The following is the transcript of a debate between the Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City: former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, Congressman Anthony Weiner and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, moderated by Dominic Carter of New York 1 and held on August 16th, 2005 at Jazz at Lincoln Center:
DOMINIC CARTER. Good evening and welcome to the first official Democratic debate of the mayor's race. I'm Dominic Carter of New York 1 News coming to you live from Jazz at Lincoln Center. Tonight we are making history. This debate is being brought to you live in English on New York 1 and on WNYC-Radio AM820, but also in Spanish on New York 1 Noticias and in Mandarin on New Tang Dynasty Television and tomorrow it will air in Korean on the Korean Channel and in Cantonese on the New Tang Dynasty Television.
Before we begin, I should say a few words about the organization sanctioning tonight's event, the City's Campaign Finance Board. The board is an independent, nonpartisan city agency, which administers the campaign finance program and publishes the New York City Voter Guide as well as administers debates. This program gives public matching funds to candidates for city office who agree to limit contributions and spending and provide full disclosure of their finances. To qualify for public matching funds citywide candidates must have a minimum level of public support and by law participate in debates, which are sponsored by media outlets selected by the board.
Tonight's debate is being sponsored by New York 1, New York 1 Noticias, New York City Newsday and WNYC-Radio. The second Democratic primary election debate will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. on Channel 4, WNBC.
Now our panelists and I, who will question the candidates, are Dan Janison of New York City Newsday, Andrea Bernstein of WNYC-Radio, Rita Nissan of New York 1 and Juan Manuel Benitez of New York 1 Noticias.
We will now introduce the four candidates. The order in which they will stand and be speaking was randomly selected earlier today. We welcome former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, City Council speaker Gifford Miller, Congressman Anthony Weiner and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields.
Good evening, everyone. The format of tonight's debate is as follows: Starting with Dan Janison, our panelists will directly ask one candidate a question. The candidate will have 90 seconds to respond. The other three candidates will then each have 60-second rebuttals. And, finally, the first candidate will then be allowed to have a 30-second response. The panelists and myself have the right to follow up on any of our questions. And if any of us is speaking, that is the panelist, that will not count against the candidates allotted time. Following our first round of questions from the panel, the candidates will each be allowed to ask one of their opponents a question. And after that we'll return to more from our panel for additional questions. And then near the conclusion of our 90-minute debate, we'll have a lightning round of yes or no questions for the candidates. We'll wrap things up with closing remarks.
And now for round No. 1, we begin with the first question tonight from Dan Janison.
Q. Hi, anyone who has followed the primary race so far may think that the defining moments have been the fiascos. Speaker Miller took heat over the million-and-a-half dollars in recent public mailings; Congressman Weiner faces questions over use of party resources; Mrs. Fields had problems with flyers and misplaced e-mails; and you, Mr. Ferrer, took a lot of heat for statements on the Diallo case. This is your chance, one chance, to tell us what these gaffes mean if anything in your case. And what they mean in terms of what your rivals have done?
FERRER. Well first I want to thank NY1, NY1 Noticias, Newsday and WNYC for hosting this important debate. I'm glad to be here.
It's a shame that a campaign about the future of this city defines itself on gaffes. But that's the way it is sometimes. And in my case, I defined something carelessly and I took responsibility for that. But at the end of the day this is a debate about the future of this city. This is a debate about not only how we create a police department and sustain a police department that not only does its job in keeping us safe from domestic crime as well as international crime but inspires the trust and confidence and support of every New Yorker.
It's also about how we deal with the crisis of affordable housing, how we deal with the high school dropout rate of over 50 percent.
Q. . . . matter in terms of your opponents?
Q. Would you consider anything that your opponents do fodder for argument or -
FERRER. Let's be very clear, New Yorkers, especially the voters in the Democratic primary, expect all of us to speak to the issues that are important to them, that'll make a difference in their lives. Let's not sell the intelligence of voters short. They expect us to offer real solutions about how to deal with affordable housing and the crisis of finding it in this city, about failing high schools and middle schools, about 40 percent of African-American men and nearly a third of Latino men out of a job, out of luck and out of hope. They expect us to come up with not small solutions but big and bold ones.
Q. Mr. Miller, do you consider that an answer to the question? And would you answer it the same way?
MILLER. Well, I've got to say that this is not a question that I get when I'm out there visiting New Yorkers and talking to them about the future of our city. I've spent the last several months visiting hundreds of neighborhoods across this city, as I've spent the last four years fighting for all New Yorkers, and I don't get this question. The questions I get are: How are you going to make our schools work for our kids? How are you going to make it possible for me to get to work without my blood pressure reaching such enormous levels that I'm not able to survive in this city anymore? How are you going to make it possible for us to pay taxes and get the sorts of services that we want and deserve? And how are we going to be able to afford housing in this city?
Those are the questions I get. And I think this campaign will be defined by which one of us and whether or not the mayor can do a good job of convincing New Yorkers that if you elect us we're going to make a difference for people in their lives. I have positive plans to address them. That's what people ask me about. And that's what I hope we're going to spend the next hour and a half talking about.
Q. Does it matter if the other candidates screw up a little?
MILLER. Look, I think that what matters is our ideas and what is it that we're going to do to take the city in a new direction. I'm going to lower class sizes, and I'm going to do it now. I'm going to fix the guts of our system and actually fund the expansion of our subways, and I'm going to do it now. I'm going to make sure that we can actually have New Yorkers who can afford rent in this city. You know rent was up 6 percent last year and we hit the highest point ever in the history of our City of New York? And I'm the candidate with a plan for a renters' tax credit to address [a] 3 percent cut for renters in this city.
We want to know what our ideas are. We want to be able to talk about them. And I think that's what's important.
Q. Mr. Weiner, on the gaffe issue, if you will.
WEINER. Well, first of all, I want to express my gratitude for you all for holding this debate. Since the very beginning I have argued that we, as Democrats, don't deserve to win unless we talk about real ideas moving forward, that we don't deserve to win after three straight losses in municipal elections for Democrats unless we talk about how to address the challenges facing the middle class and those trying to get into the middle class.
It's perfectly reasonable for people to judge us based on the way we run our campaigns and how we deal with rough patches. But I have to tell you that that family that sits each morning trying to figure out how to make a go of it in New York, they realize what we sometimes forget in this business. This campaign isn't about the four of us. It's not about the great journalists that cover it. This campaign is about the idea that... each generation makes life a little bit better for the one that passed. And they do it by working hard, by rolling up their sleeves. Those voices deserve to be heard in this debate. They want to hear, for example, how you plan to bring down taxes. That's why I propose a 10 percent tax cut - anyone making less than $150,000 a year.
Q. So stumbles will not matter?
WEINER. No, I don't think - look, I don't think that stumbles are irrelevant. They should be covered and I think that how we deal with them should be covered as well. But I think we all have -
Q. Any examples?
WEINER. I think that we have to focus like a laser beam not on what someone does with a flyer or what someone does with a gaffe, but what they're going to do with the future of this city. That's what this debate should be about and I want to thank you, hopefully, for getting the process part of this discussion out of the way early so we can focus on things like how we pay teachers more, like my mother -
Q. O.K., Mrs. Fields, your philosophy on the matter of mistakes on the campaign trail.
C. VIRGINIA FIELDS. They should be covered, but certainly not for two full weeks on a photo.
Q. How much do you think today's e-mail will get?
FIELDS. That should have been a one-day story to point out what happened. And, indeed, I took decisive actions immediately. And, despite that, it went forward.
However, I do believe it is important that we talk to voters about what we will do as a mayor. Not one person out in the general public has asked me a question about a photo. In fact they have been turned off by the fact that it has been covered for such a long period of time...They do want to know how will we put the chronically unemployed back to work. They do want to know how are we going to provide housing for seniors and increase opportunities for our students.
Q. You did take a shot at Mr. Ferrer regarding his slip up, as I recall.
FIELDS. Again, when asked the question about the flaps, obviously we do answer. And I had a different point of view from Freddy Ferrer with respect to the killing, the death of Amadou Diallo. And I did respond. But beyond that, I do not believe that the gaffes, the misstatements should define the campaign so much so that other issues are not addressed, and that is what has happened.
Q. Mr. Ferrer, would you like 30 seconds to respond to the others?
FERRER. In all due respect, this isn't about getting into an argument with my Democratic colleagues. Our argument is with Mike Bloomberg. Our argument is a fundamental difference with the way we look at this city as Democrats and the way he looks at this city... Let's keep our minds focused on that, shall we?
Q. And thank you very much, Mr. Ferrer. Our next question is from Andrea.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND INCLUSIONARY ZONING
Q. Speaker Miller, the median family income in this area is about $63,000. But recent studies show the average home in Manhattan costs $1.3 million and the other boroughs are not far behind. To ease this demand, do you support requiring developers to set aside a percentage of newly constructed units for middle-income housing? And given the fact that you've accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from real estate interests, why should middle-class New Yorkers trust that you'll stand up for their interests?
MILLER. Well middle-class New Yorkers should trust that I'm going to stand up for their interests because that's precisely what I've been doing for my entire career on the City Council and the last four years as speaker of the council.
As speaker of the council I have been the most pro-tenant leader that this city has seen, in a long time at least. As speaker of the council I have passed legislation. In fact tomorrow we'll be overriding the mayor's veto of legislation to protect Mitchell-Lama and Section Eight tenants. I passed the first Urstadt Law repeal in the history of our City Council, demanding that New York City have the right to regulate our own rents and make these decisions. And it's why I've been supported by Tenant-PAC, the largest and most reputable and respected tenant voice in the City of New York, for my record.
Q. What about the issue of setting aside a certain percentage of newly constructed units? Would you support that as mayor?
MILLER. I support voluntary inclusionary zoning. And not only do I support it, I've actually gone the extra mile and made it happen. But I think that we should do -
Q. What's wrong with mandatory?
MILLER. What's wrong with mandatory is that if it's voluntary and it works, if the incentives are great enough so that people will take advantage of it -- it makes sense for them in terms of the profit -- they'll take advantage of it. If you set the set-asides too high in a mandatory what happens is that nobody builds at all. So there really isn't a difference between an effective voluntary plan and an effective mandatory plan, because if the percentages work on the dollars for people then they'll take advantage of them. And my point is that what we have to do in order to address affordable housing in New York, we have to absolutely use tools like inclusionary zoning. We also have to use tools like protecting what affordable housing we have today. This mayor has presided over tens of thousands of units leaving our system every year. And what's he doing? He's vetoing legislation to address Mitchell-Lama and Section Eight, which we will override tomorrow.
Q. Thank you, Speaker Miller.
MILLER. Thank you.
Q. Congressman Weiner, your housing plan speaks to the issue of rising housing costs in the city and yet one of your major ways of solving it is through a middle-class tax cut, which would give even the highest earning families that would get the cut not quite $2 a day. How would that help them buy new apartments in this housing market? And where do you stand on requiring developers to set aside a percentage of their housing?
WEINER. Andrea, here's what I believe. I believe that this city has recently - the D.N.A. has changed to be a city that stopped focusing on the middle class, on those struggling to make it into the middle class, on value and work and energy, to we now worship, it seems, at the altar of every big developer that comes through town. We have to change that ethos. We have to get back to the place that we realize, you know what, a developer that used to have trouble making it with an 80-20 formula - 80 of market-rate housing, 20 for low-income. They can make a very healthy profit with a 60-20-20 - 60 percent at market rate, 20 percent for middle-income families like mine and 20 percent for those making somewhat less.
Q. So is that what you support?
WEINER. I support -
Q. Requiring developers to do that?
WEINER. If I could just finish, yes. I believe that what we should be doing is, in addition to giving a 10 percent tax cut to anyone making less than $150,000 a year, we should require that anyone that gets a variance of a building a certain size, there has to be a public benefit return.
You know, on Queens Boulevard, not far from where I live in Queens, there's a giant new high-rise going into place. They got a rather substantial variance from the city to allow them to build so high. Do you know how many middle-class units are going to be in there? How many low-income units are going to be in there? Absolutely none.
I don't believe that we're at that point now that developers are taking such a great chance. When you invest in New York in real estate, you're doing very, very well for yourself.
Q. Thank you, Congressman Weiner.
WEINER. All we're saying is help give the middle class a break as well.
Q. Borough President Fields, do you support requiring developers to set aside a certain percentage of newly constructed units? And if so, what percentage?
FIELDS. You know, I think we all recognize that the problem of affordable housing is the No. 1 problem in this city. And in order to build affordable housing for middle-class as well as low-income residents we are going to have to subsidize it. And in subsidizing it, we're giving developers tremendous subsidies and support including vacant land. So I do support mandatory inclusionary zoning because -
Q. What percentage do you support? How high should it be?
FIELDS. I've looked at it from several perspectives. In some instances 30 percent, 25 percent. I think it depends on the neighborhood because in some communities where I called for mandatory inclusionary zoning the percentage might not be, in terms of need, as high as other areas. So I have supported it in some communities as high as 30 percent.
But, given the fact that the city must invest in order to build affordable housing, then my plan for affordable housing calls for those investments. Using Battery Park City dollars; continuing with the $100-million commitment to the Housing Development Corporation now, continuing with that amount; using a portion of revenue from tax lien sales.
Q. Thank you.
FIELDS. So all of these are public dollars and for that developers must give something back and make it mandatory -
Q. Thank you, thank you, Borough President Fields. Mr. Ferrer, where do you stand on mandatory inclusionary zoning? And do you think New Yorkers should trust Mr. Miller given the hundreds of thousands of dollars he's taken from real estate interests?
FERRER. I'll answer the first part of your question - only. First of all, I do, and I want to tell you why. Look, I grew up in a five-story walkup that didn't always have heat and hot water in the wintertime. My mother had to work from time to time two jobs just to be able to afford that.
As borough president of the Bronx I worked with two mayors and scores of community organizations to see the construction of 66,000 homes and apartments, affordable homes and apartments. And that had a transforming difference in the lives of families, whole neighborhoods and the whole borough.
Q. Should you take credit for that or should Ed Koch, the former mayor Ed Koch?
FERRER. I just told you - I just told you that I worked with two mayors and scores of community organizations. No one did that alone. As I was saying, I support 30 percent mandatory inclusionary zoning. But much more than that I put forward a plan to build and maintain the affordability of 167,000 units of housing with a mix of inclusionary zoning, closing the loopholes of tax incentives that have left millions of dollars worth of development value on the table. We're building luxury housing in every corner of this city, but not enough affordable housing in every corner of this city.
Q. Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Ferrer. Mr. Miller, did you want to make a 30 second rebuttal?
MILLER. Yeah, I would like to. First of all, let me just say that it's great to talk about making set-asides happen. I actually have a record of making that happen. Over the last eight months alone in the rezonings that have come before the council we've forced almost 8,000 units of affordable housing through those kinds of set-asides. And this administration started out opposing them and I've forced them to give in and make it happen.
And secondly, let me just note I've received contributions from more than 5,000 individual donors. And I won't apologize for raising the money that's necessary to be competitive in this race with somebody who's going to spend $100 million. But the question is not whether you trust me or my record, the question is what is my record and who are independent people and what are they looking at? And Tenant-PAC having endorsed my candidacy I think speaks volumes about the fact that I have a record of standing up and fighting for tenants and people in this city. And that's what really counts in this race.
Q. Thank you very much, Mr. Miller. And thank you Andrea. And now we turn to Rita Nissanfor the next question. Rita?
PUBLIC SAFETY AND PROTECTING FROM TERRORIST ATTACKS
Q. Thanks, Dominic. This question goes to Congressman Weiner. Congressman, there has been no terrorist attack in New York City for nearly four years. Is that because the terrorists are not trying or because the Police Department has done a good job preventing one?
WEINER. Well, I have to tell you something. We should be very proud of the fact that our Police Department, the best anywhere, has done a remarkable job. Frankly, they have done a remarkable job despite some of the challenges that they faced. You know, we have a 13-percent reduction in the number of the police officers today than we had in 2001? That is a result, in part, because President Bush and his Republican cronies have eliminated the COPS program. Do you know they won't allow us in the federal government Department of Homeland Security to pay for overtime funds that we need for the New York City Police Department? Do you know that the M.T.A. has been sitting on $600 million of security funds and not spending it?
Part of the reason I believe we need to have a fighter back in City Hall is that, you know, this is a choice between an active model and a passive model. Mike Bloomberg has been passive. Mike Bloomberg has sat back - you know, can you imagine the difference if he stood on the stage at Madison Square Garden welcoming his Republican brothers and sisters during the convention and excoriated them for not giving us the sufficient funds for homeland security?
Q. So Congressman, given these lapses, though, that you say the mayor has, then do you feel, then, under the mayor's leadership that another terrorist attack is inevitable?
WEINER. Oh, certainly not. But I'll tell you what I don't believe. I don't believe that safety is something that starts and stops. You can't say, we're safe. Safety is a continuum. This is why I support raising the number of police back to the 2001 levels. That's why I'm the sponsor of the COPS program in Washington, get the federal government off the sideline. This is why I was the person that put out a specific plan for making our subway safer. You know, safety is a continuum.
Mike Bloomberg, Commissioner Kelly, every man and woman in the Police Department deserve credit for keeping us safe, but we also have to realize we have to constantly be fighting to do more. Washington. George Bush, the Republicans in Washington and his Republican friend here at City Hall has made us less safe, not more.
Q. Thank you, Congressman. Madame Borough President, your response.
FIELDS. I think it's fair to say that not any of us can determine when terrorists groups will attack. So whether we have safety measures in place or not, that is not the determining factor with respect to actions taken by terrorists. But what is important is to make sure that we have safety and security plans in place that are comprehensive. And that is why I have called on the M.T.A. and the mayor, working together, to develop comprehensive plans for our mass transit system. That will include expanded surveillance cameras. It will also include improved signal system, but, equally as important, training of transit workers, better informing of the public through the -
Q. Madame -
FIELDS. - public service announcement system.
Q. All of those things your talking about take a lot of money. Where does that money come from?
FIELDS. We have $600 million that have not been used over the past year that could have been used for safety. And what did the M.T.A. do with it? They used $30 million of it for consultants. And the mayor denounced them for that. No, Mr. Mayor, let's put forth a concrete plan and use those dollars for the safety of citizens and others in this city and we will be better prepared to address terrorist acts.
Q. Thank you. Mr. Ferrer, your response.
FERRER. Well, first I say thank God we haven't had another terrorist attack since 2001 because it took an awful toll on the spirit of this city, on the economy of this city and on the families of 3,000 people who perished in those attacks. And let's understand that since 2001, our police department has had to do two important jobs: keep us safe from domestic crime and from international crime, as well - and they're doing that with more than 3,000 fewer officers today than we had at the end of 2001 at all ranks. That's why I put forward a plan to get 1,000 more cops on the streets and in our mass transit system immediately by civilianizing those cops, taking them out from behind desks and putting civilians to do their work; fighting for homeland security funds so that we can get those 900 police that the COPS program used to pay for back on our streets, and, more than that. The M.T.A. has four appointees that are appointed by the mayor. But they're not just any four appointees. They're high ranking members of Mike Bloomberg's administration. They failed to spend $390 million of allocated funds to keep our mass transit system safe. I say, why didn't they know, why didn't they do anything about it and why didn't Mike Bloomberg do anything about it?
Q. Speaker Miller, you're up.
MILLER. Well I agree that the police department has done a terrific job in preventing an attack and they deserve credit for it. And I also agree with my colleagues here and have said for months that we need to hire more police officers in order to make sure that we can have the sort of presence that we had, frankly after the London bombings, in our subways and on our buses. We should have that every day and not just in reaction.
Q. But as your role as speaker of the City Council you do negotiate the budget, you do have the power to add those additional officers. Why didn't you push for that in this year's budget?
MILLER. Well, I did push for it in this year's budget.
Q. Why isn't it in this year's budget?
MILLER. Because in the end this is not really about money spending, it's about management. We can hire thousands more police officers without spending any more money because we spend so much on overtime that we can actually hire the police officers and save money, particularly in the long run because of the pension costs.
The other problem, frankly, is that the mayor allowed a contract to go forward in which police officers are going to get paid $25,000 starting salary. You know what that means? That means that a police officer with a family will be on food stamps when he or she starts in our police department. That's wrong. And we need to change that and change it now.
But beyond that, we also need to do a much better job of being prepared for an attack when it occurs. This administration has presided over the evisceration of the Office of Emergency Management, which no longer manages anything. And that's why I'm the only candidate up here to call for a new department of homeland security with one person in charge 24/7 of coordinating every agency, civilian and noncivilian. Because we have real challenges that aren't being met right now -
Q. Thank you, Speaker.
MILLER. And we need to change that.
Q. Congressman Weiner, you have a 30-second rebuttal. Do you think Speaker Miller has done all that he could to get more police officers, more money in the budget for that?
WEINER. No. But let me tell you what I believe, also. I believe that when Borough President Ferrer talks about the M.T.A., he's exactly right, that there's accountability that has to stop at Mike Bloomberg's door.
But something further: Why is it that we don't have control over the M.T.A. board? Why have we internalized the idea that the suburbs, that upstate, that the governor is going to have more appointments than the mayor of the City of New York?
One of the things that I'm going to do in my campaign and my four years as mayor is I'm going to constantly be challenging the presumption that Albany should be running our lives. We're perfectly capable of putting 91 percent of the fare box - you know, they rely upon us for 91 percent of the fare box. We only get about 70 percent of the funds back. So I'm not going to point fingers when there are track fires, when security money isn't being spent, when fares go up. I'm going to fight to get control of the M.T.A. board, get at least a majority vote and, frankly, I question the need for these authorities at all. These authorities are about politicians avoiding responsibility and avoiding accountability. That won't be the hallmark of my administration. I'm going to fight for more responsibility and more accountability.
Q. Thank you, Congressman.
Q. And thank you, Rita. And now we go to Juan Manuel for his question. Juan, go right ahead.
EDUCATION AND "SOCIAL PROMOTION"
Q. Thank you, Dominic. This question is for Borough President Fields and last night we learned there won't be social promotion for seventh graders. They join third and fifth graders of the New York City School System. If elected, would you restore social promotion for the students and why?
FIELDS. I think that no one supports social promotion, and I certainly do not support social promotion, which means passing a child along when they have not learned. However, focusing on social promotion is not the approach that, as mayor, I would take.
I would take the approach of massive intervention very early on, beginning at pre-K, to make sure that we are putting the resources in our schools, assessing our students, providing them with the resources in every step along the way. We are investing in their academics and we can expect a greater performance overall.
Q. But, Borough President, if you were elected mayor of the city, would you restore social promotion for third, fifth and seventh graders?
FIELDS. I would invest in those students who are coming into the system. And, as a result, we will not need... to repeal social promotion because our students will be learning -
Q. So you won't restore it.
FIELDS. I will invest. I want you to understand this because I think it's absolutely clear, I mean important to be understood, that when we invest in students with the right teachers, the right resources, give them the resources and the help that they need, children learn. And we do not have to be faced with issues of social promotion. This mayor has made social promotion a hallmark of his educational program - third grade, fifth grade, seventh grade. What about investing the necessary resources - literacy program, support, working with the parents so that more help can be provided to these students.
Q. Thank you, borough president. Mr. Ferrer, would you restore social promotion for third-, fifth- and seventh-graders?
FERRER. Let's be really clear, I don't support social promotion, the policy of moving a child up simply because of advancing age in any grade.
But that's not the problem in our school system. You know it and everyone in this audience knows it. The problem in our school system is while the mayor is obsessing about some test score increases in the early grades, we're forgetting about collapsing scores in middle school and a dropout crisis - a level of dropouts of 50 percent and more in our high school grades. We're only graduating 38 percent of our kids on time. Only 18 percent get Regents diplomas. And you know what happens, they know what happens when a child drops out of school -
Q. So you wouldn't restore it?
FERRER. As I was saying, they know what happens when a child drops out of high school - they're out of a job, they're out of luck, they're out of hope. That's why I put forward a plan to restore the supports we used to have and to give our kids everything the suburban school systems give their kids: an education in their lives.
Q. Thank you, Mr. Ferrer.
FERRER. An education, a good education in their lives means that one of them one day might be at this podium or even on your side of the table.
Q. Thank you, Mr. Ferrer. Speaker Miller, let me rephrase the question. For the last couple of years there's one more grade in the city school system that goes without social promotion. Would you restore it or would you go on with other grades?
MILLER. Let me get right to the point of your question, which I think the confusion here is that there's a difference between opposing social promotion and saying that having an 8-year-old take one test and that having that be essentially the sole arbiter of whether or not that 8-year-old is ready to move on, that's a different thing. And I do not support giving 8-year-olds one test and telling them, you know what, this is it. In fact, I know 8-year-olds who have had to go home physically ill because of the pressure that's been placed on the 8-year-olds. And I don't think that's actually transforming our schools.
Giving tests does not transform our schools. What transforms our schools is lowering class sizes. It's making sure we have a quality teacher in every classroom. And make sure that every school and not just 17 of them are safe. And it's making sure that every child has a strong after-school program. And I have a record already of making a commitment to all of those issues. Just in this past year alone I forced this mayor to put back $1.3 billion worth of new school construction that he tried to cut when he wanted to walk away from our promise to our kids. We have to -
Q. So you wouldn't restore it, you would keep things that way.
MILLER. Particularly at the third and fifth grade level, I think single high stakes tests for children that young don't transform education. And in fact that's why the mayor had to replace his entire educational policy panel, because he couldn't find a single educator in the country that said they thought it was a good idea. It isn't a good idea. What is a good idea is fixing the schools. Test preparation is not an educational vision.
Q. Thank you. Thank you, Speaker Miller. Congressman Weiner, would you restore social promotion?
WEINER. No, I wouldn't. I oppose social promotion. I support having students graduate and go to the next grade because they're smarter, not just because they're older.
But I'll tell you what else I believe. I believe that having a test substitute for a good teacher or having a test substitute for a reasonable debate in this city is just wrong. You know, I desperately want that third grader to pass but I also want that fourth grader who's an average student to become a great student. I want that seventh grader who's a great student to go on to become a scholar, to go on to Harvard and Yale and the other great institutions. This is what we should be focusing on.
And I'll tell you where I derive these beliefs. You know, I went to public schools my whole life - P.S. 39, Junior High School 51, Brooklyn Tech. My mother recently retired after teaching in the schools for 31 years. If we want to make the schools better, we have to pay teachers more, we have to really have some discipline in the schools, we have to have a curriculum that let's people - let's teachers teach and let's principals govern their schools. These are the things.
I have to be honest with you. Right now Mike Bloomberg's administration has been governed by gimmicks: the gimmick of a $400 check, the gimmick of social promotion -
Q. Thank you, Congressman Weiner.
WEINER. The time for gimmickry should be over.
Q. Thank you so much. Thank you. Borough President Fields, you want to use your 30-second rebuttal?
FIELDS. We have a tremendous opportunity here in this city to make real reforms in our school, as a result of mayoral control. This mayor has focused on third grade, fifth grade, seventh grade social promotion. My plan will be to reduce class size, massive interventions, but also to expand opportunities for those students to provide excellence with math classes, science classes; expand opportunities to prevent dropout by vocational and training programs; grabbing the interest of those students who are looking to drop out, to make sure that we keep them in our schools.
Q. Thank you so much.
FIELDS. So this is my plan for expanding opportunities, giving those students exactly what they need. And you know what? They will pass those exams.
Q. Thank you, borough president. Now it's time - we want to mix things up, to give the candidates a chance to ask a question of one of his or her opponents. Now the answers will be limited to 90 seconds and there will be no rebuttals. We will begin the questions with you, Mr. Ferrer, and who would you like to address your question to?
PLAN FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING
FERRER. I have a question of my colleague, Gifford Miller. As you know, Mike Bloomberg promised the construction of 65,000 units of affordable housing in the city to meet a housing crisis. To date, he's only built slightly over 10,000 of them. Now I've put forward a plan to build and keep affordable 167,000 units of housing. What's your plan to do that and how will you pay for it?
MILLER. Well, I think what we need - Thank you for the question. Affordable housing is, I agree with you and I think all my colleagues here, a terrible crisis. When we have a quarter of New Yorkers who are paying more than half of their incomes for housing we have a serious crisis that's growing worse. And as I mentioned earlier, rents hit an all-time high this year, up 6 percent.
Any plan to deal with this needs to be a comprehensive plan. And it needs to start with the preservation of existing affordable housing. It's one thing to build 10,000 units and then if you're presiding over the departure of tens of thousands additional more affordable housing units, you're not moving in the right direction. And this city isn't. And that's why I've fought to protect rent control and rent stabilization. And tomorrow we'll pass legislation over the mayor's veto to protect Mitchell-Lama and Section Eight.
Second, we need to do something about rents in this city. And I have a specific plan to cut, provide a renters' tax credit for people up to $100,000 income in the City of New York - 3 percent of their rents - the first tax credit for rentals in the history of our city, which is amazing considering that millions of New Yorkers live in rental apartments.
Third, we need to devote more money towards the construction of housing. I've done this as speaker in the council, adding tens of millions of dollars to our capital budget. And when I'm mayor I'll continue that by drawing down funds like the Battery Park City trust fund.
But fourth, we also need to use tools like the set-asides that Andrea asked about, which I have effectively done as speaker of the council and I will expand when I'm mayor of the City of New York. We have to make a difference on this issue because people are struggling. And I agree, we need a comprehensive plan to address it.
Q. Thank you, Mr. Miller. And now it's your opportunity to ask a question. Who would you like to address it to?
MILLER. Well, I'll ask Freddy a question. You know that thousands of sexual assaults occur in this city every year. And yet emergency contraception is not available in 25 percent of our pharmacies and even in some of our hospital emergency rooms. The New York City Council under my leadership passed pieces of legislation to address those problems, which the mayor vetoed. And then he had the temerity to, this past couple of weeks, criticize Governor Pataki for vetoing legislation to protect emergency contraception for all women in the State of New York.
So my question is this: First, do you think that was hypocritical of the mayor? And secondly, what do you think we need to do in order to make emergency contraception available to every woman in the City of New York?
FERRER. Why yes, Gifford, I do. And thank you for the question.
But the second answer, you know the second part of that question is important as well. The governor should have signed that piece of legislation. This is one of the few things he could have done to have proven that he really did want to make the right kinds of health choices for women and wanted to give women the right kinds of tools to make those health choices for themselves.
Q. O.K. Thank you, Mr. Ferrer. And now we turn to you, Mr. Weiner.
WEINER. I, too, have a question for former Borough President Ferrer. Mr. Ferrer, you and I have had a public disagreement about the role of taxes in our relative plans, and I have said, repeatedly, that I think if we want to move our party in the direction where we start winning some of these municipal elections, that we need to offer some new solutions. Yesterday, as part of my financial plan, I put out a list representing about a 5-percent reduction in what I think are wasteful programs in the city. Can you name three specific programs in the city budget that you would cut?
FERRER. Well, first, Anthony, I'm glad you're feeling better. And, second, I don't think we have a disagreement at all. And that's because what you have characterized as my housing plan, for example, is not a tax on the middle class and you know that. I've pointed that out to you before. What I've talked about in my education plan, the way to fund it - because I don't think it's right to propose a plan and not propose a way to fund it. Ask the global investment community, that is investors from Tokyo to Boulder, Colo. to make a penny's worth investment in the future of our kids and the economic future of this city.
But let's be really specific. And here's where I think, again, you and I will agree. Mike Bloomberg has been absolutely silent on the issues of Medicaid reform while George Pataki wants to throw women and children off of Child and Health Plus and Family Health Plus, and close hospitals. We should be talking about going after the waste, fraud, leakage and duplication in that system because savings of that magnitude would almost literally wipe out our structural deficit. This is a case of a mayor who's [playing ball] for all of his Republican friends in Washington and in Albany, and forgetting that he works for 8.1 million people in this city - not a Republican president, not a Republican Congress and, certainly, not a Republican governor.
Q. Thank you, Congressman Weiner. And now Borough President - well, just for the record, before we continue, you said you're glad that Mr. Weiner's feeling better. Just can you tell us what happened earlier today as it relates to your health.
WEINER. Well, every candidate has their pre-debate ritual. Mine is to visit my neighborhood emergency room on the way to the debate. And I just want to say to all the folks at Parkside Hospital, they're doing a terrific job.
Q. Thank you.
MILLER. And I just want to note that I was at home at the time. I had nothing to do with it.
WEINER. But the Freddy Ferrer Ouija board works better than I thought, frankly.
Q. O.K. Borough President?
CHOICE AND THE DEATH PENALTY
FIELDS. And, indeed, we're all very happy that the congressman is here with us. Well, I guess Freddy is the man tonight because my question is going to Freddy. Freddy, it has been reported on different times that you've taken different positions on the matter of choice and death penalty. And I'd like for you to clarify for everyone tonight what is your position on choice and the death penalty.
FERRER. Certainly, Virginia. You know, in the course of a 25-year public career I've taken stands on a great number of issues. On choice it's very simple: Abortion should be safe, legal and rare. On the issue of the death penalty, I believe in the moratorium, given the differences in the representation of defendants, prosecutorial abuses, the suppression of exculpatory evidence.
But let's go to the heart of the matter. I've also taken positions on some important issues like when Rudy Giuliani tried to insert himself into the mayoralty for 90 more days. I took a position that said, no, we have to respect our constitutional traditions and the tradition of the orderly transfer of power.
And you know, in some cases, I've expressed those words clumsily and badly. Like all of us, I'm a human being. But like all of us who've been in public life a long time, you answer questions that are put to you and you do the best you can. Over 25 years I think I have a pretty good batting average.
Q. Thank you, candidates. Now we return to our panel and we'll begin with Andrea.
TRAFFIC AND CONGESTION PRICING
Q. I, too, have a question for Mr. Ferrer. Former-Borough President Ferrer, the mayor of London not too long ago launched a program charging every vehicle that enters that city's center about $10 during peak times. It has widely been seen as a great success at easing traffic congestion. Early in his administration Mayor Bloomberg considered a similar idea for tolls on the East River bridges but never pursued it. Good government groups say such tolls would be an important new revenue source and would also help solve Manhattan's traffic problems. Has the time for so-called congestion pricing arrived in New York City? And if so, what's your plan? If not, why not?
FERRER. Well, there are some dissimilarities between London and New York City. The obvious one is that they drive on the wrong side of the street. The other obvious one is it's not as big as New York City, not as complex as New York City.
Now look, I'd like to get more cars off the roads of Manhattan, especially off of cross-town traffic, where it's quicker to get cross town walking slowly than by car -
Q. It sounds to me like you're saying the time for congestion pricing has not arrived in New York. Why is that?
FERRER. No. No. I think asking for higher tolls on bridges and tunnels, as the M.T.A. has begun to do, is the appropriate thing to do. But putting tolls on the East River bridges, even Mike Bloomberg walked away from that because he knows one other thing: There are people in this city who work hard every day who depend on their vehicles to make deliveries or get in to work. We've got to find a way to get them to use mass transit. But I'm not going to be the one to say they can't earn a living in New York City.
Q. Mr. Miller, where do you stand on so-called congestion pricing. Do you think it's a good idea to reduce traffic in Manhattan? And if you don't think it's a good idea, what do you think is the way to reduce traffic in Manhattan?
MILLER. Well we have some congestion pricing, as you know Andrea, by encouraging E-ZPass and making it a slightly less expensive way to come across our bridges. And I think that we should be looking at those sorts of incentives for trucks and for other kinds of traffic. But in the end I don't think we should put tolls on our East River bridges.
And I think the real solution is to fix our subways. You know, this is an administration that has been silent about this issue, completely silent. We have signals in our system that are from the Prohibition Era. And the M.T.A. plans to fix them by 2030. Don't worry, 25 years from now you'll get good service. This is a serious crisis that the mayor has to address. And I'm the only candidate up here who has said exactly how I would fix the guts of our system and pay for the expansion: by bringing back an expansive commuter tax on people that work in New York City but don't live in New York City, and devoting that money directly to fixing our subways and our buses and making them run once again. I can't tell you how many people come up to me every day and say: Just get me to work on time. That's it. Just get me to work on time.
That's what a mayor's supposed to do and that's what I'll do when I'm mayor.
Q. Thank you, Mr. Miller. Congressmember Weiner, why is it fair that people from Brooklyn and Queens should get to avoid paying tolls, while people from Staten Island and people from New Jersey should have to pay tolls?
WEINER. Well why is it fair that every time there's a challenge in this city people want to raise taxes on the middle class? That's what this would be: a regressive tax on middle-class New Yorkers in Brooklyn and Queens and Staten Island and, frankly, in Long Island and everywhere else.
If you want to reduce congestion in the City of New York, I have a plan. First, we are a city of remarkable capabilities. And we're also surrounded by water. Yet compared to other major cities we don't use ferry service. We have fantastic ferry service to one community of Staten Island and none anywhere else. Well I'm fighting to change that. I'm buying the city ferries with federal transportation dollars to try to remove some of the cars off the Belt Parkway, off the Grand Central, off the L.I.E.
Secondly, I don't have any problem with trying to reduce the amount of truck traffic in Manhattan by incentivizing deliveries at night. You know, Joe's Pizzeria on Seventh Avenue can't get a flour delivery at night, but you know Macy's probably could in the City of New York. We have to have more New Yorkers, and frankly the entire City of New York, do what I did, which is buy a hybrid car. You know, we should reduce the amount of environmental toxins being dumped into the air as well. The idea that the only solution to New York's problems is to levy another tax on the middle class will not be the path that I follow. The middle class in New York are taxed high enough. That's why I want to give them a 10-percent tax cut on their income.
Q. Borough President Fields, congestion pricing once again has worked well in London and many businesses like it because it's very easy to get around during the day on buses and taxis. London is not a city which is surrounded by water, as is the island of Manhattan. Why should congestion pricing not come to New York City?
FIELDS. Actually, I'm open to it. I'm open to the idea of congestion pricing because it will reduce traffic at certain times of the day and it will, of course, increase revenue that can go toward...enabling our mass transit to be improved.
I am opposed to charging tolls for East River bridges. I think that it would be strictly unfair to people who live in this city and have to pay from Brooklyn just to come into Manhattan or from other areas. And I don't think that that is the way that we should look to improve our transportation system.
We must improve our mass transportation system by investing in it. The city has not invested its share in our mass transit system since about 1993. When we do not invest, we cannot modernize the system; we cannot make the necessary improvements.
So, as mayor, I will prioritize investing so that we can make the necessary improvements.
And by the way, our speaker said he's the only one who has called for reinstatement of a commuter tax. I, too, have called for the reinstatement of a commuter tax but at 1 percent and to have that 1 percent designated specifically toward the improvement of our mass transit system.
There are some other things that we can do -
Q. Thank you, Borough President Fields. Mr. Ferrer, do you have a 30-second rebuttal?
FERRER. Yes. Let's get to the heart of the matter. Everybody says we want a safe, reliable and affordable mass transit system. But the question is: What's Mike Bloomberg willing to do about it?
Look, he's spared no effort to try to get the M.T.A. board to preside over a sweetheart deal for the sale of the development rights over the Hudson Yards. And he still has yet to weigh in on the development rights over the Atlantic Yards. Getting full market value for both will ensure that the straphangers of this city don't have to take a subway system that strands them by the hundreds of thousands every couple of days, and remain affordable.
Q. Thank you, Mr. Ferrer.
Q. Our next question now comes from Rita Nissan. Rita.
BLOOMBERG'S ENDORSEMENTS BY NORMALLY PRO-DEMOCRAT UNIONS
Q. Speaker Miller, this question is for you. We have seen major unions and advocacy groups that typically back Democratic candidates cross party lines to endorse Mayor Bloomberg, including Local 32BJ, representing building maintenance workers; the abortion rights group, NARAL, pro-choice, and the list goes on and on. Why has Mayor Bloomberg been so successful in getting their endorsements and why did you lose the support of these groups?
MILLER. Well, look - [to a heckler] you want to come on down?
I don't worry about what other people get in terms of endorsements. I worry about what my campaign has accomplished and what I'm talking to New Yorkers about. And I'm very proud of the fact that I've received endorsements from everybody from the United Auto Workers to the Empire State Pride Agenda, built a campaign that brought in 158,000 signatures to put my name on the ballot for the Democratic line. And I did that because I have a proven record of results in which I have spent the last four years fighting for New Yorkers, to really put education first and make sure we build affordable housing.
Q. Then are all of these groups that are supporting the mayor, are all of them misguided?
MILLER. Yes, you're darn right they're misguided. They should be supporting me. But I'll tell you what else. I believe that the rank and file of those unions are going to vote for the Democratic candidate because the four people on this stage represent an opportunity to take our city in a new direction. And I know that they're going to support my candidacy because I've spent time talking with them about my specific positive plans to make this city a better place and my record of accomplishment.
But I believe that when the voters take a look at our records, that they're going to make sure that we take the city in a new direction, that we tackle lowering class sizes and do it now, that we fix our subways, that we get our fair share from Washington and Albany, and that we don't accept these excuses about why we have to wait longer for these kinds of results.
Q. Congressman Weiner, the mayor must be doing something right to land these massive endorsements.
WEINER. Well, I have to tell you, these labor leaders should hang their head in shame. They should hang their head in shame because they have turned their back on the values that made the labor movement so powerful in this city. They're supporting a candidate who feels warmly towards Wal-Mart and abandons small business. They support a candidate who raises gobs and gobs of money for Republicans who then turn their back on us rather than supporting progressive Democrats through this country. They are supporting a candidate that in 2004 allowed there to be 500,000 children in this city that had to turn to a soup kitchen or a church basement for a meal. This is the candidate that they are supporting. They are supporting a candidate who stood up at Madison Square Garden and urged everyone to vote for George Bush, saying that he was the best candidate for New York. The heads of these unions should hang their head in shame.
But I have to tell you something else should happen. Every one of their rank and file members that have been abandoned by their leadership should walk away from these union leaders and vote for one of these candidates up here.
Q. Madame Borough President, these groups offer significant [reacting to applause] I think you have a lot of D.C. 37 members here tonight.... Madame Borough President, these groups offer considerable voter outreach that would benefit any of you. Given the fact that you're struggling, raising money, wouldn't you have liked to court these voters? Did you not court them hard enough?
FIELDS. I would love to have had the support of all of these unions. And I'm very pleased -
Q. Then why didn't you get it?
FIELDS. They gave it to Michael Bloomberg. Big mistake, but that's what they did. I have the support of a number of the members of D.C. 37 and I'm very happy to have that support. I have the support of many of the members of 32 B.J. and I am happy to have that support. The fact that the leadership decided to support Mayor Michael Bloomberg is really a mistake and I agree with the congressman in terms of the values of the Democratic Party, in terms of the support and the work that we do every day in addressing issues of trying to get fair contracts, making sure that the concerns of labor are addressed by the council members, by borough president. So do I regret it? I do. But it will not stop me from working to ensure that the members of these different labor organizations who have endorsed the mayor will not be left behind in a Fields administration. I will work to negotiate contracts in a timely manner. I will respect the role of labor, as I always have, because coming out of labor, I know the value of having a mayor who is sensitive, who respects and who works with labor.
Q. Thank you.
FIELDS. And this mayor has not done that, especially with D.C. 37.
Q. Thank you.
FIELDS. So is it regrettable? Absolutely. But that does not stop me from working with the members and getting ...
Q. Thank you. Mr. Ferrer, Mr. Ferrer, how did you feel when you found out you were not getting the endorsements and the backings of these important organizations?
FERRER. Let's be clear about this as well. I'm not focused on making New York work better for some union presidents. I'm focused on making New York work better for the rank and file of those unions.
Q. But did you court these union presidents during the campaign?
FERRER. Excuse me. I am asking everybody.
Q. Did you ever have conversations with them?
FERRER. I am asking everybody for support. But at the end of the day, Rita, the people who are going to respond to a vision of this city that says, I want to make it easier to find a decent place to live at a price that you can afford. I want to make it better so you can send your child to learn in an excellent school in your own neighborhood. I want to make it better so that when I'm mayor, I'll negotiate a fair contract with you because your contract shouldn't wait, as your bills do not wait, for three years.
So I've got to tell you something: I'm focused on the rank and file of these unions because it is the rank and file who will not only decide the future of this city; it is the rank and file, after all, who form the base, the heart and soul, of the Democratic voters of this city and the voters who believe that we need a different vision from Mike Bloomberg's obsessive vision with building stadiums for billionaire N.F.L. team owners.
Q. Thank you, Mr. Ferrer. Thank you. Speaker Miller, you have 30-second rebuttal if you'd like it.
MILLER. Well I just want to note again that I'm very proud of the fact that I have the support of the United Auto Workers, C.W.A. 1182, U.F.C.W. In fact, just yesterday the D.C. 37 retirees endorsed my campaign.
But look, let's be realistic and real about this. What's really happening here is that these unions aren't engaged in Mike Bloomberg's campaign. He's spending $100 million and creating his own apparatus. And the leadership of these unions can't get their membership engaged in -
Q. So are the leaders of these unions being bought then by the mayor?
MILLER. No, what I'm saying is that they are not engaged in Mike Bloomberg's campaign. And I'm running a very different kind of campaign. My campaign has been reaching out to people. That's why 158,000 people signed signatures to put my name on the ballot. That's why we've been building and organizing block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood. Because in the end, Mike Bloomberg spending $100 million on this campaign is not going to make the difference in this election; what's going to make the difference is when people realize that they have the opportunity to take control of the future of our city and to take our city in a new direction that tackles the tough issues in their lives.
Q. Speaker Miller, thank you.
MILLER. Thank you.
Q. And thank you, Rita. And now we turn to Juan Manuel.
ASSISTANCE TO UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT WOMEN
Q. Thank you, Dominic. For Congressman Weiner, day laborers are a really important part of the city's economy. And I want to focus on the women. On any given day thousands of mostly undocumented women gather in different points of the city waiting for someone to drive them to a job. What kind of assistance would you be willing to offer these women, not only to help them earn a consistent wage but also to ensure their security?
WEINER. Well a couple of things I would do. First, I would do everything that I could to work with the labor unions in this city to make sure that these people could organize to defend their rights. I would turn my back on the wrong-headed policies coming out of Washington that see immigration as some kind of a great threat to our country, and see it for what it is in the City of New York, which is our No. 1 energizer and engine for economic development.
I would make sure that there are centers set up so that they aren't strewn across the streets, hovering around cars - that they can deal with this transaction with some level of dignity.
But let's remember what this is also about. What this is about is the fact that, frankly, despite the fact that we hear about the great economic boom in New York City, real wages outside of Manhattan are flat. We have a tax burden going up on middle-class and working people, we have public schools that are failing them. You know, the economy - when Mike Bloomberg practically dislocates his shoulder patting himself on the back about how great the economy is, he forgets that [in] the broad swaths of this country people are getting left behind and we have to provide services for them. That's I why, you know, I mentioned earlier in passing, you know, over 500,000 children in this city had to turn to the city or church kitchens for a meal. Children. Why is that?
One of the reasons is we are one of the only major cities that requires a mother trying to feed their child to get fingerprinted before they get food stamps. Why do we treat them with that level of indignity? Why do we do that? Because Mike Bloomberg wants to brag to his Republican brothers and sisters how tough he is on the poor. That's outrageous.
Q. Thank you. Borough President Fields, would you also support the creation of centers for these women?
FIELDS. It was very disheartening to see the pictures of the women standing on the corners, standing on the streets simply trying to get a day job in order to feed themselves and their families.
As mayor, I would reach out to that community, to those women and to provide help through community-based organizations, provide training, provide job placement opportunities, because it is a matter of safety as well as providing opportunities for them to work to be able to feed their families.
I think that this city has a responsibility for all of us who live here. And it is not acceptable for any mayor to see the pictures of immigrants so determined to make sure that they, too, are a part of this city and not act. So through community-based organizations and various other support systems, I would reach out and provide help right now.
Q. Thank you, Borough President. Mr. Ferrer, your response.
FERRER. Day laborers in this city, women and men - let's face it - are being exploited. They're being exploited in terms of pay and working conditions.
I not only want to see centers for day laborers created in these communities, but I want to work with labor unions to organize them. The only way we're going to make sure that they get adequate pay, that they get health insurance for themselves and for their families - and let's understand something, they're working hard just to put food on the table for their kids. They deserve an opportunity to work in safety, to work in dignity. It's more than just a paycheck, it's about dignity. And we owe, in this city, an opportunity for them to be safe, work for decent wages, work for reputable people, not be exploited and work in the kind of dignity that their families deserve.
Q. Thank you, Mr. Ferrer. Speaker Miller?
MILLER. Well, this is a serious crisis and the reality is that New York City is a city that has been - prospered over the last 350 years because we're a city of immigrants. And we need to welcome immigrants and give them real opportunities. And we, sadly, don't do that in every case.
So before I tell you what I'll do, let me tell you what I've done. As speaker of the Council, I led the Council in creating the first immigrant opportunities initiative to provide legal services to immigrants and English as a second language training. I led the Council in passing the first long-term structural unemployment initiative to attack structural long-term unemployment in communities of color. I led the Council in passing the first earned-income tax credit in the history of our city, and the first real living wage law.
Q. Yes, but about these women -
MILLER. - 50,000 people.
Q. - that we're talking about.
MILLER. For these women, here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to expand the immigrant opportunities initiatives so we can provide more legal services to them so they know their rights. And secondly, I'm going to double, again, the earned-income tax credit so that low-income working people in the city actually can realize the fruits of their labor and still be able to put food on their children's table.
Q. Thank you, Mr. Miller. And do you want to use your 30-second rebuttal, Congressman Weiner?
WEINER. Well, I would. I'd like to say a word or two to those that are watching this that think this isn't their problem, say, you know, I'm not a day laborer, I'm not someone who lives in a community where they are. You know, we have 1.8 million New Yorkers uninsured in this city, 900,000 of them have 40-hour-a-week jobs. Fully employed with no health insurance. But we are all paying the bill when so many people are without care. When someone walks into a hospital emergency room or a child shows up at school with tuberculosis, we all suffer.
We have to stop having it reinforced by our Republican friends that this isn't your problem, that you're doing O.K., you can just turn your back on problems. None of us can get too far ahead if any of us are left behind. And this is a classic case where Mike Bloomberg is letting too many people get left behind.
Q. Thank you so much.
Q. Thank you, Juan Manuel. And now it's Dan Janison's turn to ask a question. Dan, go right ahead.
Q. O.K., Borough President Fields, as you know, public safety experts disagree on how best to organize city agencies for big emergencies. In 2001, the voters created an emergency management department to lead the way, but Mayor Bloomberg believes his police commissioner should take charge if there's any hint of a terrorist act - a different approach. Personalities aside and leaving aside who you would appoint, which command structure would you choose?
FIELDS. First of all, I think we must recognize the fact that safety and security are important issues to everyone who lives and comes and visits this city. And it is important that we have a plan in place that is understood and a very comprehensive plan in place that is understood and a very comprehensive plan to provide safety and security.
I believe that the Fire Department - and I'm going to answer your question perhaps more directly than you ever expected - but I believe that the Fire Department really should have continued with the responsibility, one, that they have been doing it, they have more trained personnel there, they have the equipment there. We do not -
Q. You mean for hazardous materials.
FIELDS. With the hazardous materials, right. I don't think that we should have created the kind of situation that has been created in this city now, where there is a lack of confidence among citizens in terms of the fight that is publicly being played out between the Fire Department and the Police Department. So I believe it should have stayed where the resources are, where the training already exists - build on that training and bring the Police Department in as a support, as opposed to giving the first responsibility to the Police Department, who are now training and equipment needs have to be purchased.
So it was a mistake -
Q. Sounds like you're more of a supporter of the O.E.M.[Office of Emergency Management] model.
Q. O.K. Mr. Ferrer?
FERRER. Dan, I'm glad you mentioned the fact that the voters of this city, in a referendum, passed the O.E.M. model.
Let me tell you why I think it's so important. Look, the Police Department does a terrific job in responding to emergencies. They handle policing issues extraordinarily well. The Fire Department handles their issues extraordinarily well. I think it's a shame when anyone in this city has to read a newspaper account of a battle of the badges. It's wrong. That's why the voters of this city, in their wisdom, passed the O.E.M. model, because there should be one person who works for the mayor who says, this is your job, get it done. We have an emergency, we have no time for bickering between departments. We have no time for battle of the badges. The only thing we have time for is saving lives and preventing further damage.
Q. Speaker Miller, it sounds like the Department of Homeland Security that you propose on a local level grows out of the O.E.M. Could you explain that?
MILLER. Yeah, that's right. I think we need to get back to the O.E.M. model that we had under Mayor Giuliani. And in fact I would elevate it to a Department of Homeland Security with the director of homeland security responsible, 24/7, for our preparedness and for making sure that agencies are actually being coordinated. Right now, we have joint commands at many different emergencies, which work fine when the Police Department and the Fire Department agree about the right thing to do. But amazingly, if they don't agree, there is no method for resolving that disagreement. Literally. That is not only unsafe, it's wrong; it's crazy. And we ought to have the director of homeland security, or at least the Office of Emergency Management, able to break those ties. I've forced the situation into the open, as speaker of the council, holding hearings on this subject, said very clearly what I thought was the right thing to do at that time about making sure we had the O.E.M. break these ties. And more than that, Dan, we have to go beyond just preparing ourselves for the police and fire department. You know that we have no surge capacity in our hospitals in this city? There are only 66 burn beds in the city of New York to prepare us for an attack. And amazingly, we've only trained several hundred people as part of neighborhood response time. San Francisco, by contrast, has trained 11,000. They're one-eighth our size. We have to change that and we have to make a commitment to doing it now.
Q. Thank you. Congressman Weiner, is Mayor Bloomberg completely off-base by saying we live in the age of terrorism; I've got a great police commissioner, Ray Kelly. He should really have all the latitude he should get. What's your take?
WEINER. No, he isn't completely off-base. But I can tell you that when you have the chief of the Fire Department that was in the North Tower on Sept. 11 saying that if you had this command structure on Sept. 11, you would have had real problems, I think it needs some minor tweaks. And let me just predicate this by saying that, you know, I think the battle of the badge is wildly overstated in this city. For the most part, every single day, a great Police Department and a fantastic Fire Department work together. But I do believe that hazardous materials cases should be handled first and foremost by the Fire Department. You know, there are other agencies of government that do this very well. When, tragically, Flight 587 crashed in my district in Rockaway, it was remarkable: the F.B.I. came and they controlled the scene for about 30 minutes. They determined there was no crime that had been committed there and immediately the N.T.S.B. came in and took over smoothly, without much transition problems. Every commissioner who is a commissioner in my administration is going to have to understand that I'm going to settle these disputes on the merits. I'm not just going to settle them based on what's the easiest way to do it. And when the chief that was in the North Tower says this is a flawed plan, believe me, you should listen to him.
Q. Thank you. Borough President Fields, would you like to rebut for 30 seconds?
FIELDS. We have a system that works. Our emergency management system works. It should not have been put in the situation of battling between the police department and the fire. Mayor Bloomberg made a terrible mistake when he allowed this to happen. And now to allow it to be played out publicly between both commissioners is absolutely wrong.
Q. Is he too police oriented in this particular situation?
FIELDS. He's showed favoritism in this situation that has created a lack of confidence among citizens in a way that is absolutely unnecessary. And the mayor needs to correct it at this point. The mayor needs to step forward and say to the general public: This is the plan, this is how we have changed it - and communicate more fully than what I believe the public really understands about this plan.
Q. Thank you.
QUESTIONS ASKING FOR YES OR NO ANSWERS
Q. Thank you, borough president. And thank you, Dan. And we are running short on time but we are going to try and get in one more question. But first, before we do that, we are now going to go to the lightning round. But we're going to try and make this as interesting as possible, I can promise you that much - where I will ask questions that can only be answered, even for politicians, with the words yes or no. The four of you will be required to answer the question. And the first one goes to Mr. Ferrer. We'll just go down the table until we get to the second question. Is Michael Bloomberg a better mayor than Rudy Giuliani?
FERRER. Oh, yeah.
Q. Mr. Speaker?
Q. And you do have school-age children. If you are elected mayor, will you send them to New York City public schools through high school?
MILLER. I don't know. My kids are too young. We have -
Q. Yes or no.
MILLER. Pam? Pam, I'd - we haven't made that decision. I don't know the answer to that question. My kids are 4 and 3. Look, let me tell you what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to give you a yes-or-no question to the question of where my children are going to spend the next 18 years of their education before I have a chance to look at every school. You're going to ask me a yes-or-no question about my children before they're of the age and I haven't had a chance to look at those schools? That's ridiculous, Dominic, it's ridiculous.
Q. Fair enough. Mr. Weiner?
WEINER. Yes, but I need a wife first.
FIELDS. Doesn't apply, but yes.
Q. What was that, Borough President?
FIELDS. Doesn't apply, but yes.
Q. I won't ask why. And Mr. Ferrer?
FERRER. My daughter already did graduate from public schools and she has two little sons who also go to public schools.
Q. Mr. Weiner, beginning with you, you folks talk a lot about the mayor's money. If you had Mayor Bloomberg's financing, his money, would you spend any of it on your campaign?
WEINER. Oh, if I only were a rich man. No.
Q. Borough President Fields? And I believe this individual is with us tonight. This is a question for the four of you: Do you want Al Sharpton's endorsement?
FIELDS. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Q. What was that?
MILLER. I said, sure, yes, yes.
WEINER. I used to say no. Now I say yes.
Q. This question is for you Mr. Ferrer. If you are elected, would you take the subway to work on a daily basis?
MILLER. You know, it's a long walk from Gracie Mansion. No, I wouldn't.
Q. For Mr. Miller, and here's a tricky one here: Do you like the Yankees more than the Mets?
WEINER. No way.
FERRER. Only in the American League.
Q. Yes or no.
FERRER. Ah, you beat it out of me - yes.
Q. I believe we're up to you, Mr. Weiner. The next question is, and this is a topic that's near and dear to the mayor, the current mayor of the city, would you reverse the mayor's smoking ban?
Q. Borough President Fields, if you had the power, would you grant amnesty for undocumented immigrants?
WEINER. Not all.
Q. That's a no?
WEINER. Sure, if that's the only choice I have.
Q. Mr. Ferrer, and I believe this applies to you to a degree in terms of the answer is yes, but here's the question: Can you imagine in the future - we know in the past you've done this - getting arrested as an act of civil disobedience?
WEINER. I'm going to run the Police Department - No.
FIELDS. Yes. Yes.
Q. O.K. Next question: Mr. Miller, would you sign into law the education equity act which would provide translation and interpretation services in schools for immigrant parents?
MILLER. I plan to pass it, so yes.
FERRER. Absolutely yes.
Q. We have two last questions, Mr. Weiner -
WEINER. Wait a minute, wait a minute, I've got to get one break here. Can she go first?
Q. Oh, borough president, thank you. Have you ever crossed party lines and not voted for a Democrat in an election?
FIELDS. Never have, never will.
Q. Final question is for you, Mr. Ferrer, and we think this is a good one.
FERRER. I'll be the judge of that.
Q. Are we here in New York City, New Yorkers, are we better off today compared to four years ago?
FERRER. In most ways, no.
Q. O.K. Well that completes our lightning round of questions. And I hope our crowd found that entertaining. And so we have reached a point where I'm going to try - We have about a minute before closing statements. And if Rita has a quick question we will try and get this in. Go ahead, Rita.
FREEDOM CENTER CONTROVERSY
Q. This question goes to Mr. Ferrer, I believe. About the Freedom Center at Ground Zero, as proposed it's very controversial. The center includes exhibits on various human rights issues and space for seminars on freedom-related topics - 9/11 family members, some of them are opposed. They fear that it could be used as a forum for anti-American values. Just quickly, what do you think should be part of the Freedom Center?
Q. Very quickly, please.
FERRER. I think there should be a diversity of views and exhibits in the Freedom Center, activities in the Freedom Center. But I think they have to be guided by a sense that we lost 3,000 people and families in this entire city have been deeply affected.
Q. Thank you, Mr. Ferrer. Quickly down the line, please, response to the question.
MILLER. I think that there clearly needs to be more done to make sure that we're reaching out to the families. But I think what really ought to be part of the Freedom Center is Freedom Tower. And we ought to be actually rebuilding what's happened down there in Lower Manhattan. It is just [a] national disgrace how little has been done to rebuild, not just a memorial, but to rebuild in terms of the businesses, in terms of the heart of the plans to re-energize Lower Manhattan.
Q. Mr. Weiner?
WEINER. More than three and a half years ago, Mike Bloomberg was sworn in near the still-smoking embers of ground zero and said he was going to rebuild it. He hasn't done it. We should be talking about a Freedom Center that represents a diversity of views. But we have to keep first and closest to our heart the views of the victims for whom that area is a living shrine.
Q. Borough president?
FIELDS. Diversity of culture, diversity that represents this great city, and clearly a memorial that reflects what happened there keeping in the forefront of all of our minds - and working with the families to decide all of those details.
Q. Thank you very much. It is now time for the closing remarks by the candidates. You will have 60 seconds, give or take - perhaps a little less time. And we begin with Mr. Ferrer. Mr. Ferrer, you're up.
FERRER. Thanks. Look, I grew up in the Bronx, raised by my mother and grandmother. My first job was shining shoes. Two scholarships let me go to N.Y.U., so I think I know something about working hard, paying a mortgage and working with my wife to raise a terrific daughter.
Now, Mike Bloomberg, on the other hand, understands big business. But you've got to wonder whether he understands the needs of everyday New Yorkers, New Yorkers who wonder about a mayor who spent three and a half obsessed years trying to build a football stadium for a billionaire N.F.L. team owner.
But what's he done for someone who can't afford a multimillion-dollar condo or to send his or her child to a public school? I'm running for mayor because I want to build a city that works better for every New Yorker.
Now, I know, of course, a mayor's got to make the tough decisions. He's also got to make the right decisions. And he's also got to make the kind of decisions that give us hope - hope that we can get a decent place to live, hope we can send our child to learn in a great school right in our own neighborhood. That's the kind of mayor I want to be. With your help, that's the kind of mayor I will be.
Thanks for inviting me.
Q. Thank you very much, Mr. Ferrer. Mr. Miller?
MILLER. Well, Dominic, you know I spent last year teaching once a week in an eighth grade social studies class in Long Island City. And what I saw there were the problems that have resulted in 550,000 kids failing in our schools every day - overcrowded classrooms, kids that weren't ready to learn. And I've spent the last several months traveling in neighborhoods all over this city talking with New Yorkers who are struggling to find housing that they can afford, to find jobs that provide for their families and to grow old with dignity and respect in this city.
And, you know, I feel a tremendous sense of urgency about solving these problems. I know we can do better and that's why I'm running for mayor. And I have a proven record of results. If we're going to hire a mayor to tackle these tough problems, then what we ought to do is hire somebody with a proven record of delivering results.
As speaker of the council, I brought together the most diverse legislature, in some ways, in the country, to pass living wage laws and earned-income tax credits and make a difference for New Yorkers. And I want to just say this: I know I'm not asking for a small thing. I'm asking for the opportunity to be mayor of the City of New York. And if you give me that chance, I will not let you down.
Q. Thank you very much, Mr. Miller. Mr. Weiner.
WEINER. Thank you very much. Let me tell you a little bit about who I am and what I plan to do as your mayor. Who I am is the child of a middle-class family in Brooklyn. My mother was a school teacher for 31 years, my father a neighborhood attorney who literally hung a shingle outside our home. I went to public schools my entire life, had the great honor of working for Chuck Schumer for six years as my entree into politics; served in the city council. And then I've had the high honor of representing the people of Brooklyn and Queens in the United States House of Representatives. That's a little bit about who I am. But let me tell you specifically what I plan to do. I'm going to make you two promises. One, I'm always going to come at problems with real ideas: a 10 percent tax cut on anyone making less than $150,000 a year paid for by reducing waste by 5 percent. Paying teachers more and making it easier to get the worst teachers out of our schools. But I'll tell you something else: I may be moving into Gracie Mansion in a few months but I'm never going to forget where I came from. And where I came from is a middle-class hardworking family from Brooklyn and Queens. That's who I'm going to be looking out for every single day as your mayor. My name is Anthony Weiner.
Q. Thank you, Mr. Weiner. Borough President Fields?
FIELDS. Thank you, Dominic. My life experiences have been about doing things that make a difference in the lives of people, starting very early, as I grew up in the segregated South of Birmingham, Ala., in a working-class family. Father, a laborer, died of cancer when I was 12; mother struggled to make sure that the youngest of five children were able to get a good education. And at the age of 17, I made a decision to march with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., knowing that I would be arrested, spent six days in jail, but that began to help me take my stand against fighting for - fighting against racial injustices. That's the kind of background out of which I came.
And as a civil rights activist, as a social worker, as an elected official, all of this has helped to shape my vision, my views and my passion to serve. That is why I focus on jobs - jobs for the chronically unemployed - services for our seniors, affordable housing.
As your mayor, I can do so much more. I ask for your vote -
Q. Thank you.
FIELDS. And I ask you to join me, to let this - have this city move in a different direction: opportunities for more rather than a few.
Q. Thank you, Borough President.
FIELDS. Thank you.
Q. Thank you very much. Now that concludes tonight's debate. On behalf of New York 1, I'd like to thank tonight's co-sponsors: New York 1 Noticias, New York City Newsday, WNYC-Radio and, of course, the City Campaign Finance Board. I'd also like to thank the candidates tonight for attempting to answer all of our questions. And, of course, we'd like to thank Jazz at Lincoln Center for allowing us to use their beautiful facilities. Again, thank you and good night.
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