With just over two weeks before Election Day, and leading by more than 40 percent in the polls, you might think New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio would be more relaxed.
Instead, he surprised many during Tuesday’s debate – the first to be televised – by aggressively taking on his opponent, Republican Joe Lhota. De Blasio was just as spirited the day after, blasting a brand new ad from Lhota that depicts New York as a city on the brink of lawlessness, poised to go over if de Blasio is elected.
TheGrio sat down with de Blasio to discuss Lhota’s ad, his debate performance, plans for the city and his vision for effective policing after Stop and Frisk.
theGrio: How do you think you did in Tuesday’s debate? What did you hope to convey and do you think you pulled it off?
Bill de Blasio: My sense of mission was to go in and starkly illustrate the differences, the sharp and substantial philosophical differences in our visions for the future of the city. Beyond the narrow sort of tactical dynamics of an election, this is a guy I really disagree with. I don’t like a lot of his pedigree and really disagree with the direction he wants to go in. And don’t think he’s being honest with people about the depths of his Republican ideology. I felt it was a serious matter to draw that out and argue it.
Some people said I seemed unusually aggressive for someone who is doing well in the polls. I don’t see it that way. First of all, I’m aggressive by nature. Second of all, there was a real discussion to be had.
And the new ad is just disgusting, inappropriate and divisive. It’s made worse by the fact that he didn’t say those things during the debate. Here’s your mainstream media there, here’s the TV audience and here I am. They asked him repeatedly, “what do you think of [de Blasio] on public safety and he offered some vague disagreements. Then the next day, from the safety of TV advertising, he throws out an absolute disgusting, divisive, alarmist ad.
Do you think voters will see it that way?
Yes, people are smart. They will, I think, find the ad repellent and be reminded of …I’ve used the Willie Horton analogy because I think it’s a worthy analogy. It’s the same mindset. Look at the images. Look at the coding that’s going on. I think it’ll backfire because it doesn’t represent the values of New Yorkers.
What are the challenges for your campaign when it comes to breaking through the noise and actually getting your message to everyday voters?
We’ve said from the beginning that I knew where I was, I knew what I believed in and was comfortable in my own skin. We were just going to portray our values consistently and in the consistency would be the ability to break through. You could call that a lot of things. You could call that a belief structure, message discipline, repetition. You could call that a lot of things and there’s truth in all of it, but I think what was most compelling was that I offered a critique of the status quo and an actual vision of where we could go, and was unapologetic about it, and I think that’s what helped it break through.
Now, when it comes to your plan for of making the city fairer and more affordable, walk our readers through how that’s actually made possible.
Well it’s a series of pieces that all complement each other in my view. The affordable housing plan is 200,000 units over the next 10 years, which is going to be a game changer. You’re talking about a huge amount of job creation in construction and in building maintenance thereafter. Then there’s the paid sick leave plan, where hundreds of thousands of people would get the additional benefit of having paid sick leave and not losing a week’s pay because they got sick when, you know, a huge percentage of this city is one paycheck away from something really bad. Then we plan to provide full-day pre-K for every child, after school for every middle school child.
For struggling parents, a lot of parents who are working multiple jobs to try and make ends meet, having a guarantee of full-day pre-K for your child and having a guarantee of after school programs for your middle school kid, is huge. These are real, fundamental improvements in people’s lives and they’re going to add up in a way that will be meaningful. It will take time, but really it’s a holistic effort to address so many of the challenges that people face and so many of the inequalities we’re facing.
And all that is afforded by raising taxes on the city’s more wealthy residents?
Well, it depends on the piece. The pre-K and after school program is a tax plan. The paid sick days plan is basically a regulatory action. Similar efforts have been successful in San Francisco, Seattle, DC, Philadelphia recently, the state of Connecticut. There are plenty of examples of why this is a plan that works. The affordable housing plan is based on using existing public value that we provide constantly, in re-zonings for example, opening up development opportunities that didn’t exist before, that are either going to be given away cheap or are going to be given away as part of a tougher bargain where we get a lot more affordability back. I’m suggesting the latter. The only piece that’s about taxes is the early childhood and after school programs.
And I’m sure you know that even with the recent ruling around stop-and-frisk, that public safety and fair policing are still very big issues in the minds of many voters. Could you describe for me what constitutionally sound, effective policing would look like in a de Blasio administration?
I think you’ve got police leaders around the country now who more and more believe in the notion of community policing and developing a deep bond and partnership between police and community. What I say is, we’re going to do that while maintaining all of the physical attributes of the NYPD: the 34,000 plus cops, the 1,000 who are on anti-terrorism duty, the very effective technology that’s being used more and more, and then the strategic innovations like gang intervention.