The following is the text of a debate between the Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City: Fernando Ferrer, a former Bronx borough president; C. Virginia Field, the Manhattan borough president; Representative Anthony D. Weiner; and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, moderated by Andrew Kirtzman of WCBS-TV.
Q. Good morning, I’m Andrew Kirtzman, moderator for today’s program. This debate will feature few rules and many opportunities for the candidates to engage one another. After each question any candidate will be free to jump in on the issue. Without further delay, the participating candidates are: the Manhattan Borough President, C. Virginia Fields; representing Brooklyn and Queens, Congressman Anthony Weiner; the speaker of the City Council, Gifford Miller, and former-Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer. Questioning the candidates with me this morning are WCBS-TV political reporter Marsha Kramer and The New York Times City Hall bureau chief Jim Rutenberg. Now, after a brief opening statement by each candidate, we will get right to the question and go on with just one break. The first statement will be given by Ms. Fields.
C. VIRGINIA FIELDS. Thank you. My vision for this city and my passion to serve comes out of my life experiences as a civil rights activist, community leader, social worker and elected official. And as mayor, I would draw upon these valuable experiences to make sure that New York City is the best place to raise a child, to live, to work and to grow old with dignity and security. So I ask for your vote.
Q. O.K. Anthony Weiner.
ANTHONY WEINER. Well, good morning and thanks, CBS and The New York Times, for having this. This is a great opportunity for me to become a little better known, perhaps the least well-known of the candidates. Let me tell you a little bit about who I am. I grew up in a middle-class family in Brooklyn, represent Brooklyn and Queens in Congress, after I worked for my mentor, Chuck Schumer, for years. You know, I have a different perspective in this race. I think we need to work very hard to let the middle class know we understand the challenge they face. That’s why I have a specific plan to provide a 10-percent tax cut for anyone making less than $150,000 a year, to cut waste and to give teachers, like my mother, who is a 31-year school teacher, a raise.
Q. Thank you.
WEINER. This is my chance and I hope that you’ll listen to what I have to say.
Q. O.K., Gifford Miller.
GIFFORD MILLER. Well, good morning. I’m running for mayor because right now we have a caretaker mayor who’s out of ideas and has no vision of where he wants to take the city over the next four years. In fact he actually said this on Friday. When asked what he wanted to do with the next four years he said, well, I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you in January. I don’t think that’s good enough. And I do have a plan of where I want to take this city. I want to lower class sizes, fix the guts of our subway system, get our fair share from Washington and Albany, and make sure we both preserve and create more affordable housing. And I have a record of real results for people in this city. And that’s why I’m running for mayor.
Q. Thank you very much. Fernando Ferrer.
FERNANDO FERRER. Mike Bloomberg spent three and a half years trying to build a football stadium for his wealthy developer friend, but what about the New Yorker who can’t afford a multi-million dollar condo or to send his or her child to private school? I’m running for mayor because I want to resolve the crisis of dropouts in our public school system, the crisis of affordability in housing, the crisis of high unemployment among African-American and Latino men that brings our entire city down. Now, my argument isn’t with any of my Democratic colleagues, but with Mike Bloomberg for having turned his back on those three crises. —
Q. Thank you.
FERRER. I’m running for mayor to make New York make New York work better for every New Yorker, not just some of them.
Q. All right, thank you very much, Fernando Ferrer. We now move on to our questions. We have asked the candidates to keep their answers relatively brief. And once again, I want to stress we’re going to keep this as conversational as possible, very few rules this morning. So let’s get started. Marsha Kramer.
Q. Madame Borough President, The Daily News last week called your debate lackluster and described the four of you, as I quote, the Ferrer-Miller-Weiner-Fields blob. It’s said that you describe a city that’s afire but your solutions are only squirt gun solutions. So I’d like you to name one thing that you would do differently from Mayor Bloomberg that proves The Daily News wrong and shows that instead of a squirt gun you’ve got a bazooka.
FIELDS. You know, there are a number of priorities that affect our lives in this city that this mayor simply has not addressed. Let’s start with the issue of affordable housing. We still have one our of five New Yorkers, especially those at the low-income level, who are paying more than 50 percent of their income, total income, for rent. And on a national level, if a household is paying 30 percent or less, that is considered affordable. So this mayor has not addressed that and every time I’m out in the communities talking with people, that is their No. 1 concern that I am always confronted with. And I say, you know, we need a mayor who not only has built affordable president, as borough president, I have brought on line in excess of 2,000 units in one community.
Q. So your solution is —
FIELDS. My solution is —
Q. Affordable housing.
FIELDS. — to get it done. To get it done, we must do public investment in terms of building affordable housing —
Q. I think we’ve got to let the other candidates —
FIELDS. — as well as other incentives.
MILLER. I’ll draw a strong contrast for you, Marsha. Mike Bloomberg seems to be satisfied with 550,000 kids failing in our schools. And his solution is more and more test preparation and more tests. Mine is smaller class sizes and I have a specific plan in order to accomplish it: cancel a tax cut that’s coming January 1 for people making more than $500,000 a year; put that $400 million immediately towards lowering class sizes right now to 17 kids in a class for kindergarten through third grade, 20 kids for fourth and fifth, and 23 kids for sixth through eighth. I spent a year teaching once a week in an eighth-grade social studies class in Long Island City and I saw kids that just aren’t prepared. If we want to change that, we should lower class sizes. That’s a positive education —
Q. With all due respect to all the candidates, all of whom have very thoughtful ideas, these proposals that we’re hearing this morning have been articulated over and over again, and yet once again many Democrats feel as though they’re not kind of adding up to anything larger. Why might that be, Fernando Ferrer?
FERRER. Well, let me get right to it, Andrew. That same editorial pointed out that my housing proposal, to build and maintain the affordability of 167,000 units of housing in this city, was a serious plan. And the fact is Mike Bloomberg has turned his back on the housing affordability crisis in the city. When you have apartments in Manhattan going for $1.3 million and more, where are every-day New Yorkers going to live? My plan deals with that.
Q. Anthony Weiner?
WEINER. You know, to some degree I empathize with people who say that Democrats have been going in the wrong direction. You know, we’ve lost three straight municipal elections and we’re not going to win unless we articulate a slightly different vision than we have in the past. And I think what’s important is that we acknowledge — middle-class New Yorkers are wondering what the Democratic Party stands for. And in my view, we have to articulate the idea their taxes are not too low, as Mike Bloomberg has implied; they’re too high. We need to have a specific plan for how we give teachers a raise and, also, how we pay for those raises. But I think that it’s — I’m always puzzled by, in the context of a debate, people talk about — questions like yours come up: Well, how come we’re not talking about issues? Well, that’s why we’re here, we’re here to talk about the substantive difference. And I hope after this primary, I have a chance to debate Mike Bloomberg on a couple of things, debate Mike Bloomberg on the idea that health care is fine in this city when 1.8 million are uninsured, that everything is fine when over 500,000 children went hungry last year, had to turn to a soup kitchen for a meal. I think New Yorkers don’t think that everything is rosy and they want a real debate about these issues.
FIELDS. But I also just want to point out that there are a lot of people who are left out. Let’s look at minority and women business entrepreneurs. Absolutely nothing is being done to expand contracts that allow them to grow jobs and to be able to invest in neighborhoods and communities.
Q. O.K., Jim Rutenberg.
Q. This one’s for the congressman. Crime continues to drop, unemployment’s at its lowest level since 9/11. Many top Democrats are getting behind this mayor. We’ve already started to go into some of the issues here that I think you’re coming into more here, but how are you going to make a case that Mayor Bloomberg should be fired and is that case hard in light of these statistics?
WEINER. Well, let me say, you know, one of the things I’m going to say to my Democratic brothers and sisters who say in these polls, well, Mike Bloomberg isn’t so terrible: I say, first of all, you know, campaign 2006 — 2008 starts today. We have to start articulating what the vision of our party is and we have to be a party of ideas. And I think that I presented some of these ideas. You know this notion that everything is fine — ask — I’d like to have this debate with Mike Bloomberg. I want to ask him whether he thinks schools are going in the right direction when so many parents, particularly middle-class parents, are taking their kids out of public schools; whether he thinks that it’s O.K. that for almost three years now teachers have been without a contract; whether he thinks it’s O.K. that — Mike Bloomberg once said that the poor get better health care in this city than the well-to-do do. I think that we need a different vision.
And I do agree with one thing: It is not just enough to say, I’m a Democrat, therefore vote for me. Or I’m not Mike Bloomberg or I’m not George Bush. We do have to articulate a view and, hopefully, we’ll have a chance once we get done with the process questions to talk about my specific views on how, for example —
Q. Let me try —
MILLER. Can I just say something —
Q. Well, let me ask a question. C. Virginia Fields, let me try it this way. Name one policy proposal you have that is not supported by all the traditional Democratic interest groups.
FIELDS. One of the things I’ve talked about is how we will reshape our schools. Yes, we are in agreement that smaller class size: important; recruiting and retaining teachers: important. I would focus on getting back to some very basic math —
Q. Just what is the — just give us the No. 1 —
FIELDS. — and science.
Q. — issue that you have that’s not —
FIELDS. The No. 1 issue in terms of —
Q. — supported by all the traditional Democratic groups.
FIELDS. — in terms of priority: excellence in our schools.
Q. Everyone —
FIELDS. I would increase — no, no, no, listen to me.
Q. But everybody says — everybody.
FIELDS. You haven’t heard me, you haven’t heard me.
Q. O.K., go ahead.
FIELDS. Expanding on math and science so that we can better prepare our students for the next generation of students.
Q. But what is it — you’re not answering the question.
FIELDS. Expanding in technology and —
Q. What we’re looking for is a fresh idea.
FIELDS. — vocational schools.
MILLER. Can I jump in here?
FIELDS. Not any of my other opponents have said —
Q. Gifford Miller.
FIELDS. — that that’s what they would do. And I think that is important —
Q. Gifford Miller.
FIELDS. — because we’re not preparing our students in order to move forward.
Q. Gifford Miller.
MILLER. I’ll overhaul that teachers’ contract so that you can’t make tenure until you can actually prove that, with real results, that you can teach while making sure that we have a contract for teachers that pays competitively because, for the most part, we need to attract and retain quality teachers. That means paying more competitively, paying teachers more to teach in low-performing, high-needs schools because right now we put our most junior people into our most challenging assignments.
But let me say something to Jim’s question, which is, look, what I’m concerned about here is that I think New Yorkers want something better and they want to know what’s going to happen the next four years. We should not be in the position that we’re trying to convince New Yorkers that the city’s fallen apart over the last four years — it hasn’t fallen apart over the last four years. The question is: Who is going to build a better city over the next four? And the point here is that Mike Bloomberg has no real ideas, he’s run out of them completely. And what I think all the candidates here are offering are ways to fix our schools, and they’re unacceptable.
[all speaking at once]
Q. Anthony Weiner.
WEINER. I’m actually going to answer the question what I would do different from the Democratic orthodoxy. I’d proposal several things. One, I’ve said that we, as Democrats, have to get back to the place where we embrace organizations of faith to help us solve some of these problems. No discrimination, of course, but we have to use them.
Secondly, I have said over and over again, we have to fight to preserve Catholic schools and Yeshivas, as well as our public schools, something Democrats should be in the position of.
And listen, there’s a disagreement at this table about whether or not we should cut taxes like I want to do. So I think there are many ways that I have said that I’m different than Democrats and I think we do have to go in a different direction. We have lost three straight municipal elections. The same old rhetoric will not work.
FERRER. Let’s face at least two things here. First of all, education and public schools in particular present to us two crises that we have to resolve: One, the mayor seems to think or is oblivious to the fact that more than 50 percent of our kids are dropping out. Now, we all know where they end up — on some street corner, out of a job, out of luck. We only manage, according to Harvard University, to graduate 38 percent of our kids on time with all the tools they need either to go on to a skilled job or a college education. And the simple fact is we do even worse with African-American and Latino kids. I’m not —
Q. Fernando Ferrer —
FERRER. — content to not face these crises head on.
Q. But do me a favor, address my question head on, if you could, which was name me the top issue that you have that is not supported by all the familiar Democratic interest groups.
FERRER. You know, I just did, Andrew.
Q. Which one?
FERRER. Most people are concerned about the fact that our public schools are failing too many of our kids and most of the interest groups and most of the people, most of the polling, most of the politicians say, it’s terrific that we have rising test scores in the early grades, especially in an election year. But the simple fact is it’s unacceptable to have a 50-percent dropout rate.
WEINER. Yeah, before we move on, let’s remember something: I’m proud of my Democratic lineage, I’m proud of the fact that we’re espousing Democratic ideals. Somehow a litmus test should be, well, how do you disagree with your party? You know, there are certain basic values. I would ask my Democratic friends to look at Mike Bloomberg and see how he fights for George Bush and say, is that a Democratic value? Is that a New York City value?
Q. Can I break in here? Mr. Bloomberg has a rap as somewhat of a Democrat in a Republican’s clothing. How — what policies has he enacted locally that are very Republican or mirror those of the Republican Party?
MILLER. Well, I’ll give you that. He vetoed legislation to provide equal benefits to New Yorkers on the basis of their sexual orientation. He vetoed legislation to provide emergency contraception to sexual assault victims in emergency rooms in this city. This is a mayor who failed to provide food stamps to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who would otherwise — who would otherwise be eligible.
But let me just say something on what the congressman said earlier. He said there’s a difference of opinion about whether or not to provide tax cuts to the middle class on this issue. I agree, we need to provide tax cuts to the middle class. I’ve proposed a doubling of the earned income tax credit, I’ve proposed a renter’s tax credit for people making up to $100,000. But I don’t think that the way to do that is to propose a tax cut that you can’t really pay for and the congressman’s cut is, frankly, paid for by gimmicks: $500 million of proposed financing is from the capital budget, and you know you can’t finance a capital — a budget cut with —
WEINER. Gifford, waste is waste. If it’s — waste on any side of the budget, we should cut it out. And this is the problem with the status quo of our party. If you think we can’t cut out waste, at least 5 percent like I proposed, you shouldn’t be mayor because there’s at least 5 percent of waste in every single budget and we have to find it, whether it’s capital budget, expense budget, raised from private sources. Wherever it is, Gifford, this is the problem. So many Democrats say, oh, you want to cut waste. We can’t do that. Yes, we can. Make Anthony Weiner mayor, you’re going to see how much we can cut.
FIELDS. What I would also like to point out in terms of different things that this mayor has done —
Q. O.K., but let Mr. Miller respond and then you can go, Ms. Fields.
MILLER. I agree that we do have to cut waste. I’ve actually presided over four tough budgets in which I’ve cut more than $3 billion out of the budget. And I do think we need to do more to cut more waste. We could reduce our energy bills, we could cut our overtime savings. We could do a lot more to — waste, but when you come up with a list of $1.7 billion, $925 million of which is Medicaid fraud savings overnight and then $500 million of it is not refinanceable even though you’re trying to finance it for an ongoing $1.7-billion cut, what I’m saying is give us your ideas, the real ideas.
WEINER. I don’t want to belabor the point here, but the idea that —
FIELDS. I want to get into the conversation.
WEINER. I understand, I understand. But I just want to respond here. The idea that proposing savings in Medicaid by eliminating fraud is so offensive to your sensibilities shows why we need a change in our party. We need to reduce waste and I’m committed to doing it and every New Yorker watching this should say that the Democratic —
Q. Mrs. Fields.
FIELDS. And I believe, you know what —
WEINER. — nominee —
FIELDS. — Andrew, that each one of us will be committed to eliminating waste because we have some serious budget problems facing us over the next fiscal years. But this is a mayor, also, who closed firehouses. And we have seen response time increase. Safety and security is extremely important.
Q. So what would you do about it? Response times have actually gone up 20 seconds in the last fiscal year. What would you do about it?
FIELDS. Time makes a difference.
Q. What would you do about it? If you were mayor —
FIELDS. As a priority —
Q. — what would you do about it?
FIELDS. — as a priority, I would reopen firehouses because in those communities where residential development is moving, businesses are growing, safety and security —
Q. Mr. Miller, do you agree with that?
FIELDS. — must be protected.
MILLER. I do, I’ve been very clear. I think that closing those firehouses was a terrible mistake —
Q. But the thing is that you promised three times to put money in the budget to save the firehouses and to reopen the firehouses and you never did it.
MILLER. No, no, I never promised to reopen the firehouses because the City Council doesn’t have the power.
Q. You said you would fund it. You didn’t do it.
MILLER. I said I would fund it.
Q. And you never did.
MILLER. Well, unfortunately, the mayor made very clear that if we put the money in the budget, that he would not spend it and he would not reopen the firehouses. We did force two of those firehouses to remain open.
Q. Don’t you look on that as a broken promise?
MILLER. No, because, unfortunately, I don’t have the power to do this. My making good on that promise is running for mayor, and when I’m mayor I will reopen those firehouses. And I will overhaul the Department of Homeland Security and create it and so that we can actually have a real readiness that we do not have right now and which we’re endangering our uniformed workers by putting them in joint commands without a way of resolving disputes — with the citywide incident management system is a mistake —
Q. Jim Rutenberg.
MILLER. — and I would make very clear that we need a —
Q. Mr. Weiner is shaking his head.
Q. Oh good, go ahead.
Q. Mr. Weiner is shaking his head. Mr. Weiner.
WEINER. No, I just — look, it’s very difficult being the speaker of the City Council, it’s a difficult job. But you can’t in the same campaign say, I passed these tough budgets but I’m not accountable for the bad things in them. You know, frankly, the firehouses were closed under your watch. They should not have been and they should be opened immediately.
FERRER. You know, I’d like to try to answer the question you posed three minutes ago. Mike Bloomberg is a Republican. He stood by while his Republican colleagues in the United States Senate were debating two alternative amendments on homeland security — one based on pork barrel politics, the other based on real risk. He took a day off, he managed to sign a generic letter with the city’s support. By contrast, the newly elected mayor of Los Angeles gets on a plane, goes to D.C. and fights for his city. Mike Bloomberg should have done that. A Mayor Ferrer will do that.
Q. But with all due respect, Mr. Ferrer, the last three and a half years have seen very little of you and the people have kind of been wondering why you weren’t on the front lines fighting against George W. Bush or, for that matter, Michael Bloomberg. Where were you?
FERRER. Well, you know I was out of public office from the end of 2001, Andrew, but that didn’t silence my voice. That didn’t silence my voice talking about the things that I think are important: social and economic mobility —
Q. I saw a column in The Daily News —
FERRER. — social and economic justice.
Q. — but not so much more. Did you —
FERRER. Did you like my columns in The Daily News?
FERRER. Thank you.
Q. Did you decide to take a lower profile deliberately because you weren’t in the public eye?
FERRER. I wasn’t in public office, but that didn’t mean I was silent on the issues of importance: housing, health care, education. And you know that, Andrew, New Yorkers know that because they’ve seen my voice over and over again.
MILLER. Can I just point out, Andrew, on that point that this is a difference. I was in there every single day fighting the fights against this Republican mayor. And people don’t have to wonder where my priorities are going to lie in the future. I put education first, I already saved senior centers and other types of cuts — library closures, other things. I’ve made clear
Q. We’d like to move —
MILLER. — where my priorities are and —
Q. Great. Jim Rutenberg.
MILLER. — I will make clear where they are —
Q. Mr. Ferrer, we’re going to take a veer off — a new subject here. In 1997, you called the procedure known as late-term abortion barbaric. In 2001, you said you supported the procedure. How did your view come to evolve and where do you stand now?
FERRER. Late-term abortion is supported by law in New York State, as you know. And I support a woman’s right to seek an abortion that should be safe, legal and rare. But the simple fact is that people across the board have not only recognized my record — as a member of the Council and as borough president, a member of the Board of Estimate for three years — on that consistent strong record. In fact, it’s been recognized by Kate Michelman, who used to head NARAL America, who supports my candidacy for mayor.
Q. But did you view evolve because you did use the term barbaric and clearly you don’t think that now? So was it education? How did you come to change —
FERRER. That was in response to a politically-charged term, and everybody knows that. My view on abortion has remained unchanged: safe, legal and rare.
Q. But did you think it was barbaric at the time and now you don’t? And was that —
FERRER. I’ve just told you that my response was in — my word was in response to that politically-charged question.
Q. So was it —
FERRER. Again, I say — No, again I say abortion should always be safe, legal and rare. I have record, by the way, that supports that well before any of this discussion ever took place, from 1982 going forward.
Q. Are the three of you satisfied with that answer?
WEINER. I’ve spent my years in Congress on the Judiciary Committee fighting the incrementalism of people trying to take away women’s rights to their own reproductive health and I believe that efforts to restrict late-term abortion undermines women’s health and I fought against it all the way along. I’ve been 100 percent pro-choice, unwavering, unequivocal since the —
Q. Everyone at this table is pro-choice
MILLER. What I want to know, Andrew, is why the mayor gets away with vetoing legislation here to provide emergency contraception to women in the City of New York, then when the governor vetoes it during an election year for the mayor, he just says, you know what, I’m very disappointed in the governor’s decision. And then how is he not called for account for the hypocrisy of supporting —
WEINER. I couldn’t agree more with Speaker Miller.
Q. Was NARAL pro-choice, then, misguided in its endorsement of the mayor?
MILLER. Yes, they were wrong. This is a mayor who vetoed emergency contraception legislation here. When the governor does it, NARAL goes nuts, sends out letters and has the mayor say it’s disappointing, and completely ignores the fact that this is a mayor who not only vetoed it, but since we passed that legislation he’s done nothing to enforce it. One-quarter of the pharmacies in the City of New York —
FIELDS. This is an incredibly important issue and each one of us has an obligation and responsibility to just be absolutely clear. I am pro-choice and it is —
Q. All right, everyone’s pro-choice at this table.
Q. Marsha Kramer.
Q. Mr. Miller, the new police contract gives trainees only $25,000. It’s a major issue in terms of recruiting, especially in these times in New York City where we have the threat of terrorism. I wonder, if you were mayor, would you be willing to ignore the collective bargaining agreement, come up with more money for the recruits and, if so, how much?
MILLER. Well, I wouldn’t ignore the collective bargaining agreement. What I would do is go collectively bargain, which is a distinction that this mayor has missed. The point here is that this mayor has allowed a provision in that contract which really undermines our public safety. There is no question that you are going to have a serious problem recruiting police officers when you’re having to tell them that they start out at $25,000 a year.
Q. So how do you come up with the money?
MILLER. You have to go and negotiate. Look, the Police Department — the Police unions want something better than that. You go and say, look, I’d like to give you something better. I need a little here, I need a little there. But we’re going to do better than $25,000 a year.
FERRER. Let me try to add something there. Mike Bloomberg’s principal failure is having failed to sit at the table and negotiate this contract. He let an independent state board decide 5 percent and 5 percent, and the unconscionably low entry-level pay for police officers. Now, think about this a second: A police officer is married, two small kids, will make a few dollars more than the cutoff for food stamps. That’s wrong.
Q. What would you do about that? What would you do about that?
FERRER. I would have sat at the table and negotiated a different contract.
Q. Yeah, but where are you going to get the money and how much would you spend?
WEINER. Marsha, you asked a question that is the defining difference between the candidates here. You know, we all want to increase pay for teachers, for police officers. I’ve have a proposal on how to do it and it doesn’t involve raising taxes, it does involve eliminating waste — something both of — two of my opponents to my left —
Q. So how would you raise money? How much would you give to the new recruits —
WEINER. Here’s what I’d say: I’m committed — I’m committed to reducing waste 5 percent in this city. I’m committed to a 10-percent tax cut of the middle class. And one of the ways —
Q. But that doesn’t answer the question about the police.
WEINER. It actually does. My financial plan provides enough for teacher —
Q. Will you ignore the collective bargaining agreement and give more money to the cops on your mayoral budge —
WEINER. The answer is I’m going to negotiate a higher salary for police officers. But let me answer your question, specifically where you get the money from. I’ve proposed a 10-percent tax cut on anyone making less than $150,000 a year. I pay for it by having a 5-percent reduction in waste. Jack Welch[sp?] model — things that are less efficient we eliminate. And the third thing that we’re going to do is we’re going to add a seventh tax bracket to those making more than $1 million a year to make the tax code more progressive. That’s how I pay for it. I don’t raise taxes, I do cut waste. This is a difference in our party and I think it’s an important difference.
FIELDS. Let me just — let me just comment on that, Gifford, at this point, too —
FIELDS. — is that I think it is important that we increase the starting salary beyond $25,000 because we are not going to be able to recruit the caliber of people and we understand that. And that is a negotiation process.
Q. So what do you do? How do you get the money?
FIELDS. But you know, the question is often asked how do you get money —
Q. I mean these people are going to come into the academy now.
FIELDS. — and I just want to point out: Budgets reflect priorities of any mayor who sets them.
Q. Ms. Fields, where —
FIELDS. And as a priority —
Q. — where do you get the money for this?
FIELDS. As a priority within the existing budget.
WEINER. But where? Virginia, where do you get the money?
FIELDS. Anthony, you get it out of the budget, that’s where you get it from. We have a $50-billion budget.
WEINER. But this is money you’re adding to the budget. Where do you get the added money?
FIELDS. You can reorder priorities within a budget.
WEINER. This is what’s wrong. O.K.
FIELDS. It is not what is wrong. As a Council member —
WEINER. And the difference between me and the other candidates here —
FIELDS. No, no, listen, as a former Council member, Gifford, who also was a member of the finance committee for seven years, negotiated budgets for seven years, priorities are —
Q. Anthony Weiner, what do you mean —
FIELDS. — often, you know, redirected.
Q. This is what’s wrong?
WEINER. Look, we’ve lost —
FIELDS. And so I want that to be a part of the discussion.
Q. Anthony Weiner.
WEINER. We’ve lost three straight municipal elections. And one of the reasons is I think we’ve lost sight of the fact that middle-class New Yorkers, those striving to get into the middle class, they’re looking for specific ideas on how you’re going to fund your priorities. It is not enough just to say, get it where we can get it or try to find it later on or raise taxes or don’t cut waste. I think we need to have —
MILLER. No, no, no. —
WEINER. — alternatives.
FIELDS. It is not enough to —
MILLER. Just a second. Just one second —
FIELDS. — put forward —
MILLER. — because I did not say that we shouldn’t cut waste. I’ve actually cut waste. What I said is just that there’s nothing new about making a bunch of promises that you can’t keep that aren’t painful to anybody. That’s the oldest trick in the book. And saying that you’re going to come up with $925 worth of tax fraud from Medicaid sounds great, but where? And what I’ve actually done is pass legislation to require the whistleblowers get something back from Medicaid tax fraud. I’ve actually done something on this subject. And the congressman has just come up with a — oh, sure, let’s come up with $925 —
WEINER. One-point-seven billion dollars in specific cuts. Let me talk to you about Medicaid —
MILLER. — or 1.3 —
WEINER. — let me talk to you about —
WEINER. Let me talk to you about this Medicaid —
MILLER. That’s just a gimmick, Anthony.
Q. Quick response, Anthony Weiner.
WEINER. Well, I just think that Mr. Miller seems so incredulous you can get savings from Medicaid. Let me tell you what you can do. The New York Times computerized all of the records of Medicaid over the last several years and found so much waste it filled up a whole front page story. Why haven’t we done it? Because the City Council and the mayor have refused to have computerized intake of Medicaid forms. That’s something that would save an enormous amount of money. If The New York Times can do it, why couldn’t the City Council do it?
Q. Fernando Ferrer.
MILLER. Well, the City Council has nothing to do with the computerization of Medicaid forms and you know it, you were on the City Council, Anthony.
WEINER. Listen, listen — in a democracy —
MILLER. You also know that you can’t finance a tax cut on the expense budget off of the capital budget because —
FERRER. Mr. Miller, you —
MILLER. — as you know, Anthony, the —
FIELDS. I think all of it is political.
MILLER. The gimmicks are not the solution. What is the solution is offering real solutions to cut —
Q. Freddy Ferrer.
MILLER. — middle-class taxes — payers. And that’s what I’ve done. I am committed to that and I will do that.
Q. Freddy Ferrer.
FERRER. With all due respect, there are three crises facing this city: high dropout rate, affordability in housing, unconscionably high unemployment rate, especially among African-American and Latino males. And with all due respect, again, this isn’t the time for baby steps. This is the time for bold solutions. We’ve got to put forward —
WEINER. Not bold tax increases, Freddy.
FERRER. — we’ve got to put forward solutions that deal with these crises. And if you don’t think that high dropout rate — more than 50 percent — brings this city down —
Q. Well, let’s stay with this —
FERRER. — then we do have a difference of opinion.
Q. — let’s stay on this issue. Let’s stay with this issue —
WEINER. A big tax increase does not — I don’t consider a big tax increase to solve education, especially a stock-transfer tax from the 1970’s isn’t a bold idea, it is a bad idea. And that’s what this debate should be about, not whether we solve problems —
FERRER. Let’s discuss that —
WEINER. — it’s whether or not we do it —
FERRER. — let’s discuss that.
WEINER. — in a smart way that makes our party the electable party for the generation moving forward.
FERRER. — because, Congressman, you keep on, time after time, confusing a mom-and-pop investor with the global investment community. But here’s the question: Ask any one of those mom-and-pop investors, would you rather pay a half a penny a share —
WEINER. But not people who work on Wall Street.
FERRER. Excuse me a second. Excuse me a second, I didn’t interrupt you, Anthony.
WEINER. Oh, I’m sorry. You were the only one who hadn’t interrupted today, you’re right.
FERRER. Thank you. Here’s the question: Ask any one of them, would you rather pay a half a penny a share, a transaction or would you rather pay thousands of dollars a year in tuition to a private school? I think I know the answer —
WEINER. Freddy, you know who I agree with on this?
FERRER. — because I’ve asked them.
WEINER. I agree with you, who said it wasn’t the greatest idea in the world. I agree with your supporter, Eliot Spitzer, who reportedly said it was crazy. I agree with people who say that taxing —
FERRER. You can’t make things up, Anthony. Come on.
WEINER. — Wall Street is like someone in Wisconsin proposing a dairy tax. It hurts everyone —
FERRER. Anthony, it’s not about baby steps, it’s about bold solutions.
FIELDS. Andrew, ultimately — Andrew and Marsha, ultimately, the way we pay for all of this, and that is my focus — through growth. We must create jobs in this city. We must put on a faster pace. A number of these economic development initiatives like the Javits Center, we must expand that in order to bring resources into this city. Job growth —
Q. We need to take a —
FIELDS. — is the focus that I have.
Q. — a break for a —
MILLER. When we come back, I get a shot at it?
Q. — commercial. You’ll all get a shot.
MILLER. Oh, great.
Q. Thank you all very much. It’s a very lively debate. You are watching the Democratic mayoral candidates debate. We will be back in a moment.
[break for commercials]
Q. Welcome back to our debate among the four Democratic candidates for mayor. I want to turn to Marsha Kramer to resume the questioning. Marsha.
Q. You know, Mr. Ferrer, when we left the last segment we were talking about your proposal for stock transfer tax and there was a discussion about who it would effected — But what you left out was it also affects the businesses, a very big business in New York, the financial industry. Aren’t you afraid by proposing a stock transfer tax that the financial industry will take some of their business and go to New Jersey and have their back offices in New Jersey because they don’t want to pay this tax?
FERRER. Marsha, my school investment plan is one that not only sunsets after four years —
Q. Yeah, but that’s four years where people could move.
FERRER. Excuse me. And not only provides a quarter of a billion dollars to help the Stock Exchange move in an accelerated way to a hybrid trading platform, but does something else. I make the argument that if we don’t graduate more kids with all the tools they need either for a skilled job or a college education, businesses will leave because we’re not producing qualified, trained and ready workers for them. And that’s the future of this city, making an investment in the future of this city that pays big dividends. As the financial community and every New Yorker knows, in the future of these kids and the future of business in this city.
Q. So you don’t care that it’s perceived as an anti-business tax.
FERRER. You know something, the last time the Stock Exchange threatened to move was because, you recall they put forward a plan to get $1 billion worth of combined city and state subsidies. They didn’t get the subsidies and they didn’t move.
Q. Mr. Miller, you’re shaking your head.
MILLER. Well, I just — look, I agree with Anthony, and have consistently said from Day 1, that I think the stock transfer tax is a bad idea. But I do think that Freddy deserves some credit for at least honestly saying how he would pay for the improvements to schools.
I’ve laid out a serious proposal that is very clear on how we would pay for — canceling a tax cut, not raising anyone’s taxes but canceling a coming tax cut for people making more than $500,000 a year and, also, a plan to cut taxes for small businesses going forward, which is financed, honestly, by making sure that insurance companies, which are the only corporation in the entire city of New York — the only set of corporations pay no corporate taxes. If we taxed insurance companies, we could finance serious deep cuts for small businesses —
Q. Anthony Weiner.
MILLER. — which create the growth in this city.
WEINER. Could I just correct one misconception left by Mr. Ferrer’s description? You know, Wall Street jobs are not robber baron jobs, they’re not just rich people jobs. The guy that runs the catering cart, the guy who’s a trader on the floor, these are middle-class New York jobs that we have to desperately try to protect. If we start hemorrhaging support, if we start hemorrhaging by this big tax —
FERRER. And, Anthony, they’re also paying thousands of dollars —
WEINER. — where are the first jobs that are going to go?
FERRER. — of tuition to private schools.
WEINER. The first job —
FERRER. What do you do about that?
WEINER. — the first job that we have to do is protect middle-class New Yorkers in this city, Freddy, and this is a tax that are going to drive their jobs away. I’m not the only one to say, it’s virtual consensus, and, frankly, even your supporters —
FERRER. You know something —
WEINER. — like Carl McCall, say it.
FERRER. You know something, Anthony, again, you shouldn’t really make things up. Here’s the problem —
WEINER. Which part did I make up, Mr. Ferrer?
FERRER. Eliot Spitzer calling it crazy? You made that up, come on.
WEINER. That’s what was reported in The Daily News and I believe what I read in The Daily News.
MILLER. But Eliot Spitzer does, in fact —
FERRER. Anthony, here —
MILLER. — every time, I just want to say that.
FERRER. — Anthony, look, let me be clear. And my argument is —
WEINER. Mr. Spitzer —
FERRER. — my argument isn’t with you, nor with any of my Democratic colleagues up here. Let me tell you what it is with — it’s with a mayor who turns his back on a crisis in our public schools. And if we don’t do anything to resolve it — look, I put forward a plan to deal with it, I put forward a plan to pay for it. But even more specifically and more fundamentally, I understand the value of a good education because, were it not for that, somebody else would be answering this question right now. We owe this to 1.1 million kids and you can’t tell those kids —
Q. Jim Rutenberg.
FERRER. — a generation of whom we’re losing, that we have no plan for them.
FIELDS. But, Andrew — Marsha, rather, in response to your question. One point that —
Q. I really wanted to get — I’m sorry.
FIELDS. — the one point that, I think, each of the two candidates continue to miss and that is as mayor, we should be pressuring Albany for moneys from the campaign for fiscal equity. That is where the courts decided the decision should be made. This mayor has not done one thing in terms of public pressure and as mayor, that is where I will begin in terms of getting the moneys —
Q. C. Virginia Fields, you were so quiet throughout three and a half years as Manhattan Borough president when it came to issues involving Mayor Bloomberg. I can’t remember one time where I saw you get up on the steps of City Hall and come out nearly as strongly as you’ve come out against in this campaign. Are you just kind of a new convert to this idea?
FIELDS. Not at all. Standing on the steps of City Hall is not the only way that one can fight. Working to insure that we have more computer labs, science labs, math labs and libraries in our schools, that is where I’ve taken my fight — having allocated over $20 million as borough president to make it so, working to make sure that a school like Lou Peron[sp?] gets a permanent place so that the students there can continue to grow. So it’s been about doing work and getting things done. Standing on the steps of City Hall, for me, is not the way in terms I sought to achieve —
Q. I’m just wondering why your tone —
FIELDS. — make a —
Q. — became much more negative once you started running for mayor.
FIELDS. It’s not negative, it’s pointing out the things that I have done and the things that must be done to address the priorities that affect the daily lives of New Yorkers.
Q. O.K. Jim Rutenberg.
Q. O.K. Mr. Speaker, your City Council office sent mailing prominently featuring your photograph and promoting your budget priorities earlier this year. Amid criticism that these appear to promoting your candidacy, your office had said they had cost just $37,000. But after being pressed by reporters, your office came back a few weeks later and said, in fact, they were $1.6 million. How do you account for the discrepancy and has this raised serious issues about your office’s credibility or your own?
MILLER. Well, look, obviously, it was a mistake that was made. I think the fact that it was so obviously wrong shows that there was no intent to mislead. And the reality is that these mailings were in line with the mailings that were done by previous councils. Reporting to constituents is what elected officials do. And the important point here is that I was going to report to New Yorkers about a $50-billion budget in which the mayor was proposing to end day care slots, go to four-day library service, cut college scholarships. And I’m proud of the overall record that I have as speaker of the Council and I certainly encourage new Yorkers to judge me on it. I’ve spent the last four years on the steps of City Hall fighting this mayor, day in-day out, to protect those budget priorities and I’m not shy to telling people about it.
Q. But you yourself had stiffened the rules making it harder to send such mailing out before an election.
MILLER. That’s correct.
Q. So what is the difference between these mailings and the sorts you were trying to prohibit? Or at least take away the electoral —
MILLER. No, there is no difference. What we were trying to do was to move these mailings away from the election. And I did, you’re right, strengthen the law so that they were 90 days instead of 30 days because it’s appropriate for us to make sure that the ordinary communication that goes on between elected officials and their constituents is removed from an election. And we complied with those tougher regulations that I wrote.
Q. Ms. Fields, are you satisfied with his answer? You yourself had filed a complaint about those mailings.
FIELDS. I know that $1.8 million would have gone a long way in terms of providing over 30,000 meals for seniors, a program that I have consistently supported, fought for to continue in the budget. And as borough president, when efforts were made to reduce it, I know that over $100,000 would have gone to keep the lead-safe house operating, which I created and the City Council failed to fund. So when I look at priorities and needs and the use of that $1.8 million, better use certainly could have been made.
MILLER. Can I have a chance? I just would say —
FERRER. May I . . . that —
FERRER. Jim, we’re not focused on mailings, for God’s sake. There was crises facing people in this city, regular people, every-day New Yorkers in this city that we’ve got to resolve, serious people have to resolve them in a serious way. Baby steps won’t do here.
Q. Freddy Ferrer, in the 2001 campaign you called for a 30-percent hike in teachers’ salaries. Now you’re not. What happened?
FERRER. Well, you also know, I think, Andrew, that the full story was I proposed a 30-percent hike and also very substantial work rule changes, changes in the contract. The times have changed since 2001 —
Q. In what way?
FERRER. — and 2005. First of all, the teachers’ union itself put a proposal on the table to go to a simple contract in a 100 of the toughest schools in this city. In fact, that was a groundbreaking proposal that I’m, frankly, shocked — excuse me — I’m, frankly, shocked that the chancellor and the mayor didn’t jump on immediately.
Q. Why a 30-percent teacher salary hike then and not now?
FERRER. As I told you, the conditions have changed. Well, first of all —
Q. You told me about the work rule conditions, but I didn’t hear anything about teacher salaries.
FERRER. Well, first of all, Mike Bloomberg, his first contract with the teachers gave them 22 percent. That has changed as well. Now what we’ve got to do is begin to look at what the suburban school systems give their — that’s why I put forward a plan to not only improve our schools but a way to pay for it, a way to deal with some of the crises of losing our teachers to suburban school systems because they pay more because they’ve been more richly funded.
Q. It’s an interesting fact you raise. And I guess the knock on you from critics for a while has been that you’ve kind of changed your stripes with each election. And I’m trying to get a sense from you about how your policy positions have evolved over the years. But let’s —
FERRER. Let me answer.
Q. — we’ll talk about that. Well, let me give you another specific, if you can, and I’ll give you plenty of time to answer it.
Q. The last time you ran for mayor, you wanted to keep a tax that was about to expire from expiring and pay for after-school programs. You said it would just cost a couple of pennies for each taxpayer.
FERRER. That’s right.
Q. You’re no longer doing that. Now you want a tax on stock transfers and you’re using —
FERRER. A half a penny.
Q. — almost the same kind of rhetoric, saying it’ll just cost a couple of pennies. Shouldn’t a voter be a little worried that if you got to City Hall, you would just be raising taxes left and right?
FERRER. You know something, Andrew, a voter should be reassured by not only my more than 25-year career in public service standing up for social and economic justice, but even more — standing up for social and economic mobility in this city. I’m running for mayor because I want to make this city work better for every New Yorker, not just some of them.
Q. Taxes, why the different proposals to keep raising different taxes?
FERRER. Well, you mean worse than Mike Bloomberg in his first year of taking $1.7 billion in a property tax hike? Where my tax on land speculators and land bankers would raise a fraction of that over 10 years, is that what you mean?
Q. I’m still not getting the answer that I’m going for. But let’s move this along —
FERRER. I’m sure you weren’t.
Q. — Virginia Fields, whatever you believe about the stock transfer tax proposal from Fernando Ferrer and others that you’ve heard, they are at least putting forward proposals to pay for the grandiose programs that they want. Where does the money come from for some of the programs you want?
FIELDS. My approach is not in terms of increasing taxes, but it is to look at growth, creating jobs so that we can create a tax base in order to pay for more of the services. My focus is on restoring services, not taking taxes or revenue out of the budget —
Q. And until you —
FIELDS. — in order to do that.
Q. — as you’re aware, the budget deficit for the next several years is astronomical. We’re talking about $3 billion, $4 billion in budget deficits —
FIELDS. And immediately —
Q. — so what you’re saying, if I hear you right, is I’m going to enact these slew of programs and how that we grow the economy to pay for them. But first you’ve got to deal with the budget deficit.
FIELDS. No, you’re not hearing me —
FIELDS. — if that is all that you hear. Immediately as mayor, of course, I would immediately instruct my commissioners to begin to identify savings. As a matter of fact, on Nov. 8, as the winner of the — for the mayoral — I would ask the mayor to begin, his commissioners, beginning in November, so that we can identify savings — begin to look at productivity savings, procurement savings, increase our strength and our finance committee to make sure that we are identifying all of the revenues that we can bring in. Obviously we will have to work with the state and the federal government, but increasing taxes is not the way that I would approach growing the economy at this time.
MILLER. You’re going to ask this mayor to give you a set of cuts for when you’re mayor? I’ve already —
FIELDS. Because he will no longer be mayor, Gifford —
MILLER. — seen his. Yeah, but —
FIELDS. — on Nov. 9. And it would be the responsible thing for him to do, too, recognizing that he has not addressed —
MILLER. I know that.
FIELDS. — the deficit that we’re looking at in the next fiscal year. By using a surplus, they have been masked. And you know that, too.
MILLER. Well, yeah, I do, I’ve seen his set of cuts and they’re not very good. That’s what I’ve spent the last four years fighting against —
FIELDS. No, I’m saying in terms of using the surplus —
MILLER. — so I don’t know that —
FIELDS. — to mask the cuts and the debts.
Q. Anthony —
WEINER. Can I please have one concluding point? I think we should have consensus among Democrats. The middle class are overtaxed in this city. They’ve had taxes go up about 40 percent in property in the Bloomberg administration. We have to have a plan that includes cutting taxes if we want to win this election. My plan would cut 10 percent in income taxes for anyone making less than $150,000 a year. I would urge all of my friends here in the Democratic Party, we have to acknowledge that or we are going to lose.
Q. Mr. Weiner, I want to ask you a question because you’re talking about taxes and the deficit. Mayor Bloomberg says that the deficit is basically caused, in large part, by increased pension costs so I would ask you the following questions: Would you support reducing the pensions for all new hires? Would you support asking retirees to pay 50 percent of their health care costs? Would you support increasing the retirement age to 67? All of these things would reduce the city’s pension costs and the out-year budget gaps.
WEINER. Well, let me tell you, first of all, I think pensioners are, by and large, middle-class New Yorkers and money going to them is money that I want to go to them. But there are two other ways structurally that we’re struggling. One is Medicaid and I have a specific plan on how to reduce the costs of Medicaid.
Q. So you’re saying no to all of those things.
WEINER. I’m saying no to reductions in pension but let me tell you where I will save the money structurally. One, we’ve got to reduce Medicaid costs. I have a specific plan on how to do that including how to cover the 1.8 uninsured[as spoken] New Yorkers in the city. And secondly, debt: You know, we finished this year with a $3.5-billion surplus? Did my friends on the City Council, did the mayor use that money to pay down some of the debt we built up the last few years? No. We have to do that, our debt payments are getting bigger and bigger. If the one thing we learned, we can’t do the Republican model of keep larding more and more debt onto the budget because that’s the least efficient spending we have is interest on debt. It doesn’t buy us a school class, it doesn’t buy us another meal for a child, it doesn’t buy us any health care.
Q. Mr. Weiner, you keep talking about the forgotten middle class in the outer boroughs. Some people would regard that as racially polarizing, class polarizing. I wonder if you see it that way.
WEINER. You know what, I think the one thing that unifies our party and unifies our city is we all see ourselves as middle class or striving to get there. You know, this has been a city that has always worshipped the hard work of New Yorkers. I’m going to have an administration that does that, as well.
You know, we are gradually becoming a city of kind of — of two service economies: one of the very well-to-do and one of the people who are less able to do well. And the middle class is getting caught more and more. We need to keep our focus like a laser beam on that group. And that transcends race, it transcends geography. If you’re in the middle class or struggling to make it there, Anthony Weiner is your candidate.
MILLER. But I also — let me just say, I agree we need to give relief to the middle class. It just needs to be realistic relief, not promising things we can’t keep.
Q. What about the pension?
MILLER. And on the pensions — look, people that work their entire lives for the City of New York should know that the commitment —
Q. I’m talking about new hires.
MILLER. New hires? We should be negotiating, of course. When I’m mayor, I’m going to negotiate as strongly as I can for the best interests of the City of New York, but the bottom line is people that devote their entire lives to working for the City of New York deserve to know that when they get there, they’re going to get a pension.
But I have — one thing we need to address, in terms of the middle class in this city, is millions of New Yorkers live in rental apartments. And I am the only candidate here who has a proposal to bring a 3-percent tax credit for people’s rent, for people making up to $100,000. We have to give relief. Rents hit the highest point ever this year.
FERRER. Marsha, Mike Bloomberg is saying that that’s the reason why we have budget deficits. He either is not paying attention or is not telling the truth. Here it is. And I think Anthony Weiner is right in acknowledging the very fine investigative series that The Times did on waste, fraud, abuse and leakage in the Medicaid system. The simple fact is this mayor hasn’t been doing a thing about it, and, since then, supporting his Republican colleague George Pataki’s efforts to close hospitals and throw women and children — Child Health Plus — instead of using — you know, the city pays 25 percent of the bill, instead of using our own resources to get the waste, fraud, leakage and abuse out.
Q. All right, let’s turn to education, if we could. Well —
FIELDS. Before we turn to that, I just want to make a comment —
Q. O.K., quickly.
FIELDS. — on Medicaid because I was the first, of course, candidate, as the congressman knows, to put forth a plan to reduce Medicaid, first of all, by trying to keep seniors out of long-term care. We pay over $100,000 annually when seniors are in long-term care. So by strengthening the resources, expanding resources to keep them in their home, we can reduce it.
In addition to that, I have set that a goal of $2.4 billion reducing debt service over a four-year period by using any surpluses that probably won’t be there, but you have to begin to work on it. And I think that’s why —
Q. O.K., let’s turn to —
FIELDS. — Citizens Union also endorsed me because of my plans in that regard.
Q. — we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. O.K., fair enough, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Let’s talk about education, if we could. Gifford Miller, everyone here says that social promotion in the schools is a bad thing. So let’s take it for granted you all oppose social promotion. Mayor Bloomberg has enacted a series of tests through the public school which would serve as a gateway to prevent kids from advancing if they don’t pass the test. So my question is, yes or no, do you favor —
MILLER. Back to the yes and no. I love it, give it to me.
Q. All right, we’re going to keep it on issues this time.
Q. Yes or no, do you favor a roll back of Bloomberg’s hold-back policies, those tests? Yes or no?
MILLER. Yes. I do and I’ll tell you why. Because you can’t find an educator in this country that thinks it’s a good idea to tell 8-year-olds they get one chance with a bunch of bubbles to determine whether or not they’re succeeding and because, Andrew, it’s not a vision for transforming our schools.
Q. O.K., I want to — let’s try to get quick answers, if we could, with all due respect. Freddy Ferrer, do we abolish those tests?
FERRER. Look, standardized tests, one day, one test, rises in the early elections. In an election year, do nothing about the unconscionably high drop-out rate we have.
Q. Is that a yes? Do you want to abolish those tests?
FERRER. No. The tests are right now the law of the land. And Anthony Weiner knows that, having voted for the bill in Congress. But here’s the problem: the problem is when we have more than half of our kids dropping out of high school, when we can only manage to graduate 38 percent on time with all the tools they need for a job or to go on to a higher education, that’s the crisis.
MILLER. I think you mean — what you mean, Andrew, is not abolish the tests because, clearly, we’re going to give the third-grade test and the fourth-grade test. It’s a good way of assessing where we are. But you mean is abolishing the policy of having it be testing alone, with the appeal —
Q. Well, that’s not true. Mayor Bloomberg says it’s not just testing alone that’s causing it. So my question is will you abolish his hold-back policies, yes or no?
FERRER. Oh, you’re talking about something different now, Andrew. You’re talking about social promotion. No one at this table is in favor of social promotion.
Q. All right, so you’d all keep the tests? You’d all keep the tests?
MILLER. No. I would keep the tests but not the testing policy that holds kids back on the basis —
Q. O.K., understood.
MILLER. — of that one text.
Q. Understood. Do you all agree with Mr. Miller?
WEINER. Yeah, but I’m going to say, yes, I will keep the tests. I don’t understand why it’s so complicated to answer that simple question.
MILLER. You’re going to hold back 8-year-olds on one test?
FIELDS. Yes, keep the tests, but massive interventions to help the students prepare. And you’re not simply cramming to take a standardized test. And you’re not evaluating a student’s performance just on the basis of that test.
MILLER. So are you going to hold 8-year-olds back on the basis of that test or not?
FIELDS. I am going to —
MILLER. Or is it going to be on something else?
FIELDS. I am going to educate 8-year-olds and they will be able to take the test and pass.
Q. So you’re not going to hold them back?
FIELDS. They will pass the test.
MILLER. Everybody’s going to pass the test?
Q. And if they don’t pass the test, what will you do with those who don’t pass the test?
FIELDS. Then we will continue to invest in them in that grade.
Q. So you’ll hold them back?
FIELDS. They will remain in that grade, yes.
MILLER. I didn’t understand are you going to hold back the 8-year-olds?
WEINER. You know, I’ve got to tell you something. I’ve got to tell you something. I’m going to vote — if you guys don’t nominate me, I’m going to vote for you over Mike Bloomberg, but I don’t know what you’re talking about. This is a simple yes or no question: Are tests important? Should we keep them? Yes, we should them.
MILLER. But that wasn’t the question — just to be fair, because I answered the question the way you asked it. The question was not are we going to continue to test kids in our school system. The question was are we going to continue the mayor’s particular effort at ending social promotion, which is through a —
Q. O.K., let’s move on.
MILLER — through a sole testing —
Q. Jim Rutenberg —
MILLER. Of course I want to keep tests. I’m just [having?] them being the sole arbiter.
FIELDS. And you’re not asking the question.[all speaking]
MILLER — and I’m not understanding what your answer is.
Q. O.K., we’re going to go back to another subject that came up that we need some clarification on or want some clarification on. At Tuesday’s debate, the subject of congestion pricing came up. And, Ms. Fields, you said that you were the most open to the idea of congestion pricing. But then you said you were against tolling the East River bridges. So, again, if you could keep it concise, time is running short, what sorts of congestion pricing do you propose then, if not on the bridges?
FIELDS. When — making it more expensive for drivers to come in at certain hours and if they are part of more in one car, as opposed to a single person coming in, they would have to pay more.
Q. So discounts on car pooling and —
Q. — increases on the existing tolls. O.K.
Q. So I have a question for each of you: What do you think the best thing that Mayor Bloomberg has done in his four-year term?
MILLER. Get control of the schools. The best thing that he did was to provide real political leadership behind a serious problem. In his first year he said, I’m going to get control of the schools and I’m going to be held accountable. And he created the opportunity for real change in our schools.
The problem is he’s confused that opportunity for an accomplishment in and of itself. He has now taken that control and focused solely on testing policies, on teaching to tests, without transforming our schools themselves. And he doesn’t seem to recognize that 550,000 kids are failing, and we need to lower class sizes, improve teacher quality, make every school safe and have universal —
Q. Let’s get an answer from each of the candidates —
MILLER. — after-school programs.
Q. — on that question. Best thing Mayor Bloomberg’s done?
FERRER. Best thing he did was promise to build 65,000 units of affordable housing. So he says on his campaign literature. The worst thing: only delivering on slightly over 10,000 of them to date.
Q. Anthony Weiner.
WEINER. I think Mike Bloomberg’s a good man, I don’t dislike him personally. I think the way he’s reduced racial tension in this city’s commendable in a post-Giuliani era. And we should honor him for that.
FIELDS. I would say the control of schools. I think mayoral control is extremely important. But the way in which he has set it up, in terms of governance, is not working. Taking responsibility away from principals and teachers in the schools, that is not the way to reform our schools.
Q. At the last debate, last Tuesday night, you were all asked whether you would seek out Al Sharpton’s support. And all of you answered yes, you most emphatically, Virginia Fields. Let’s ask you, has Al Sharpton been a cause for good in this city or not?
FIELDS. Al Sharpton is a leader in this city and, indeed, has been involved with a number of very important issues, and I would endorse — I would accept his endorsement if offered.
Q. Has he been a source of good or not so good in this city?
FIELDS. He has been a source of good.
Q. Do you agree, Anthony Weiner?
WEINER. I think all of us have in our background times that are brighter and times that are dimmer. I say in response to that question, in the past I probably would have said no to his endorsement and today I would say yes. Look, he is someone that has, like so many of us, been an active part of trying to solve problems in the city. I got to watch first-hand when there was recently a racial incident in my district in Howard Beach. I think that Al Sharpton is a leader in this city and he’s someone I hope to work with closely in my first four years as mayor.
Q. Has he been a force for good, Gifford Miller?
MILLER. I think he’s certainly done some good things, highlighting issues that are important. We have 39 percent unemployment among African-American men in the city. He certainly talks about that and has helped make sure that other people talk about it. He recently has engaged in an effort to force communities to focus on H.I.V. and AIDS in communities of color, and homophobia. So I think he’s been a force for good. I certainly thought he gave a great speech at the Democratic National Convention.
Q. You agree, Fernando Ferrer?
FERRER. Yes, I do.
Q. All right. We are out of time. Thank you all very much for a spirited debate. I’d like to thank the four candidates for taking the time to participate in this CBS-2 New York Times debate. Thanks also to Jim Rutenberg and Marsha Kramer. We will be back next Sunday morning with “Kirtzman and Company” and “Sunday Edition with Marsha Kramer.” I’m Andrew Kirtzman. Have a great day.
The comments section is provided as a free service to our readers. Gotham Gazette's editors reserve the right to delete any comments. Some reasons why comments might get deleted: inappropriate or offensive content, off-topic remarks or spam.