NEW YORK – Last Wednesday afternoon, I interviewed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) in his office at New York’s City Hall. Here is a transcript of the interview, which is the basis of my Monday column on de Blasio and the city. My questions have been shortened and I have included some background on issues that might not be familiar to those who live outside New York. My thanks to Ross Tilchin and Jeremy Waldron for helping me put together this transcript.
What are some of the lessons learned in tour first months in office?
I think there’s a real, extraordinary level of opposition to change that goes to the heart of the matter. If you’re fighting inequality, if you’re talking about income inequality and other structural inequalities in this society, a lot of people take exception to that, and we did not foresee some of it manifesting the way it did. The good news is once you see it one time, you recognize it thereafter.
I think the path that we’ve all been on is not sustainable and not healthy. The decline of the middle class, talked about a lot, but has to be understood very sharply. [It] is very mature and very physical for people. There is a real diminishment of their lives with no turnaround in sight, and that has to be addressed head on. And yes, that will mean changing some of the ground rules, but it has to happen for the good of us all.
There will be a lot of opposition, and I think we’ve grown a little stronger coming to recognize the shape of the opposition, and feeling comfortable with our ability to grapple with it. I think there’s a related point, which is that while you have an opportunity to act, we’ve seen too many situations where there were delays that really undermine the ability to do something tangible in people’s lives.
So, our theory of the case from the beginning was: Do a lot quickly and make a real tangible impact, basically, pre-K, afterschool, reforming Stop and Frisk. These are not theoretical moves. These are very tangible moves that affect people’s lives down in the grassroots and in the neighborhoods. … I’ve learned … that the merit of that approach is even greater than I might have imagined, and it actually perfectly fits the fact that that there will be intense opposition. Part of how you grapple with intense opposition is by creating real organic momentum, by actually doing something for people, and then they rightfully buy into it.
Talk about your fight with Eva Moskowitz. [Note to reader: Moskowitz, who served on the New York City Council with de Blasio, is head of the Success chain of 22 charter schools. As the New York Daily News noted, de Blasio “blocked three Success charter schools from planned co-locations in [New York City] public school buildings while allowing five others to go ahead.”]
It wasn’t a sweeping attack on her organization, either. This is part of understanding how the opposition is structured and how it plays out because, look, you’re talking about what I think was, at last count, about a $5 million ad campaign against us really over a few fairly small decisions that were consistent with everything we said we were going to do.
So clearly it’s not just about that decision. Let’s look it in the face. There are a lot of other things going on. People funding these efforts have more than one agenda, and some of them may feel discomforted by the bigger changes we’re making.
When the campaign was going on, this issue came up of course. Bloomberg was rushing to make a lot decisions on the co-locations of schools, taking not just charters, but also newer versions of public schools and putting them into existing schools. An idea that I’ve said from the beginning can be done properly just wasn’t being done properly. They were rushing. They were not engaging parents. A lot of times, a very unequal outcome occurred where the new school, coming into the building did very, very well [while] the school that had been there for decades, generations, was put at a disadvantage, it lost a lot of its rights in its own buildings.
And parents were very upset. If your child doesn’t have the same options in their own school building because another entity came in, it’s a natural tension point. So, we said we’re going to review all the decisions because a lot of them were rushed. A lot of them were last minute by the Bloomberg administration — classic of any administration turning over, certain administrations try and rush at the end to put their imprint.
We said we were going to review them all. We reviewed them all. Of the forty-five co-locations, we said thirty-six passed muster. We didn’t find, by our criteria, any tangible reason to turn them down. We found nine that were problematic. Six of the nine were public schools, three were charter schools. Of the overall number presented to us within that forty-five, seventeen were charter schools of which we approved fourteen. Eight were from Success Academy, Moskowitz’s organization, of which we approved five.
So, again, accuse us of being logical. We thought, ‘Well, if we approved objectively after our own objective analysis as a new administration, we said most of the charters were acceptable, we found most of the Success Academy schools were acceptable, people would see that as balance.” Again, certain individuals, certain organizations didn’t, I think, want to see it as balance, even though it was.
And the same thing with what I’ve said on the co-location issue. I said there needed to be a moratorium until we created a process that was more fair to parents. . . . Moratorium does not mean an end; it means a pause while something is changed and updated. So we’ve always intended to have a process for co-location that was more fair, but would allow for charters to co-locate. It’s always been the plan, it’s very publically been that. But that’s why I think what came at us had something to do with the narrow charter issue and a lot to do with other things as well.
What kind of other things?
I think the fact that we’re fighting inequality, again, certain people, ideologically, are discomforted by that. The fact that my central agenda item was a tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers to fund our pre-K and after-school initiative. I think a lot of folks of means didn’t like that, and some of them expressed it through this other issue.
You didn’t get the legislature to enact the tax you sought to finance your universal pre-Kindergarten initiative, although the legislature enacted a five-year universal pre-K plan. How do you feel about that? [Note to readers: De Blasio originally sought to finance his universal pre-Kindergarten initiative with an increase in the top income tax rate for New Yorkers with incomes of over $500,000 from 3.876 percent to 4.41 percent. The tax increase was opposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). The New York state legislature approved five-year funding for de Blasio’s pre-K program but did not finance it with his proposed tax increase.]
I believed and I still believe that the tax was the most reliable way to go about this. I thought it was fair. What became clear in Albany was the way to get it done was a different way. But we set a high bar. We said we don’t want an amount of money that won’t allow us to do this, and we don’t want one year’s funding, or two years funding, we need something that mirrors our original vision. Our vision was a five-year play out of this so we could really build to full-day pre-K for every child and after-school programs for every middle-school child and then sustain it.
Once you introduce this new element to our school system, we need it for the future of our schools. Parents have every right to expect it. You can’t turn back. So the idea was we needed something substantial enough to achieve it and sustain it. The final plan passed in Albany actually was that. I think earlier on, it did not look like it would be that substantial and have that kind of time-span, but when push came to shove, and I give all the credit to the grassroots, we organized people on the ground and they made their voices heard in Albany with increasing intensity.
I learned another valuable lesson in something I’ve believed in for a long time, which is grassroots organizing. We got the outcome we needed, and now in September we will take our full-day pre-K registration from 20,000 students to over 50,000. The following year we will go over 70,000. So this will be a sea change in New York City schools. It will create a whole new generation of kids who are being prepared properly, which I think will lift up the whole school system. It’s obviously going to be a boon to students who are less advantaged. It’s going to be a boon to the English language learners, who will get a much stronger start. It’s going to be fantastic for parents; we have a lot of single-parent families for whom there’s a desperate need for some guarantees and some reliability in life. Having full day pre-K guaranteed up front will be a huge improvement in their lives. Obviously, for any working parents, that’s something they need desperately. So I think this is going to have great impact on the most grassroots level of the family, but it’s [also] going to have structural impact on our school system.
The same with afterschool, it’s just extending the learning day, and enrichment, tutoring, etc.
I asked if there was enough money in the bill for his after-school program [Note to readers: The Legislature gave the mayor less than he sought for after-school programs. For a thoughtful progressive’s take on this battle and on de Blasio’s first months in office, see Jarrett Murphy’s article in The Nation.]
There is enough money in the Albany deal. It’s structured complexly but there [it] is, and it’s going to be enough for us to do what we need to do. So the outcome was very good, and something we’re very proud of, and something that really was only realizable because it was our number one agenda item, because we spent all last year talking about it, and then built the grassroots support this year.
Do you think you would have gotten as much money for the program if you hadn’t put the tax on the table?
I think there’s two pieces to that answer. I think very crucial was to say from the beginning that this is what this whole program looks like . . . It was really important to say we didn’t want a pilot project. We didn’t want to take a small increment. We said this is about wholesale change and it has to happen now, and so we really would not back down from the notion of a five-year plan and substantial funding. I think that was crucial. Many of times along the way, I assure you, where good people counseled me, good people, knowing people, insiders counseled me to take half-a-loaf, and I fundamentally believe this would have really have set back this vision, and was not necessary to take half-a-loaf, that we had the support to win the day.
And second, on the tax, look, the beauty of the tax proposal was I fundamentally believed in it. Yeah, I put it forward to people, because I said this was the best way to get it done. I also thought there was a measure of fairness in it. You’ve seen the income inequality dynamics in New York City, the worst since the Great Depression, it is clear that asking those who have done well to do a little more is a reasonable proposal. I think that that did energize a lot of people to believe that this was part of a bigger effort at fighting inequality.
So I think what the tax proposal was very important for was to energize support and to connect what we’re trying to do with pre-K and after school to a larger effort against inequality. Clearly what we’re going to do on the education front is actually one of the most profound things we can do to fight inequality, but the play out is over years and decades. I think there was something really real and present about the tax proposal that gave people heart that this was about a bigger set of changes.
Still, do you think you got more money because taxes were on the table?
I, thank God, don’t engage in punditry anymore. That part of my life is behind me. I would say it a little differently. I would say the whole package created a very high level of demand at the grassroots and a very broad-based demand.
That’s the other thing; I think there was a real misunderstanding in certain quarters at the beginning of this trajectory, that this was kind a narrow issue, or an issue that only certain constituencies, demographic constituencies felt something for. What I learned out on the hustings was that this was as broadband as you can possibly imagine. Middle-class, even upper-middle class parents felt it the same way as, you know, low-income parents. Every neighborhood, every demographic. It was really unifying because everyone could relate to it. Everyone wanted it.
You know what’s happened to the price of education on all levels: even folks that are considered in social middle class or even in upper middle class are having a tough time even paying for private education. And so there’s a much more generalized desire to see an improved school system, and there be access that fits people’s lives and schedules, and the demands of the modern economy.
This was the sweet spot. We were saying to parents, you need this for your child. You need this for your lives where you’re working longer hours than ever. You need your child to be ready in a way that they wouldn’t have been true 20 years ago to actually be economically viable. So I think as a parent myself, as a public school parent myself – from all our our research, the first public school parent to sit in this office as mayor . . . I knew from my fellow parents that it was so deeply felt. It was something that would really affect their lives, but also very much about their aspiration for their children.
You know the inequality crisis, what the more global analytical commentary …. is missing is that the inequality crisis is hitting home deeply. People are feeling it. They are feeling it in such profound ways. They know their own aspirations are being limited. Think about what folks in their fifties feel about the prospect of if they lose a job. What happens next? I mean these are visceral, visceral dynamics. So a lot of parents in their 30s, 40s, obviously a lot of parents now are in their 50s, like myself, we’re feeling what’s happening in this economy. We see what’s happened to our spending power. We see what’s happened to the workforce. And then you think ahead for your own children. By definition, it’s pretty searing. It’s pretty sobering that you need your children to do well in school, that you need every educational advantage. If that’s just something that only the privileged can achieve, that just stacks the deck more. So the notion of starting kids early with high quality, full-day pre-K and also the after school extended learning really grabbed at parents very personally, very viscerally, as part of a response to something much bigger going on.
Tell me about your meeting at the White House with some of the new, mostly progressive mayors of the big cities. Why did you and your fellow mayors win, and what is the significance of your victories?
Of course, making social change in one local setting, or fighting inequality in one local setting is: one, hard; two, engenders lots of opposition; three, is by definition imperfect because so much of what should be happening should be happening on the state level and more profoundly at the federal level. That being said, as my son likes to point out, the nature of America, the history of America, how de-centralized so much of American history always has been, pre-FDR especially, there’s something quite natural about change happening at the grass roots and happening via localities and localities coming into their own as the truest agents of change, and as the most relevant agents of change. Because, first, it’s an article of faith that Washington is close to pure paralysis at this point, and it’s also an article of faith that states – there will be a long time until states recover from the economic crisis. One of the great tools has been the funding streams, and those are still greatly constrained. So really the most flexible point of action is at the local level. The will is there, and the connection to the grassroots and the understanding of what people have gone through at the grassroots, which is again, much greater than is acknowledged in most of our civic discourse, it’s all quite appropriate that cities now must lead the way, and that we essentially have to take matters into our own hands on a regular basis.
I came up in a time where the assumption was, in the ’60s and ’70s, where the federal government was a great agent of progressive social change, it was the intervener in the best sense, and it would come and address injustice forthrightly. At this point, there’s this interesting turning of the tables where we have to address injustice, starting with economic injustice, here, and we can pretty much be guaranteed it won’t happen other places in most instances — witness the lack of investment in education, affordable housing, and mass-transit. Go down the list.
So, what I think we learned here, if you think about 100 days, you think about the fact we’re going from a minority, quite a minority of our kids getting full-day pre-K to, within two years, every child gets full-day pre-K. . . . We believe that the number’s about 60,000 kids a year at the middle-school level who want and need afterschool and can’t get it. Again, that to us is extended learning. It’s tutoring. It’s homework help. It’s enrichment. It’s lots of other things. And it keeps our kids safe. By the way, the first people to say how important it is are our police, how much afterschool is a great tool for keeping kids on the right track. The fact that we’re going to double the size of our after-school programs for middle schools — that got done in the 100 days — the fact that we took a very broken dynamic around Stop-and-Frisk, and [although there is a] long way to go, that we have started the process of healing, added to the announcement yesterday by [Police] Commissioner [William J.] Bratton on the surveillance issue. We’ve done a package of things that are aggressively doing the work of healing, bringing communities and police closer together while keeping crime low. The fact that we not only moved paid sick days, but moved it to the highest reachable level — another half million people are getting paid sick leave that didn’t have it before.
These are big structural changes. There’s a lot more coming behind it, and you can do that at the local level, and this is part of, now I’ll segue to the [White House] meeting with the mayors, what was so inspiring to me as people went around the table and everybody got their two minutes, three minutes: everyone’s in the same place regardless of region, most … in the room were Democrats, there were some were Republicans who actually sounded pretty similar in terms of some of the things they were grappling with locally.
I think we have to do this in one city. Each of us has to do this in one city. It’s the right thing to do, it’s the morally right thing to do, but it’s also practically the only choice we have if we want to address these issues, because there isn’t another source of action on a grand scale. Look at what happened to us in Albany, we got the pre-K and the afterschool done because we constantly organized it from here. Left to its own devices, Albany wasn’t going to do that.
The fact is that this is where the energy has to come from, and I think in terms of the ability to act on real issues in real time, that’s the other thing. Again, [the] federal process [is] paralyzed. Many states [are] not much better. [At the] local level you can get to an actual consensus and move something very, very quickly. So I think the center of gravity has shifted. We’re also more economically pertinent than we’ve ever been, cities. With the new economy, in many ways has made the role of cities even more important, the vitality of cities is greater than ever.
I think it’s basically an obligation. We have to go in this direction, and there’s always that hope that maybe if enough of us do this, we start to change the Washington politics. This is one of the topics that came up in the White House, that everyone talked about growing poverty levels. Everyone talked about challenges like pre-K. [There was a] very prevalent concern about deepening educational options in light of the economic demands of our time. The sense the inequality crisis was a crisis, that was very palatable in the room. It was not that we had a problem, it was an inequality crisis. Around the room you could feel, everyone felt it, everyone’s trying to grapple with it head-on intensely. And there was such unity that I think it left all of us with the thought that: Could we turn this into something bigger? It goes back into our states, and eventually reaches Washington. Can we, from the ground-up, undo the setbacks that were achieved largely because of the tea party and change the nature, particularly of the House [of Representatives], not tomorrow, but over time, because the demands from where most people live were for a very different agenda. And it was being felt so sharply and clearly at the local level, why wouldn’t it turn into policy change, legislative change, [and] electoral change at the federal level?
Since we have limited time, I want to raise a series criticisms or questions you have faced and have you respond …
. . . these include that you have been slow in making appointments and that many of the people who you have chosen are people with deep government experience rather than people from outside government.
[Reader’s note: here de Blasio takes a chart of city government positions from his desk.]
This is the City of New York government, 350,000 employees. The red checks indicate where we’ve named someone. There’s only really only a few agencies left, major ageneies,that we haven’t filled. These are all sorts of boards and commissions and things. . . .
Yes, I believe that people who understand how to be effective in government, particularly New York City government, are preferable. That’s how I comported myself. I think it’s been to our benefit greatly. A [New York City Police Commissioner] Bill Bratton, a [New York City Schools Chancellor] Carmen Farina are great examples of city government veterans who know how to get a lot a lot done, share the values, they’ve been amazing. We’ve gotten a lot done already because they could really hit the ground running, and the values were so sharp and their believability, their legitimacy was so high.
So that’s the model we’ve pursued and it’s been working great, and I think even the people who don’t love my politics, agree about the caliber of the talent. As to the speed [of filling vacancies], quality first. I talked to a lot of wise people who had been through previous transitions and they all said, “When you choose someone, it’s for four years. You live with the results deeply. Don’t rush, only choose those you think are truly up to it.” There have been several cases where I rejected the first round of nominees that came out of our process. I said, “This is not someone good enough.” And in a number of cases that led me to go back, dig deeper, look for my ideal, and find it. City Planning Chair Carl Weisbrod is a great example of a really fantastic public servant, highly respected. He said no to coming back to government a lot of times, except I went one more time. And we got him, and it’s been very important to our efforts in building affordable housing etc.
With time running short, I ask about a series of controversies: the mayor’s caravan caught running through stop signs and speeding; whether he has difficulty acknowledging mistakes; and whether he has evaded questions from the press.
I think there are a couple different pieces. I think on the snowstorms, as an example from the beginning. When I felt that the city had not done well enough under my command — this was the case when I went up to the Upper East side and I didn’t like what I saw, and I came out publicly and said, “We didn’t do good enough. We have to do better.” We made a series of changes which we outlined and acted on .. . . This is where I want people to be a little careful. That was one of my first experiences acknowledging that something wasn’t good enough and we had to do better, and then showing why we weren’t.
On the stoplight, I tried to differentiate, and obviously I could’ve done better, saying, “Look, no one’s above the law,” which we said very squarely, but also, we’re not going to get into the micro-discussion of security practices [and] every time the security team makes a decision on something we’re going to question it publicly.
So there’s two different points. I think what people need to hear and have a right to hear, is none of us are above the law. We need to follow the law, but in cases of security there may be exceptional situations. I think we could have done a better job explaining that from the beginning and being nuanced about it.
But the fact is I’m comfortable with the decisions I’ve made. One of the ones that several people raised in the media was the day we decided to keep school open. The first time, we closed school out of the gate because we thought, coming off the holidays, we didn’t feel good about the MTA dynamics. The time I kept it open and then we just had this rush of snow right before the opening hour of school, a lot of people were critical. And I said, “Look, I’m comfortable based on what I knew, that it was the right thing to do, based on the needs of a lot of parents who don’t have another option for their kid, etc. etc.”
There’s a difference between being arrogant or unwilling to admit a mistake verses saying I’m comfortable I made the right decision based on my own criteria. I’ll always try and do better, but anyone who knows me knows I am comfortable, I’ve always done it in this job, saying when I think I’ve made a mistake.
Did you expect to be in a fight with Al Roker?
I was quite surprised, it was fine. I think he also didn’t have all the information at the time, and he was very gracious thereafter in saying that. We’ve obviously shown that we can work together. It was a little surprising. I didn’t know where it was coming from. But, you know, the other thing is in this job you need to acknowledge when you make a mistake. . . Fiorello [La Guardia] is the greatest example of all. Fiorello, which we all honor, was great about saying when he thought he made a mistake. He was also really clear about what his values were and really definite about moving his program. He engendered tons of opposition, and it did not stop him.
So there is a balance point in that. You have to be definitive, you have to be strong, you have to be forthright, you have to be willing to take all the criticism in the world to achieve big things, and you have to be able to say when you’re wrong. But sometimes it’s hard to see publicly where that balance point is. Sometimes for me and for anyone else in my position, we have to always try to be discerning about when it’s important to say, “Hey, I recognize I didn’t do that well enough,” and I know I’ve done that sometimes, and I won’t be afraid to do it going forward.
What do you think about people saying you’re on a “charm offensive” with the media?
I think that phrase may be overstated obviously. We’ve simply tried to get our word out better and to answer legitimate questions. I think it was clear that we were misunderstanding some of the needs of the media when we first came in, and we’ve tried to address them — just in terms of information and speed of information we’ve tried to do a better job. . . .We ran a really rigorous no-huddle-offense in the first hundred days, and I think that speed was kind of tough on everybody, but it was the right thing to do. Sometimes I think folks in the media legitimately felt, “Wait a minute we need to understand this better. We need to hear more.” So, now we’re spending more time laying out the vision, taking the tough questions, and I think that’s been for everyone’s good.
What’s the next year look like in terms of your larger vision and also the nuts of bolts of how you run the city?
I am equally proud of the nuts and bolts. I am very proud of the success we’ve had so far in keeping crime low. I’m very proud of the potholes we’ve filled at an unprecedented level. It should get front-page headlines. It doesn’t but it’s really pertinent to people’s lives. There’s been a massive increase in the number of potholes we’ve filled. I’m very proud of the fact that we’re making repairs in the Housing Authority in a way that hasn’t been done in many years, and we’re getting so much more done and just improving people’s lives. That nuts and bolts stuff matters a lot. Remember, I was a school board member, I was a city councilman before I ever got here. I really do see the world from the neighborhood level. And so, those things you do for everyday people’s lives are really, in many ways, the first reason we come here. So I’m very, very proud of that, and I think you’re going to see a lot more, because the more we delve into this government the more we see can be done better.
In terms of what to expect, I think there’s two big strands. One is implementing everything we’ve done so far and deepening it. To achieve the full-day pre-K for all and the after-school [programs] — that’s two years of build out. That’s a very fast timeline.
I’ll give you my visual.
[Here pulls out a photograph of the planning for the Normandy invasion.]
I have this because I remind people, I pull it out during meetings on this topic, I say everything is amassed, and meticulous planning and I say everything is amassed for a purpose. I say we’re going to do whatever the hell it takes over these next months to get this up and running and then build it out over the next two years. And when you think about a school system of 1.1 million kids, the DOE [Department of Education] … across the way there is a $25 billion corporation. It is a massive enterprise that this is going to be now a whole new orientation for. So getting this done right, implementing the paid sick leave, deepening the reforms of Stop and Frisk, and repairing the relationship between police and community — these are big, ongoing pieces that we’ll be at for years. And obviously in the case of the education piece, constantly improving the quality levels as we go along.
And then there’s a whole new wave of things which I talked about in the speech. We’re going to use municipal IDs, which is fighting inequality in a different way. It’s incredibly important — there are half a million undocumented people in this town who need more opportunity and more of a chance at a normal life, and that’s going to be a big piece for them. The building out of our affordable housing program — I don’t have to tell you about the cost of living in New York City. So [we’re planning] 200,000 units over ten years. It’s a very aggressive program. These and many other things [are] coming. We want to do an energy retrofit program in public housing, which is big and ambitious and difficult but could be transcendent in that we have more public buildings, we house almost half a million people in our public housing. All those buildings we own, all those buildings could be retrofitted, if we can get the mechanics right. And there would be a huge positive impact in terms of climate, huge potential employment impact for people who live in public housing. There are so many tools here that we want to employ, all of which get back to fighting inequality in its various forms.
So it’s a sprawling agenda but we are also here blessed with support for that agenda and the tools and the resources to do it. So we’ll always be balancing that day to day governing — getting things nuts and bolts, filling the potholes, etc. — with moving the bigger agenda and fighting inequality.
Here de Blasio explains his decision to move the July 4 fireworks from the Hudson River to the East River.
That to me was … a basic human matter of fairness. It was important to me but also, again, if you know what people are going through right now … There were decades and decades when people had pretty humble lives. I listen to my older relatives talk about the ’30s and the ’40s. There wasn’t a lot of going out to eat; there wasn’t a lot of going on vacation somewhere else. It was all quite local and simple. Then America kind of blossomed, postwar, and the generation, like my parents and all of them, got used to constantly expanding economic opportunity. They could go on vacations, and they could do all sorts of wonderful things, and that has been contracting now for decades. And the economic crisis deepened it very, very quickly.
Now the things that are good and nice in life are fewer for a lot of people, and the economic insecurity levels are intense. Really foundational things like making sure your child can get a good education, especially when you don’t have resources to pay for something special, are a huge concern to people. Obviously, retirement is a greater concern than ever, less security than ever. But then there are mundane but important things, like some of the nice things in life, like the fireworks were for free, and they were on the East River, and people in Brooklyn and people in Queens could see them, and it was like a summer thing and you’d go on the roof of your building and you watched the fireworks, or you go to the park and you watch the fireworks.
They got moved [the fireworks] to the Hudson River for a good reason — it was the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage. It was supposed to be a onetime thing. For a variety of reasons, the Bloomberg administration kept it over there. Again, on a really basic human level, God bless New Jersey, but basically when it was on the Hudson River, the West Side of Manhattan benefitted. Good people, but a pretty narrow swath of this city. Putting it back on the East river meant that lots and lots of people in Brooklyn and Queens, our two most populous boroughs, benefitted, plus people on the East Side of Manhattan. That’s just a simple act of fairness — it was a little thing the government could do to make people’s lives a little bit better, make their summers a little more special, including for a lot of people who aren’t going on vacation. It’s a classic. The public park is where they go on vacation. Seeing the fireworks from your roof is one of the things you do during the summer that’s special. It’s remembering that that’s a lot of people in this town, it was important to serve them again.
Do you like the job?
Of course. It has its challenging moments but it’s fascinating. . . . You can get so much done here it’s breathtaking. I hope in our own humble way we’ve shown that in the first 100 days. I’ve spent my life at public work and I’ve spent many a day on a good cause that didn’t have any lift, didn’t have enough support, didn’t have enough resources, and you could only get so far. You come into this place and anything is possible, and that’s really inspiring. We can do really big, lasting things here.
Other than having to talk to journalists, that do you like least about the job?
There’s nothing unadvertised here. It’s grueling. Everything is going to come under scrutiny and criticism no matter how good it is. That’s all just generic. That would be true for any of my predecessors as well. So there’s a marathon-like quality. We’ve been sprinting the first hundred days, but you’ve got to persist through some of the road blocks and some of the tiredness of one thing or another. But so long as you do that, there’s a lot of good and just an incredible ability to have an impact and probably now more of an ability to have an impact than would have been true a few decades ago when the world was, in my opinion, more balanced, where the federal government was playing a more aggressive and meaningful role. Let’s face it, it gets to the previous point, in the absence of other forces doing good, if cities have to do that, if cities have to step up, this is the ultimate place to step up and do it. And that’s an extraordinary privilege.