters, in order to secure a spot on the mayoral democratic primary ballot. The Governor signed a law last week that reduced the number of signatures required and the amount of time people would need to be out collecting them. But that change still means thousands of volunteers will still need to be out trying to engage in non-socially distance interactions just to obtain signatures so their candidates can get on the ballot. And they want you to take emergency action to drastically reduce or eliminate the signature gathering process while the pandemic is going on in the primary season. Will you do that? Mayor: So, first of all, the whole approach here should be based on health and safety. The point you raised about the Governor signing the law, to the best of my understanding I’ll go double-check, Brian, but the only way we could cancel that kind of in-person petitioning is with State law. What I want to see is a different approach to the maximum extent possible, again, focused on health and safety. You got to have something to determine who gets on the ballot. There has to be some measure of grassroots support for a candidate to get on the ballot. I think that’s fair. There’s lots of ways that could be done potentially including online. So, I very much would like to see a change here because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, but I am not certain that’s something I can do alone. I’ll get you a better, clearer answer. But I think that requires State law. Lehrer: Anna in Manhattan, I think, you’re on WNYC. Hi, Anna. Question: Good morning. Thank you for taking my call, Brian. First time caller. Lehrer: Glad you’re on. Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. Mayor: Good morning, Anna. How are you? Question: I would be better, but I’m blessed. I’m 82 years old, but I’m calling about the heat and hot water and Grant development in Harlem. Lehrer: What about it? Mayor: Okay. What’s going on, Anna? Question: Sometimes we have it, sometimes we don’t. Yesterday, it went off at almost five o’clock, no heat. And then when I went to get some water, the water was cold as well. So, I had to go to bed early, because it got too cold in here. And the workers – it’s not the workers’ fault because the workers had came upstairs to see what my problem is, and they said they’d been having a lot of problems with the boiler. Now, they need some help. Mayor: Okay, Anna, I want you to give your information to WNYC please. Last week – Anna and also Brian – we got a call for someone calling on behalf of a friend at NYCHA with a heating issue. I had the general manager for all of public housing, Vito Mustaciuolo, reach out to your call from last week. That issue got resolved. The apartment was made warm again. That situation got a good outcome. I want to make sure we get a good outcome for everyone at Grant Houses as well. So, I’m going to have Vito call you later today, Anna, and see what’s going on and get help. There’s no – we just, I never want to see anyone, particularly an 82-year-old, who has worked so hard your whole life, I never want to see you go without what you deserve. So, we got to get the heat and hot water back for you. And I will have the guy literally who is in charge of all the operations of NYCHA citywide, call you directly and figure out how we can get this back for you and your neighbors. Lehrer: Anna, we will take your phone number off air for that, if you want to give it, hang on. Artace in Brooklyn, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hello, Artace. Question: Yeah. Good morning. I’m the parent of a child who ACS took on October 13th 2015, and it’s like they stole my son, they sent him to Pennsylvania. Now he’s in Nassau County and HRA is paying $237,000 to hold my son hostage in the back of an old building in Nassau County called SCO. And he’s very human, his twin sister stays in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. She hasn’t seen him in five years, and I don’t know why they’re doing this to my son. And I want him to look into it, into the board of education and to ACS at 150 Williams Street to find out why they’re taking our children from school because they’re a little slow, they say – for OT. My son is a strong, healthy boy [inaudible] nights, you know, I’m sleeping without my son. I went to see him in Nassau County in secret where he lives there. And in the back of an old cobweb house, they put him and nobody’s looking. I called ACS a thousand times, and nobody’s looking to why they put my son there. I go to court 330, street – Jay Street in Brooklyn, family court, I’m paying the lawyer $500 every two months and she’s doing nothing. The judge is doing nothing. I don’t know because of his friends and his Jewish, I don’t know what it is – Lehrer: Very complicated situation, obviously, Artace, and it sounds like a tragedy. Mr. Mayor, how can you help her? Mayor: It does sound like a very painful situation, Artace. I’m so sorry you’re going through all that and that your son is. These are very complex issues, and all I can say is, please give your information to WNYC. We’ll have a senior person from the administration call you today and see if we can find a way to fix this situation or improve this situation for you and your son. And I think that’s all I can say given the complexities of these kinds of issues. Lehrer: And another question about schooling in Brooklyn, but of a more general nature, via Twitter. This question says, “School opening issue is a practical and moral emergency. You need to ask the Mayor about the teachers at my Brooklyn middle school and high school want a plan, get vaccines, want to teach in person. The Mayor and the Chancellor needs to step up, give a plan, undo unique and unreasonable two-case rule.” I guess that means two cases and a school temporarily closes. Is that it? Mayor: Yeah. Well, it’s not as simple as that because there are a variety of conditions. There are certain circumstances, not all, but there are certain circumstances where two cases can lead to a closure for 10 days. Because again, remember the standard is now 10 days. But what happens first is if those cases are identified by the Test and Trace Corps, there’s a temporary closure to determine what the full facts are. And sometimes two cases do not lead to a longer closure, sometimes they do. But I hear loud and clear that policy is being re-evaluated, obviously, because we need to improve our ability to get it exactly right. I’ve said a few days back, we’re going to have an announcement this month about the next steps with reopening schools for this school year. And our first focus of course will be on middle school, and as soon as we have that plan ready, we will be announced. Lehrer: Yeah. In the news today, Mr. Mayor, there are now two lawsuits on behalf of incarcerated New Yorkers, some at Rikers, suing the State for allowing residents of nursing homes and shelters to get vaccinated while denying similar eligibility to incarcerated people who they say should be treated like other folks who are in congregate living situations based on the risk. Will you satisfy that demand for City jail inmates without a day in court? Mayor: Again, Brian we’ve – forgive me for being a broken record – we got to be honest and clear about what the State of New York decides here. The State of New York has taken upon itself extraordinary powers. A lot of people are asking the question right now in Albany if it’s time for that to change as we start to come out of this crisis, I do think restoring local control so we can make our own decisions would really help here. But on this example, the State decides that. There’s a small number of folks in our correction system, folks who are incarcerated, who have particular high risk, I think it’s about 500 who were authorized to be vaccinated. A number of them wanted to be, a number of them did not choose to be vaccinated. Correction officers are being vaccinated, but like every other New Yorker, there are some who want to be, there are some who do not want to be. We do need to start reaching the larger population but that’s something that the State has to decide. And then once we get that authorization, we’ll go to the effort of reaching those who are incarcerated, but do not be surprised once again, if a number of those individuals choose not to take the vaccine. We’re seeing this across the whole city. Even in our public health system, the employees of our public health system – the original vaccination drives that went on for weeks – about 50 percent chose not to get vaccinated, even though it was free, it was available at their work site, they were encouraged. I think there is a hesitancy issue. That is another part of this puzzle. It will take time to overcome, but I am convinced with each passing week and month, more and more people will choose to as they see others around them getting vaccinated. Lehrer: But in the meantime, do you want to lend your voice as a matter of politics to those calling on the State, since you said it’s up to the State to offer the vaccines to people who are incarcerated, you want to make that call right here? Mayor: I would make that call with one important note. It should be according to need. There are folks who are vulnerable because of pre-existing conditions, age, etcetera. Those folks who are incarcerated, I absolutely want to prioritize. Folks who are not as vulnerable. I’m right now concerned about our seniors who are very vulnerable. So, I would say on that one, I think it should be according to need, not simply across the board. Lehrer: So, the congregate living itself doesn’t impose enough of a risk like it does in other congregate living situations, in your opinion? Mayor: Of course, there’s risk, but the question here – I care deeply for all people, really. And if someone happens to be incarcerated, they’re still a human being. We want to protect them. But I want to emphasize what the health care professionals are saying. The greatest risks right now in New York City still are for those 65 and over particularly 75 and over. Those are the folks who are in the greatest danger. And while we have this kind of supply problem, I do have to keep everyone focused on getting, to the maximum extent possible, to the folks in greatest danger. Lehrer: Do you want to stay two minutes over to hear some good news and with some good news that shows that the Ask the Mayor call-in and what you tell people can be effective? Leslie – Mayor: Anytime there’s good news, I’ll stick around. Lehrer: Leslie, in the Bronx, you’ll be our last caller today with the Mayor. Hi. Question: Yes, I have good news. While I was listening to this program, I went onto the website for the Yankee Stadium vaccine, and I went through the whole website and I scheduled myself for an appointment for a vaccine on February 10th. So, it works. You just have to make sure – Mayor: Leslie, what neighborhood are you in? Question: I’m in the Bronx, in Riverdale. Mayor: I love it. I love it. What do – give people advice. What do you need? You said you have to make sure, what? Question: You have your insurance card with you, because the website requires that you put down the number on your insurance card, what insurance you have. And it only gives you like four minutes to fill out the form. So, have your insurance information with you before you start filling out the form – Lehrer: Leslie, thank you. But that opens up a can of worms. What if you’re not insured, Mr. Mayor? Mayor: Well, I don’t have the website up in front of me, but obviously there are people not insured. And I will say, Brian, really important for all your listeners to remember – we guarantee health care here in New York City, anyone who cannot get insurance on the exchange can get an NYC Care card, can get health care for free or very reduced costs through our Health + Hospital system. No one should be without health care [inaudible] 3-1-1 – Lehrer: Right, but do you really need health insurance information to sign up – Mayor: No, you do not – you do not need health insurance to get vaccinated. It is for free, even if people do not have health insurance. So, I have not seen the portion of the application Leslie’s talking about. What I’d say to everyone is go online, make your appointment, if you do not have a health insurance card, you’re still going to get an appointment. If there’s any question, call the phone line and you can get additional help that way, because want to make sure that anyone who has any problem, if you can’t resolve your problems online – again for the Bronx site at Yankee Stadium, that’s 833-SOMOSNY. For other sites, that’s 877-VAX4NYC. So, you can always get questions answered there. But no, we are going to vaccinate people regardless if they have insurance unquestionably. Lehrer: Thanks as always Mr. Mayor, talk to you next week. Mayor: Thanks, Brian. ###
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MAYOR DE BLASIO APPEARS LIVE ON THE BRIAN LEHRER SHOW
Brian Lehrer: It’s the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning, again, everyone, and as usual at this time on Fridays, it’s time for our weekly Ask the Mayor segment – my questions and yours for Mayor Bill de Blasio at 6-4-6-4-3-5-7-2-8-0, 6-4-6-4-3-5-7-2-8-0. Or you can tweet a question watch our Twitter feed go by, just use the hashtag #AskTheMayor so we can easily spot it, and good morning, Mr. Mayor. Welcome back to WNYC.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, Brian. How are you doing?
Lehrer: I’m doing okay, thank you, and let’s get right to vaccine distribution, which we were talking about in a previous segment, and the opening of Citi Field as a supersite in Queens. It opened, from what I’ve seen, without a super supply, and people were frustrated that if they showed up, they couldn’t sign up, they needed to go to their phones or their computers and hope there were slots. You were trying to remedy that. Has any of that changed as of this morning?
Mayor: Yeah, absolutely. First of all, what we’ve been saying throughout this crisis is the important thing is to go online or go to the phones to make those appointments. We really don’t want people showing up, waiting in a line to make an appointment. That’s not the effective way to do things. We want to keep people safe. We want to avoid lines. That’s why the whole idea is to do everything by appointment. Folks who did show up that first day were engaged by navigators from Health + Hospitals to get them an appointment. As far as I heard, the vast majority were locked in for an upcoming appointment. But look, here’s the deal with Citi Field. It starting small next week, it goes to 4,000 appointments per week, but we want to go to the 35,000 per week. We can do 5,000 people a day at Citi Field. If we get the supply from the federal government and the state, and right now we are not getting what we need. I think given that we’re not getting our fair share where the City of New York is vaccinating people who live in New York City, but also from our allotment, a lot of people from outside of New York City are getting their vaccine. The State needs to increase the allotment to New York City to compensate for that reality, and really the best solution would be for the federal government to do a direct allocation to New York City. Just reduce the red tape and the confusion and give us the most we can get each week. Because right now we are at the point where we could be doing 400,000 – 500,000 vaccinations per week, if we just had the supply.
Lehrer: If you’re opening more sites and super sites and bringing more people into eligibility, without appreciably a faster pace of doses arriving yet, is that just going to make things more frustrating and at the same time harder for the 65-plus New Yorkers, and teachers, and others who already qualify, but couldn’t find slots in many cases?
Mayor: Look, I think it’s the more egalitarian approach to say for folks who are truly in need, folks with preexisting conditions, folks who are 65 years old and older, and obviously our frontline essential workers to give maximum opportunity. We know there’s still a lot of people, Brian, who has had the opportunity and chose not to get vaccinated. That’s still a very real trend. But for those who are eligible and want it, I think giving an equality of opportunity is the right thing to do, but we need supply, and so right now – I mean the truth is we are, each week, getting somewhat more supply and we’re going to see a huge bump when Johnson and Johnson vaccines arrive, which are also single dose. So, that’s been increased efficiency and that’s really a matter of weeks now, and I’ve been talking to the Biden team and there’s no question, each week effectively, will get better. I think March will be a lot better than February. So, we know we – and we are banking, I think, very substantively on an increase in supply, but there’s still things that could be done right now to simplify the process. Direct allotment from the federal government would simplify the process, reducing a lot of the red tape that we’ve experienced and lack of flexibility from the federal government or State, the ability to use second doses now, knowing that more supply is coming, a greater supply each week is coming. So, I think it’s right to invite people in, but I think the federal government and State government can do more to speed this process up for us.
Lehrer: Before we go to the phones, all this opening of things, restaurants today, then on February 23rd, per the Governor, outdoor stadiums, indoor arenas like Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden at limited capacity. Bad timing with the variants expected to run rampant in America over the next few months?
Mayor: Very important question, Brian, I mean that, you know, in the deepest sense, open question. We need to keep our eyes focused on the data and the science. I talk to my health care team every day about what they’re seeing, not only in New York City, but what they’re seeing around the country around the world. We’re deeply concerned about these variants. They’re the X-factor right now. So, the jury is still out and we have to be able to make quick decisions. If we see a problem. Today, we can make those decisions work there, the state’s decisions, but we’ll implement them and make sure it’s being done safely. But you know, each week we got to watch to see if we need to vary the approach.
Lehrer: One follow up on this, and I’m curious how much you grapple with, you know, how much to open, how much to close, even beyond the details of what we just discussed? Like, I know you’re a baseball fan. I don’t know if you’re a tennis fan, but I was watching Serena Williams’ determined comeback at the Australian Open last night, very gritty performance when she didn’t have her best stuff, but there was a subplot. They announced during the match that starting today, they will stop allowing fans into the stadium, and there will be a general lockdown in Melbourne area with a real five-day stay at home order beyond what we’ve ever done, as I understand it in this country. Why? Because there was a small outbreak of the British variant. As the AP reports there today, the outbreak has only at most 13 people, and they’re pretty much locking down Melbourne, Australia for the next five days. What do you think when you see something like that?
Mayor: I think every place is different. Every place has had a very different experience. I also think, you know, they’re a very big island and they have a different interconnection to the rest of the world, and more sensitivity perhaps to what the numbers should be. But look, let’s talk about this specific reality of the variant with a note – on a sports note, anyone who wants to praise Tom Brady for agelessness, better praise Serena Williams for agelessness too. I mean, she’s just unbelievable.
Lehrer: Her opponent last night was half her age.
Mayor: Yeah, I mean, come on. This is a, I think it’s such an extraordinary display, not just grit, but determination and refusing to lose, refusing to age. So, God bless her.
Lehrer: And welcome folks to Sports Talk 93.9, but go ahead.
Mayor: That’s right. I – that’s our next show, Brian. That’s, we’ll start that next year. But look, I, as a fan, I’m very much a baseball fan, I’m a basketball fan. I mean, I think there’s a way to bring people back safely. But again, you have to watch constantly for things that might change. So, the folks in Australia, I respect that they make different decisions based on the data and the science, and if they see a threat, they make an alteration. We’re watching these variants really closely, and, you know, I talked to my health team about it, Brian. There’s a couple of things we know, and a lot we don’t know. We know they’re more contagious. We fear in some cases, they could be more deadly, but that, that is not proven yet. We believe the vaccines are effective against them broadly, but still need more information. There’s a big question here. So, I think it’s fine to say let’s take some incremental steps because we do need to continue our recovery. I’m going to talk about all year is a recovery for all of us, an equitable recovery for New York City. We’re going to be moving vaccination intensely. I want five million New Yorkers fully vaccinated by June. I want to see our economy come back. But if at any point the data and the science suggests we have to take a different tack for a period of time, we’ve got to be willing to acknowledge that and act. It really means listening to the health care leadership.
Lehrer: Logan, in Brooklyn. You’re on WNYC with Mayor de Blasio. Hi, Logan.
Question: Hi, thank you so much for taking my call, Brian. Mr. Mayor, whenever you’re asked on the show about holding the NYPD accountable, you reference the discipline matrix, and you say that due process is important. But the matrix only lists penalties for police misconduct that get to the stage of a formal administrative discipline charge, which is rare. And then it gives ultimate authority to the Police Commissioner to enforce those penalties, if the case ever gets to an administrative trial. So, it’s really up to the NYPD, and to you, to decide whether or not officers will be fired for brutality, killings, and gender-based violence. And just on January 29th, during this segment, you refused to commit to scheduling a disciplinary trial for NYPD Officer Wayne Isaacs, who killed Delrawn Small in 2016. You said that the trial’s moving forward, but there’s still no date, even though Delrawn Small was killed by Isaacs almost five years ago. So, how do we know that the NYPD won’t keep delaying? Will you commit to setting a date for Wayne Isaacs’ disciplinary trial and will you support the demands that Isaacs be fired and not be allowed to retire with benefits?
Mayor: Again, Brian, thank you for the question. And I just want to say to the first part of the question, we announced the discipline matrix, and again, I understand folks are going to advocate for different positions, but I also hope when there’s a fundamental change, it’s acknowledged. This is something the Civilian Complaint Review Board fought for – a discipline matrix that very strictly says what the penalties will be in each case, and these are the cases that matter the most. You said some things aren’t covered. I would ask the public to go online to nyc.gov and look at the discipline matrix. It covers a huge range of offenses. There are very clear penalties – certainly, as you said, gender-based offenses, 100 percent are there, hate speeches. There are a whole host of offenses and we hope we never have officers doing any of those. But it is quite comprehensive. And what I’ve said, the CCRB has said, the Police Commissioner has said, we are going to honor the matrix, period. So, the notion that State law says the Commissioner has ultimate authority, that’s true. That’s what State law says. What we’ve said and why there’s the MOU, a memorandum of understanding between the CCRB and the NYPD is we will honor the matrix as written. To the individual case that you’re talking about, it will be scheduled. I will make sure we get a date for that and announce that date. I know people care a lot about it. But it is due process – I am not going to prejudge due process. There’s been due process already in this case that has yielded outcomes. This is a different due process. When we see the result of due process, that’s when the penalties will be determined.
Lehrer: On the Police Commissioner having final disciplinary authority, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson was here this week talking about the new package of bills and resolutions that City Council unveiled. And one of the things is removing the Police Commissioner’s final disciplinary authority over even substantiated cases per the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Another one was that future police commissioners should need confirmation by City Council. Do you support either of those things? If either of those make it in a bill to your desk, will you sign them?
Mayor: So, let me just answer it by saying we are beginning a two-month process with the City Council. There’s going to be public hearings. There’s been a lot of input already, but there’s going to be even more. I’m not going to go point by point. We’re going to come up with a plan with the Council that will be voted on by the end of March. And as I have a dialogue with the Council and with community members, we’ll decide how to handle each of these items. But I do want to say to the first question – this is real important. The current State law is clear, and we have to be mindful about litigation risks here. We just created this disciplinary matrix. It’s revolutionizing police discipline. Ask the Civilian Complaint Review Board, they will tell you this fundamentally changes police discipline. It empowers the Civilian Complaint Review Board. I’ve announced a series of additional changes, what I’m calling the David Dinkins Plan – a series of steps that we’re taking now to empower further and strengthen the hand of the Civilian Complaint Review Board. But that’s key is State law right now, if we were to say, “hey, we’re going to simply take the commissioner out of the process entirely,” I think that creates a State law problem and litigation risk. I think it creates the danger that these things will revert back to collective bargaining with the police unions, who clearly would try and water down these reforms. So, there are real issues here that have to be looked at. The best way to handle this is the discipline matrix, and because there’s a legal MOU, a legal memorandum of understanding between the CCRB and the police department, that says the police department will abide by this matrix, and I’ve said it, and the Commissioner said it, I think that is the smartest way to change the discipline process.
Lehrer: Question from Twitter. Listener Jenny asks “I’m a teacher who can’t get a vaccine appointment. I’m being called back into the building, which would be fine, but I feel unprotected. Mayor and Carranza,” the Chancellor, “said we would have priority. Not feeling prioritized.” What can you tell that teacher?
Mayor: Well, we’d love to get Jenny’s information and help make sure she knows where she can get one of those prioritized appointments, especially during the school vacation week. We’ll have thousands of appointments available for teachers and school staff. But I also want to remind everyone our schools are amongst the safest places in the entire city. I look at the data daily on positivity levels for COVID in our schools. It’s extraordinarily low. We’re testing every school every week, whether someone is vaccinated or not, they’re going to be safe in our schools. And obviously, you know, tens of thousands of teachers and staff have been teaching the whole way through since September, in a very safe environment. Much safer, bluntly, than many other places in New York City. So, I can assure Jenny, that first of all, we’ll help her in every way to get prioritized testing opportunities, but second, she’ll be going into an atmosphere that’s literally the gold standard of health and safety in the city.
Lehrer: And Jenny, if you’re still listening, we’re going to direct message you from Twitter, via Twitter, and get your contact information, if you want to share it privately with us. And we will pass it along to the Mayor’s Office as the Mayor invited us to do. Another one from Twitter. Listener asks, “are there any jobs for nonmedical folks at the mass vaccination sites? Out of work hospitality workers with computer, event, and people’s skills want to know and how to apply. Hard to figure out.” Are there such jobs at the mass vaccination sites?
Mayor: There has been an effort and we can get the details to you, and certainly the listener, please pass along their information, we’ll connect them to it. There’s an effort to hire thousands of vaccinators, and folks can do that work, because there’s different roles. Some of it is directly giving the vaccine and some is the work around the process where folks with hospitality background could be really well suited to it. So yes, just like we hired thousands of people into the Test and Trace Corps, we are hiring thousands of people for the vaccination effort. We’d love to see if your listener would be a good fit.
Lehrer: Chris, in Richwood you’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hi, Chris.
Question: Hi, Brian. Hi, Mr. Mayor. Thanks so much for taking my call. I have recently moved because of loud neighbors. And I ended up in an apartment that has even louder neighbors and paper-thin walls. It’s an apartment that was renovated quite recently, all the walls were taken down and rebuilt as many buildings in my neighborhood. And I can hear everything that’s happening at my neighbor’s apartment. And they are pretty loud. They also just like me, they work from home. They’re photographers so they work at all times a day and night. And I have a home office. And at this point I can’t use the home office because I can’t work there. They can hear my conversations. I can hear theirs. I can’t sleep because they work at night. And I’ve been trying everything to solve this problem. I’ve contacted all agencies, tenants’ rights agencies, tenant lawyers, the DOB, pretty much everyone that I could and nobody can help me.
Lehrer: Let me get you a response. And Mr. Mayor, some things never changed in New York, even in pandemic and insurrectionist times. Violations, potentially of the noise code by neighbors. Can we help Chris?
Mayor: Yeah. Chris, I’m very sorry you’re going through that. And especially because on top of the pandemic and a lot more people working from home, you know, it just adds to the stresses that everyone’s already been through. And you’ve obviously been through, so I’m sorry you’re going through that. Our tenant protection office can certainly try to help. I mean, sometimes we’d be able to mediate situations like this and figure out solutions with folks. And if, of course, there’s any violation of law, we would act on that too. So, if you give your information to WNYC, our tenant protection office will follow up with you and hopefully we can find some way to improve your situation.
Lehrer: Do you know what the general city guidelines are or law? I mean, you can’t stop somebody from living in the apartment next door, but when does it become a violation?
Mayor: I cannot pretend to tell you the exact chapter and verse. I think, you know, some of this is common sense. If a neighbor is really being disrespectful of someone’s rights you know, we know, again, there’s the opportunity sometimes to mediate, sometimes if you’re dealing with a good and thoughtful landlord, they step in and try and help address the situation too. But there are situations where there are noise code violations, where something’s egregious enough, you know, it might enter into some kind of violation. So yeah, I think the bottom line is let’s see if we can mediate in this case. And if someone’s having this problem, you know, again, our tenant protection folks will always try to see if we can find a solution.
Lehrer: Felicia, in Ozone Park, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hi, Felicia.
Question: Hi. Good morning. My name is Felicia [Inaudible]. I’m a daughter of a taxi driver. My father has been a taxi driver for 32 years. He’s done all the right things. He’s paid his mortgage, his taxi fees – excuse me. He’s an aging immigrant and he will never be able to retire because of the City’s negligence. We now have 83 days left before the United States Bankruptcy Court takes our home because we have to file for bankruptcy because we were unable to pay our medallion. 950 medallion owners have filed for bankruptcy. This is not the first time this has happened. And this is not the last time. You said we needed federal relief and federal relief is possible with the stimulus bill which needs to include a plan to pass Congressman Meeks’s bill, House Bill 5617, for tax exemption on medallion debt forgiveness. Senator Schumer has pledged his leadership to involve the medallion – to be involved in the medallion debt crisis to fix it. And this has already been approved by Attorney General James and our Comptroller Scott Stringer, for passing the Taxi Workers Alliance plan. So really my question is, will you commit to using stimulus relief like you said? We need federal relief to provide debt relief for taxi drivers and commit to the plan built by New York Taxi Workers Alliance. Because I have 83 days before I’m unhoused with my family, and this will happen to many more families. So, we need an answer from you, Mr. Mayor. We need you to find the courage and the moral will to step forward and provide relief today.
Mayor: Felicia, I want to say first, I’m hearing deeply what you and your family are going through. It sounds horrifying, and I don’t want to see anyone go through that. I really don’t. It’s no lack of will. There have been plans put forward over time that were far beyond what the City could do. And that’s why I said, if we’re really going to have relief, this was not, I disagree with one point. The mistake here, the most profound mistake was the loose lending rules. Those were federal rules, those were State rules. That was their oversight. It was not the City of New York. I just need to say that. But it doesn’t change the human reality. The human reality is unacceptable. And we’ve tried to take a number of steps to help taxi drivers, but we haven’t had the resources to do it right. The stimulus would give us that. Absolutely, we get stimulus dollars, we’re going to be able to do something to help taxi drivers. The specific plan – I need to give you an answer, whether we think that plan is the right approach or a different one. But we will do that quickly. And I am hopeful, more hopeful than I’ve been in a long time about stimulus dollars getting here. Because we’re really seeing finally, some action in the Congress. In your particular case, Felicia, please give your information to WNYC because I would like both our tenant protection team and Taxi and Limousine to see if there’s anything we can do to intervene to forestall what’s happening to you and your family. Because there’s other tools available that we can bring to bear to help. So please let us see if we can do something right now to help you. But yes, look, I am very hopeful that we’re going to get the kind of stimulus that will allow us to do a specific plan to help taxi drivers. I want to, I believe in it, but I need the resources to do it.
Lehrer: And there’s no way – and Felicia, hang on and we will take your contact off the air. So maybe you can help this one person, but you know we get calls all the time for you from taxi drivers, in this case, a taxi driver’s daughter. Is there no way to put a higher priority? I don’t know what you would cut. I admit that, but on the funds that the City has for these stories of desperation, through no fault of their own, so many drivers are losing their life savings?
Mayor: I appreciate your whole frame there, Brian. Because again, I want to help them. I’ve talked to a lot of taxi drivers and have heard about what their families have been through. It is horrifying. Taking the resources we have, which are profoundly limited. We’ve lost $10.5 billion in City revenue in this crisis, we have greater needs than ever to provide health and safety and food to people who are hungry. The demands of the City are extraordinarily intense and we have no guarantee yet on the stimulus. That’s why it’s been really hard to say we’re going to be a position to bail out individuals. I want to find a way to help. The different plans out there, most of the plans I saw previously were hundreds of millions of dollars, even into the billions. We just can’t do that. I know there’s a newer plan that suggests it could be done for a lot less. I want to get an answer on that. See if we can get that done. But the most important thing is if we have stimulus money, then we’re finally in a position to help these drivers.
Lehrer: We may, Mr. Mayor, have our youngest Ask the Mayor caller ever teed up next. It looks like we have sixth grader, Liz, in Crown Heights calling in. Liz, you’re on WNYC, hello?
Lehrer: Hey there. You’re on the air with the Mayor.
Mayor: How are you doing, Liz?
Lehrer: Go ahead and ask your question.
Question: I’m good. So, my question is when are you going to get Wi-Fi for kids that don’t have access to Wi-Fi?
Mayor: It’s a great question. I want to make sure you give your information to WNYC. If you’re one of those kids, we can do that right away. We have been constantly bringing in more and more devices, iPads, and other devices. We’re now getting up to the point of about 400,000 we’ve distributed. If any family needs service or different service than they have now so that the kids can, you know, participate in digital learning, we’re getting them the service. We’re doing all this for free for families who need it. So, if your family needs it, Liz, we want to get it to you right away.
Lehrer: Liz, I gather from my screener that you’re advocating for others. Do you want to describe to the Mayor and to everybody, the situation that you’re aware of?
Question: So, there’s actually like, there’s not like a ton of kids in my grade, but there are a few kids in my grade who haven’t been able to attend like, the Zoom meetings. I mean the Google Meet meetings because they just don’t have Wi-Fi. Like their parents can’t pay for Wi-Fi or it’s just, they’re not in a place where they have Wi-Fi. So yeah, but I came up with a couple of things that – like I came up with the list of things that we could maybe do to get Wi-Fi for other kids. And some of my suggestions are put routers in school buses because since a lot of kids aren’t going to school and even though schools are starting to open back up, there are still going to be tons of buses that, school buses that aren’t going to be used so we could put routers in school buses. And put them in neighborhoods that don’t usually have access to Wi-Fi. Another suggestion is we could set up Wi-Fi spots where maybe in like buildings that aren’t being used, we could set up like, just space for kids to come in and use Wi-Fi, social distance, if their home doesn’t have access to Wi-Fi.
Lehrer: Future mayor Liz, in Crown Heights.
Mayor: Yeah Liz, that’s very good. Hey Liz, which school do you go to?
Question: I go to Brooklyn Green School.
Mayor: Brooklyn Green School, where’s that?
Question: District 16.
Mayor: District 16, excellent. These are great ideas, Liz. I know folks have been thinking about different ways to get Wi-Fi service all over. But Liz, really, it would help us a lot if you could make sure the kids in your school and their families just get the information to WNYC or they can call 3-1-1. We not only will give the devices, we’ll make sure the services are there so that families can get connected. And again, the cost is taken care of by the City, the service, the devices, we cover those costs. So, any kid who hasn’t yet been connected, we’ll find a way, one way or another. But I really love your suggestions. I really appreciate your looking out for the other kids in your school.
Lehrer: Liz, thank you so much. Before we run out of time and we almost are running out of time, but I want to get your reaction to two scandals if we have time. One is definitely a scandal. The other might be. The definite one involving a former homeless shelter boss and these new questions involving Governor Cuomo. For people who haven’t heard, the shelter boss Victor Rivera story yet, the New York Times revealed and wrote that ten women, including employees of Mr. Rivera’s organization and those who lived in its homeless shelters accused him of sexual assault or harassment. Several women tried to report Mr. Rivera’s behavior to various State and City agencies, but he maintained his position. Two women were paid by his organization to ensure their silence, the Times reported. And even among the sexual abuse claims, Mr. Rivera’s nonprofit, the Bronx Parent Housing Network, received millions in City funding says the Times. So, who made those funding decisions? And with what knowledge, Mr. Mayor?
Mayor: Mr. Rivera has been fired, that is really important to know. This was an important investigation. It has led to changes immediately. Any allegations of sexual harassment cannot be sent back to an organization. It has to be handled by an independent audit or independent oversight agency like our Department of Investigation. We’ve changed that approach based on this investigation. So, this literally will not happen again. It’s unacceptable. The provider provides important homeless services, separate from the individual who did something obviously quite awful and now is paying the price for it.
Lehrer: Did the chain of information breakdown, or was the standard of suspicion needed to stop funding, set at too high a bar? Or how did this happen?
Mayor: No, I want to add real quick, we don’t think stopping funding to an organization that actually provides good homeless services in a world where there’s not enough organizations that do that, I don’t want to see that organization cut off from doing the work of helping homeless people. I want to see an executive who did the wrong thing, punished and new leadership brought in. And that’s exactly what’s happening now. But there’s a different standard. Now, any allegation like that will immediately be brought to Department of Investigation and there will have to be an outside investigation to determine immediate actions.
Lehrer: And briefly the Cuomo nursing home story, first reported by the New York Post. Here is a Politico description of it that the Post reported that Cuomo aide, Melissa de Rosa, told Democratic State Legislators in a meeting on Wednesday that the administration quote, froze when asked to release data about the number of nursing home residents who had died of COVID-19. A March directive from Cuomo calling on nursing homes to admit patients who tested positive for the coronavirus has been blamed for contributing to high death rates. So, what’s your judgment of anything that Governor Cuomo did as this story is developing?
Mayor: It’s a really disturbing report. It’s very troubling. We’ve got to know more. We now need a full accounting of what happened. Think about seniors, who their lives were in the balance and their families, you know, just desperate to get them the help they needed. We need to know exactly what happened here. We need to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
Lehrer: Thanks as always Mr. Mayor. Hope you and Chirlane have a happy Valentine’s Day and I’ll talk to you next week.
Mayor: We will. And thank you and happy Valentine’s Day to all the listeners of WNYC.
- To:Anwar Abbasi,Hussain66 66
- Sat, Feb 13 at 6:34 AM