Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Transcript of Final 2005 General Election Mayoral Debate

Transcript of Final 2005 General Election Mayoral Debate


On November 1, 2005, the New York City Campaign Finance Board and WNBC played host to a final debate with mayoral candidates Michael Bloomberg and Fernando Ferrer. It was moderated by Gabe Pressman. Questions were asked by reporters Melissa Russo, Jay DeDapper, David Ushery, and Jorge Ramos. The following is a transcript of the debate.


Melissa Russo: Mr. Mayor, as a Republican in a city of Democrats you like to say that you are a non-partisan kind of guy, that there is no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage. But you have also contributed millions of dollars to Republicans even though you admit that some of their policies are out of step with, and even harmful in some cases, to New York City - most recently the sweeping protection for the gun industry. This political tightrope subjects you to criticism like the following cartoon released yesterday by your opponent. [A clip of the Ferrer campaign ad depicting Michael Bloomberg riding a horse with George W. Bush plays].

Mr. Mayor, is this ad really unfair and disgusting as your campaign called it or are you trying to have it both ways at a time when this country is bitterly divided along partisan lines?

Michael Bloomberg: Melissa, I don't know that comic books are very important in this election. We should be talking about real issues. Most of the money that I have given was to the same organization that the New York Times did, a non-profit organization that was set up to finance the convention that came to this town. We would have done the same thing for the Democrats. What I've tried to do with my own money is try to give money to people who I think can help New York, whether it is Washington, Albany or in New York City. But this is really about getting the schools better, this is really about improving social services, this is really about making this city safer. As you said yourself, there is no partisan ways to do that. We have to deal with everybody and we are going to try to get help from everybody.

Melissa Russo: Do you believe that ad is disgusting as your campaign is quoted as saying in today's paper?

Bloomberg: That is the first time I've seen the ad. I saw about two seconds earlier today. I didn't see the whole thing.

Melissa Russo: Why not just admit that you a Republican by label only if that is what you want New Yorkers to believe?

Bloomberg: I don't know that I want them to believe that. I believe in some things in the Republican Party. I believe in some things in the Democratic Party. The Republican Party gave me an opportunity that the Democratic Party would not give me. It was a chance to change this city. It is a chance to leave a better world for my kids. And I took advantage of it.

Melissa Russo Mr. Ferrer, do you really expect New Yorkers to believe that Mayor Bloomberg is a right-wing Republican after four years in office serving New York City? And isn't it a good thing to maintain close ties with both parties if you are a mayor trying to get things done?

Fernando Ferrer:Ah, come on. I don't think there is anybody in America who honest to God believes that a $7.5 million contribution to the Republican National Convention is non-partisan. Or being one of the largest donors to George Bush and his party. It is a party that has promoted policies that have hurt this city. It is anti-choice, anti-gun control, and pro privatizing social security.

Melissa Russo:But has Mayor Bloomberg really governed as a conservative Republican in your opinion?

Ferrer:Look, you can't disclaim for the policies while you are opening your checkbook wide. My grandmother had a saying about all this. In English, it is "tell me who you walk with and I will tell you who you are." Mike in two languages you are a Republican.

Melissa Russo: Is that true? Are you a Republican?

Bloomberg:Well I did give $2,000 to George Bush. I gave more than that to Bill Clinton when he was running. I try to do what is right. And I am going to continue to do that. If someone can help us, I am going to continue giving them the money.

Melissa Russo: Mr. Ferrer, we would like you to respond to a new ad from the Bloomberg campaign. [A clip of an ad calling Ferrer a "flip-flopper" plays.] Is that true, Mr. Ferrer? Do you flip-flop?

Ferrer: Sounds to me like an ad that George Bush ran against John Kerry. Look, people who know who I am after 20 years of elected public office. They know this about me. There is only one principle that has ever guided any decision I have ever made. That is this - that every New Yorker who works hard and does right should get the tools they need to build a better life here in this city.

Melissa Russo: Mayor, do agree?

Bloomberg: I think everybody knows what my opponent stands for. He stands for complaining. He stands for identifying problems and never coming up with solutions. And that is different than governing. It is easy to be a critic. It is very hard to lead. The city is going in the right direction. And I think the policies that we have had for the last four years are the policies we should continue.


Gabe Pressman: We should move on to another subject. As I have visited neighborhoods across the city I have found that Iraq is uppermost in the minds of many voters. My question to both of you is: Do you think the next mayor should use his office as a bully pulpit to try to influence the federal government's policies on Iraq?

Ferrer: You bet I do. Mike Bloomberg has said previously he didn't think the war in Iraq was a local issue. Explain that to 37 families who lost soliders fighting in Iraq. Explain that to people who watch us build firehouses in Iraq while we are shutting them down in New York. Or spending billions of dollars to promote that war instead of doing the things we need to do to promote decent and affordable housing, good schools, or health care.

Gabe Pressman: What would you advocate for the president?

Ferrer: I would advocate for the president to get our troops out of there as promptly as possible. Look, they are still looking for weapons of mass destruction. And tell you the truth, it's a war that has cost too much in terms of human life and in terms of our national wealth, and the distortion of our national priorities.

Gabe Pressman: Mr. Mayor, do you agree with him that the war should be brought to an end as soon as possible?

Bloomberg: Let's see why we are here, Gabe. There was a point where intelligence reported that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that could have threatened our country and destabilized the world. The Senate, our two senators, Senators Schumer and Clinton, the President, most of Congress thought that we should go in and get rid of those weapons of mass destruction. It turned out that there was a massive intelligence failure. But you are there. And now we have lost over 2,000 of our men and women, 37 from New York City. Walking away that this point would make all of them to die in vain. It would be an outrage. What we have to do is stay there until the generals say that Iraq's government can maintain peace and maintain a democracy. And in the meantime, we should continue to support our troops so that can continue to protect themselves and continue to carry out the mission that we have asked them to do. Nobody is happy to be there.

Gabe Pressman: Do you think we were mislead into that war?

Bloomberg: I think there is no question that there was a catastrophic failure of the intelligence community.

Gabe Pressman: Mr. Ferrer, don't the men and women from New York serving there deserve to have their commander-and-chief respected while they are there?

Ferrer: Of course they have every right and expectation to have the full support of the American people - for themselves, for their bravery, for their sacrifices. For those 2,000 who made that supreme sacrifice. But that doesn't make that war correct. It doesn't make the predicate for that war true.


Jay DeDapper: I want to direct us back to New York City for a minute to security and terrorism. You two have complained along with every other New York politician that the amount of money that we get from Washington in homeland security funding. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said a few weeks ago, "This city isn't getting its fair share of homeland security money and I think we have to continue to push the effort." So Mr. Bloomberg, what would you do differently if get the money? What aren't we doing now that we could do if we got this money?

Bloomberg: Ray Kelly is talking about security money. This city does not get its fair share from Washington, the state doesn't. If we had more money, it would, number one, allow us to do other things. But what I have said is that we are going to provide the security we need regardless of the cost. And then I am going to go and find a ways to pay for it.

Jay DeDapper: What are the other things we could do if we got the extra money?

Bloomberg: We would use it to solve our other budgetary problems. But we have bought every piece of equipment I think is necessary to protect this city. We have a police force of the size I think is necessary to protect this city. We give them the training that is necessary so they can come home safe at night to their families and protect this city. And we are going to continue to do that. And I have never looked at the cost of it when I have made a security decision. But we'd love to get more help from Washington.

Jay DeDapper: Mr. Ferrer, you've said the same thing. You don't think the mayor has done enough getting that money?

Ferrer: It is plain as day that we are not getting homeland security funds based on risk, based on the fact that New York City took it on the chin for the rest of American in the attack on 9/11. But let me give you a specific example of that. Some months ago, at a subway station in Brooklyn, Borough Hall, I put forward a mass transit security plan. The simple fact is that I have criticized this mayor and his four appointees to the MTA board. Not any four appointees, the four high ranking appointees of Mike Bloomberg. And they sat there like potted plants. When they failed to spend $390 million that was allocated to upgrade security in our mass transit system. Recently, they put out a few contracts and they managed to bungle that. Look, those $390 million were absolutely necessary, and not to install, as the mayor put it, "a bunch of cameras," but to train the MTA personnel in anti-terrorism and surveillance techniques, to install surveillance cameras, explosive detection technology, and to improve communication below ground and above ground.


David Ushery:Earlier today, President Bush unveiled a $7.1 billion preparedness plan to confront an outbreak of the bird flu, the avian flu. But given the governments much criticized response to hurricane Katrina, do you have confidence in the federal government's ability to confront this outbreak? Mr. Ferrer, we will start with you. What would you do as mayor to protect the city?

Ferrer: There is no question that we have to lobby them strenuously and vigorously to get the help we need. But in the end, this is a city that must do for itself and leave no one behind. And that is why in every one of our disaster preparedness plans, we have to prepare to such an extent that in a hurricane, we leave no one behind in low-lying areas. In the case of avian flu, to have enough vaccine stockpiled so that we can take care of New Yorkers so that we can preserve life and safety.

David Ushery: The president mentioned earlier the guaranteeing parts of the country, perhaps a city or beyond. Do you think the city should be prepared to do that?

Ferrer: I think the city has to be prepared to fight avian flu, but I'm not ready to go as far as the president has. Of course, I don't think the president has any plans about this. And that is really the tragedy here.

David Ushery: Mr. Bloomberg, do you have confidence in the federal governments ability to protect the city?

Bloomberg: At the moment we don’t know what the risk is. What I am first concerned about is to make sure that this year, for the kinds of flu that around that we get everybody their flu shot. 35,000 Americans will die from flu this year. I am trying to make sure that particularly vulnerable parts of our city, our seniors and our young children, get flu vaccine. In terms of down the road, we have plans. Everybody's got plans. But we don't know if there will be a vaccine available to prevent or to deal with an avian flu that has yet to mutate into something that we've got to worry about. The federal government has shown again and again that they can help, they can give you money, but we have to be prepared locally. That was the lesson of 9/11, that was the lesson of Katrina, you have to be able to handle, at a local level, the problems. Whether it is quarantine, or getting people vaccines, which we are incidentally practicing right now. Using the incentive to get the current flu protection, we are planning we are practicing for the avian flu.


Jorge Ramos: One of the most pressing issues facing the city is how to improve education and how get the money to do it. The city has been awarded billions in a lawsuit filed by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. But the state has appealed that decision. A teacher in the Bronx has this question for both candidates.

Teacher in the Bronx: I am a teacher at PS 62 and I would like to know with all of the money that the state of New York owes the city of New York, when are we going to get this money to help our children succeed? When is he going to fight for that?

George Ramos: So Mr. Bloomberg you have had exactly a year to get that money out of Albany. Some say you haven't fought hard enough. So if you are elected, what would you do to get the billions the court say are owed to the city of New York.

Bloomberg: Keep in mind I went and testified before the arbitrator's panel. I went and had our corporation counsel argue in court to get this money. It is now tied up in the courts and when we get the money, I have already put out a plan of how we would spend the $5.5 billion a year that we hope to get. But I haven't waited for that. What I have done is increase city spending on the schools by $2.5 billion. I have raised our school construction budget to $13.5 billion over five years, the biggest in history, splitting it with the state. And when the state didn't come through with the money, the city came up with the money. I am not waiting for CFE money. We have given our teachers a 33 percent raise over the last four years. We've got to educate the kids of today. And when the money comes, we have laid out a plan, first priority will be universal pre-k. But we are not sitting around waiting for it. In the meantime, let's hope the courts continue to rule our way as they have in the past.

George Ramos:Mr. Ferrer, you have said the city must ante up to "prime the pump." If we are entitled to that money, why should we offer to pay?

Ferrer: First of all, I congratulate the mayor on increasing the school budget. But if we still have a 50 percent drop out rate - and I hope we talk about that at some point in this debate - than I would argue that Mike Bloomberg instead of doing more with less, is doing less with more. But let's talk about CFE. I was proud to be an early participant in that action. I was prouder still in the last four years to be a member of its board. They owe us money. They have been cheating the kids of this city - all 1.1 million of them - for years now. I don't think you can approach this as a CEO in a negotiation by putting zero on the table and waiting for them to come up. In fact, the corporation counsel of this city, an appointee of my opponent, who said this city will not spend a nickel. If we have to put up a nickel, no thanks. Well, quite frankly if you listen to the governor, the plaintiffs in this case, and the legislative leaders, they have all said that the city will have to come up with something. I am proud to have come up with a school investment plan that asks a global investment community to invest pennies our children's future.


Jay DeDapper: We are going to talk about the drop-out rate. There is a lot of confusion about this: drop-out rate vs. graduation rate. I want to show you want Schools Chancellor said on September 10, 2004. Gabe Pressman asked, "What is the drop-out rate now?" Joel Klein very simply, "In practical terms or in statistics, I mean in real terms, one out of two kids doesn't get a diploma, 50 percent - that's the real world." Mr. Bloomberg, let's settle this once and for all between the two of you. Is the drop-out rate 50 percent as your chancellor said?

Bloomberg: Joel was wrong. He meant to talk about the graduation rate. The graduation rate was 50 percent; it has gone up to 54 percent. In the Bronx, it was 40 percent; it has gone up to 52 percent. But you know, Jay, what has happened here for 20 years is that the elected officials did absolutely nothing for our children. They just said we want to have better schools, but they never came up with any money and they never tried to improve standards. I came into office and said, give me control of the school and I'll make it better, hold me accountable. And when my opponent had the opportunity to do that for 19 years in office, he did nothing. He didn't even talk about graduation rates until all of a sudden he is running for mayor. You can't have it both ways. Everybody knows one child not getting through is one child too many. But we have to do something about it. And that is why we ended social promotion in the third grade, and the fifth grade, and the seventh grade.

Jay DeDapper:Fifty-four percent is something you are not proud of, I assume?

Bloomberg:Fifty-four percent is the number that graduate in four years. A lot more graduate after five, six, and seven years. A lot go on to other schools and are not counted in that number. In four years, 16 percent drop out, 54 percent graduate, and the other 30 percent go on.

Jay DeDapper: Mr. Ferrer, 50 percent? What is it?

Ferrer: Joel Klein is right. Even more than that, Mike, for you to pass the buck for a guy who was out of office for four years, but in office as a councilman and a borough president for nearly 20. I allocated millions to improve technology and school libraries and school construction and security. It’s beneath you. Look, it’s a 50 percent drop out rate. One out of two kids without a diploma, without a future, and without a job. We’ve got to do something about that. And the only way we do something about that is improving teaching and learning in all the grades. Not teaching to a standardized test. But teaching to the highest standards, improving pre-k and after-school programs, music, art, athletic programs, family literacy centers, building new classrooms and new school buildings to relieve the vicious overcrowding that we see in high schools. Schools built for 3,000 students that have 5,000 students.


Gabe Pressman: I’ve got a couple of questions on education requiring short answers. Do you favor, Mr. Ferrer, year around school as a way of developing students who can compete with students from other countries, who have much more intensive educational programs?

Ferrer: Yea, I think the kids who are struggling and need more time on task, extending the school year makes an enormous amount of sense, as does extending the school day and week.

Gabe Pressman: Do you agree with that?

Bloomberg: We are doing it. We have summer school for kids who need more help. And the new teachers’ contract has an extra period, four days a week for the kids who are struggling, every class, every school.

Gabe Pressman: Year around means virtually 12 months with a few vacations in between.

Bloomberg: School with summer-school goes almost year around.


Gabe Pressman: Do you favor, Mr. Mayor, having military recruiters in our schools?

Bloomberg: If we allow businesses to recruit, we should allow the military to recruit. There is nothing wrong with presenting to our high school kids the option of going in the military in the same way that they should have the opportunity to know what jobs they can have.

Gabe Pressman: Short answer, Mr. Ferrer.

Ferrer: No. I want our kids to get jobs. I want them to have the tools they need to be economically self-sufficient. They can make that decision on almost any street corner in this city.


Melissa Russo: Rent, subway fares, taxi cabs, food, the cost of everything in New York City always seems to go up, never down. We are going to hear now from a single mother in lower Manhattan who has a question about affordability.

Woman from Manhattan: How are you going to help the working class in New York City? This is supposed to be a city for everyone, but it is really now just for the rich. And I want to know what are you going to do that I, who live in the city and work in the city, and am a parent in the city, and pay my city taxes, that I can afford to live here? What are you going to do about that?

Melissa Russo: Mr. Ferrer, this woman has a job. She has an apartment. What would you do to make her cost of living go down?

Ferrer: She should be able to live in this city, but increasingly this city is becoming unaffordable to working- and middle-class people. Let’s review some of the facts. The working- and middle-class are being priced out of their own homes. Moderate-income people can’t find a decent place to live that they can afford. That is why I put forth a plan to cut their taxes; not a $400 rebate check on a discretionary basis every year, but a full tax cut, a permanent tax cut. And to give renters tax assistance as well. And to build and maintain the affordability of 167,000 New Yorkers, homes that they can afford.

Melissa Russo: Mr. Bloomberg, is that a good plan? Is that a better plan than you have put forward?

Bloomberg: Mr. Ferrer wants to cut taxes, but he also wants to build affordable housing with tax revenue. So you can’t have it both ways. You have to understand, this is an expensive city. It always has been. And probably always will be. But we have to do is find ways for people to afford to stay here. That is why I fought against the increases in the fares in the MTA. That is why I fought in favor of getting the minimum wage raised. That is why I fought to make sure we are building affordable housing. We have an 86,000 unit program being built with capital dollars and private dollars and we are better than half way there. That is why I want to bring jobs here, because in the end the best answer is a job for everyone.

Melissa Russo: Well, this woman has a job already, she has an apartment. What do you think you will be doing in the next four years if you are elected that will help here?

Bloomberg: We’ve got to keep making this government as efficient as possibly can. We want the services that government provides. We want to keep the cost of those services as low as we possibly can. That is why we have managed to cut $4 billion annually out of the city’s budget and we can do more.


David Ushery: While Melissa’s question focused on the working and middle class, I would like to get some specifics from you gentlemen about New York City’s poorest of the poor. The Bronx is one of the poorest counties in the country, and that didn’t happen overnight. Mr. Ferrer, we’ll start with you because you mentioned your 20 years in elected office as a councilman, as borough president. Did you do enough to combat poverty then? What will you do as mayor?

Ferrer: You mean working with two mayors and scores of community organizations to build 66,000 units of affordable housing? To turn a borough that most people left for dead into a place that President Bill Clinton called a national example for urban renewal? Or you mean working with President Bill Clinton in getting small business programs in the borough to help build 34,000 good jobs for people? No, I’m very proud of that record.

David Ushery: Mr. Bloomberg, let me ask you, a number of experts say that a number of people have slipped into poverty over the last couple of years. You’ve talked a lot about those who have prospered under your reign. Do you have to take some responsibility for those who are not faring as well?

Bloomberg: The numbers show that we are getting 100,000 immigrants from overseas every year. They typically come without formal education, and in many cases with not great command of the English language. And their earnings prospects at the beginning are problematic. That’s why I’ve tried to focus on the kinds of jobs they can get at the beginning -- travel, tourism, restaurants, hotels. Those are the kinds of jobs that we have to bring to this city.

We’ve got to bring construction jobs and open the construction unions up to everybody. And that’s why I’ve negotiated a deal with the construction unions for the first time - a historic deal - where they will open up a big percentage of their apprentice programs to immigrants and to people who have just started to work their ways up the economic ladder. That’s why we have this new women- and minority-owned business program where the city’s business is now being given out to businesses started by people in every community. They’ll get city business and they employ people from their community. That’s why we have to go and build things like the Atlantic Yards, why we have to build the Bronx Terminal Market and why we have to develop Willets Point. Those are the jobs for the future.


Jorge Ramos: At this time, each of you is invited to ask the other a question. Mr. Bloomberg, you may ask the first question to Mr. Ferrer.

Bloomberg: I guess I’d ask my opponent, the New York Times and Newsday, the Post and the Sun, the Daily News and the Advance, Hoy all endorsed me. Do you think they’re wrong?

Ferrer: Well, Mike, we’ve learned the hard way in the last couple of years that the New York Times doesn’t always get it right. And don’t even get me started on the New York Post. Look, I’m proud of the support I’ve gotten from the neighborhoods and streets of this city. So, if I’m not the candidate of the people in the boardrooms, I’m proud to be the candidate of the kids in the classrooms of this city.


Jorge Ramos: Mr. Ferrer, you may ask a question to Mayor Bloomberg.

Ferrer: Sure. Mike, you’ve said in the past that the poor get better health care in this city than the wealthy. Do you honestly believe those words?

Bloomberg: What I was saying is I cannot tell you how proud I am of the progress that our public hospitals - our 11 public hospitals - have made. It is true if you go into those hospitals without any insurance, without any money, you will get the same care as if you can come in and pay for your services. And that care is the best medicine available anyplace in the world today. Thirty thousand people work in those hospitals and they have transformed hospitals that people were willing to walk away from, wanted to sell, wanted to close, into 11 of the best hospitals any single place in this world. You betcha I’m proud of them.


Jorge Ramos: Let’s go on to another important subject. Mr. Ferrer, you’re against a major economic development project in Brooklyn, the Atlantic Yards. We went to Brooklyn and found this man with concerns about this project. Let’s listen.

Man on tape: We’re talking about Brooklyn, downtown Brooklyn, the Atlantic terminal area that comprises Prospect Heights and the Clinton Hill area. I believe that that area is an area that needs to be revitalized. I believe that the arena, if built, would be an economic boost for the neighborhood, but I’m concerned about whether or not affordable housing will be a key concern if it is in fact developed. That is my major concern. Is it going to be an area that’s going to have affordable housing for residents of the Brooklyn community?

Jorge Ramos: Mr. Ferrer?

Ferrer: You see I don’t confuse economic development projects with billion dollar boondoggles. In fact, this is looking more and more to me like the twin brother of the West Side stadium boondoggle.

Let me tell you some of the things that I have been impressed with in this project. Fifty percent housing affordability. I thought that was powerful. A community benefits agreement that would include people from the community and small businesses in the full economic life of the project.

But I have not supported the lack of transparency and the fact that there’s been no planning for the kind of mass of this project and the kind of infrastructure it would take to support it. But even more important, secret Mets begin to emerge like the one that says, “we’re going to give you Site 5 and we’re going to use the city’s condemnation power to take out existing businesses so you can create 2,600 units of luxury housing. Well that breaks the 50-50 percent.

Jorge Ramos: One of your allies, Al Sharpton, supports this project because it’s going to create jobs. Forty-five percent of those jobs are set aside for minorities, which is what is needed in the area.

Ferrer: It is amazing, Jorge, that we need boondoggle projects to try to do the right thing for communities and for people all across this city. Let’s put them ‘em to work. Let’s ramp up small business. Let’s provide real job opportunities for them ongoing.

Jorge Ramos: Mr. Bloomberg?

Bloomberg: You know you can complain about everything, but the real world is you have to go and do something. And the Atlantic Yards is a project that should go ahead. It will create affordable housing. It will create housing for middle-class people. It will create a great spirit in Brooklyn. It will give us commercial space. It will fill a void that’s been empty since they wanted to build a new Ebbets Field there. It will create jobs for this community. And if there’s any project in this city that has been well studied, and studied out in the open, and that has worked with the community; one developer, if you have to pick one in this city, this developer is the one you want to pick to make the neighborhoods blend in with the project and to really make sure that everybody benefits.

Gabe Pressman: You look skeptical Mr. Ferrer.

Ferrer: Yeah, I am skeptical. I mean, if everyone’s reviewed this project, why are there secret memos emerging about the city guaranteeing to condemn a property called Site 5 that will give this developer 2,600 units of luxury housing. By the way with tax breaks from the city. That’s nuts.

Gabe Pressman: Your response, Mr. Mayor.

Bloomberg: Well if the memo’s out, it’s certainly not a secret so I don’t think we have to worry about that. Look, the city’s investment in this is only $150 million. We’ll get our money back reasonably quickly. The only thing we’re doing here is the same thing we do for other projects. I have yet to hear one major development project in this city that my opponent is in favor of.

Ferrer: I’ll tell you one. I’m happy to tell you.

Gabe Pressman: You'll have to save it. Melissa Russo has a question.

Melissa Russo: I’m curious now.

Ferrer: Why don’t you ask?


Melissa Russo: We’ll see if it’s on Staten Island because we’re going to talk about economic development on Staten Island, maybe you’ll be able to work it in. But economic development can obviously be a good thing, and when it’s uncontrolled it can also have a serious impact on quality of life. We’re going to hear from a mom on Staten Island right now.

Woman on tape: Just what do you intend to do about the traffic on the secondary roads on Staten Island? The Staten Island Expressway is backed up at all hours of the day. The overflow is coming into the secondary roads and they just can’t handle it.

Melissa Russo: Mayor Bloomberg, do you have a plan?

Bloomberg: We are downzoning an awful lot of Staten Island for exactly this reason. The truth of the matter is the roads are too small for the amount of traffic today. And if you allow building in many of the neighborhoods of Staten Island to continue at the pace it’s been doing, you will not be able to get a police car or a fire truck or an ambulance to your home. You won’t be able to find a school that has classroom space. You won’t have a sewer system or a water system that can handle it. It’s controlling development.

Staten Island, however, is only one borough. In all five boroughs, overdevelopment has become a very serious issue because we’re building so much housing in this city. We’ve built 100,000 housing units in this city, and overdevelopment is becoming a very serious problem. This year, we’re on track to have a record number - 30,000 housing units - built.

Melissa Russo: Mr. Ferrer?

Ferrer: OK. Let’s get this straight. What this woman is talking about is the lack of infrastructure planning on Staten Island. New houses built, but not enough schools, not enough roads, not enough space for people to get emergency vehicles down a road. By the way, that’s going to be the same complaint around the Atlantic Yards because we’re not doing adequate infrastructure planning there.

Melissa Russo: On one hand though you criticize the mayor for not building enough housing. On the other hand, you are criticizing him for the consequences of the development that has happened.

Ferrer: No. What I’m talking about is building affordable housing. Look, I don’t confuse this with multimillion dollar condos. Again, building affordable housing on sites that we already know, on sites in this city and on sites that can be upzoned in this city with a special investment from the city itself. To induce 50 percent housing affordability. That’s my plan.


Jay DeDapper: You both said that you ride the subways a lot. The Number 7 train is the favorite of a lot of people because it goes through so many great neighborhoods with so much good food to eat at every stop. We went out to Sunnyside to talk to a gentleman who rides the No. 7 line and doesn’t have quite as fond a perspective perhaps as those of us who go to Shea do.

Man on tape: How will you improve on the service that we’re getting? I’m catching the 7 train and it seems like the trains are delayed all the time and when they do come they bypass the station to make up time. I don’t think that’s right when people have to go to work. And you raise the fare. I think the fare should be maintained.

Jay DeDapper: I hate it when they bypass your stop at rush hour. I know the mayor - and I think this gentleman has a misconception that a lot of people have at times that the mayor runs the subway and, in fact, the MTA runs the subways, But Mr. Ferrer, you ave called the four representatives on the MTA board “potted plants” a couple of times recently that the mayor has put on that board. But let’s do some simple math here. There’s 14 votes. You get four of them. Why would you be able to do anything differently than any other mayor? And, probably a more important question, do you think the subways should be taken over by the city again and taken away from the MTA?

Ferrer: Well first of all, Mike Bloomberg's predecessor Rudy Giuliani, used his four appointees to great advantage-- and I disagreed with him an awful lot -- for the straphangers of this city. Now I know I’m going to be criticized again for not being a cheerleader of George Pataki. But, excuse me, because I am not. The simple fact is we’ve had two fare increases in the last four years and service has not gotten any better. At the same time, the MTA reports a nearly billion dollar surplus, and they want to get into the real estate business by building a platform over the Hudson Yards instead of making those investments back into the subway system to make it safe, reliable and affordable.

Jay DeDapper: What does the mayor have to do with any of that. He’s only got four of the 14 votes. And do you think the subway system should be taken over by the city?

Ferrer: Four of the 14 votes and leadership and a bully pulpit second in size and mass only to the president of the United States. That’s leadership.

Jay DeDapper: Should the subway be taken over by the city?

Ferrer: I don’t think so. We’ve got to make the state and the MTA respond to the needs of our straphangers.

Jay DeDapper: Mayor, you’ve got four of 14 votes. You haven’t been able to stop a fare hike. You’ve complained about it but you weren’t able to stop it.

Bloomberg: We voted against it the last time. We couldn’t stop it. I’ve used the bully pulpit. Hopefully, we will not have one in ‘07. I’ve argued that we should use some of the surplus to make sure that does not happen. You know, though, I was thinking that when I came to this city in 1966, the subways were covered with graffiti, there was crime rampant, there wasn’t any air conditioning, and they did bypass a lot of stations.

Jay DeDapper: And they were run by the mayor.

Bloomberg: And they were run by the mayor.

Jay DeDapper: Do you want control of the subways?

Bloomberg: When I first was running for office four years ago I thought that this city should be in control of its own mass transit. Then along came 9/11 and the economics changed. The city could not possibly afford to do it. And the MTA is all tied up with Metro North and the Long Island Rail Road. It is a regional transportation plan. It’s a regional authority, and everything that’s done has to be done by convincing people outside of this city to go along with us.

Jay DeDapper: But your compatriot in the Republican Party is George Pataki. You weren’t able to stop the fare increase. He’s a Republican. You’re a Republican. Doesn’t that diminish your argument you can get things done because you’re a Republican and Republicans run the joint?

Bloomberg: I don’t always agree with Governor Pataki. I tried to get us a commuter tax and I couldn’t do it. But I did get a Democratic speaker of the Assembly and I did get a Republican majority leader of the Senate to give us $2.7 billion over the governor’s veto and then I sued to make sure his veto did not stand up.

Gabe Pressman: Just to stand on the historical record, the MTA was created to take responsibility or reliability or accountability away from the mayor and the governor at the time it was created.

Bloomberg: The whole idea here was that the elected officials wouldn’t be responsible, that they couldn’t be blamed, and that’s exactly the problem with our government that we’ve had for a long time and that’s what I’m all about -- holding someone accountable. But unfortunately, we couldn’t take over the subway system and they wouldn’t give it to us. We do provide security and do a great job in doing that.


Gabe PressmanMr. Mayor, the New York Times in endorsing you said you were on your way to becoming one of the greatest mayor’s in city history. But the Times warned that your chances that status were reduced by one flaw, what the Times calls “obscene spending.” Now four years ago, you warned against obscene spending. How did you define obscene spending then and how do you define it now?

Bloomberg: Gabe, what I am trying to do is get my message out to everybody, every community, every single person, regardless of where they live. I’m doing it by buying time on television, radio, and in print. And I’m doing it by doing what I have for four years and that is trying to get to every neighborhood in this city. The fact of the matter is we’ve brought crime down. We’ve improved the schools. We have the best affordable housing plan going. I’ve got to tell people, what we would do, and why they should continue to support us.

Gabe Pressman: Are you saturating the airwaves with that message?

Bloomberg: I don’t know whether we will saturate them or not. We are going to find out on November 8. That’s what elections are all about.

Gabe Pressman: Mr. Ferrer, the fact that you are able to raise so little money, comparatively, does that indicate that you are just not getting wide spread support out there?

Ferrer: Well, you know, I can think of a hundred million reasons why New Yorkers are misinformed about Mike Bloomberg’s record. And that’s ok. It’s his money, he can spend it any way he wishes. But it doesn’t make it right. Now, he can buy all the TV ads, all the radio ads, all the print ads. I don’t think it’s right to avoid debate in this city. Elections are for holding contestants accountable. In fact, that is what debates are for. In 2001, Mike, you said that the public of this city was cheated by not having enough debates.

Gabe Pressman: You are debating right here now.

Ferrer: This is unfortunately the second and the final debate we will have. We should be having debates in every borough in this city. Mike, if you are proud of your record and if you are ready to defend it. And you don’t mind being held accountable, then debate me in every corner of this city. Come on, we’ve still got a week to do this.

Bloomberg: Having a debate about debates is not a good use of this time.


David Ushery: During the past ten days, Mr. Bloomberg, you have outlined a number of new proposals on housing and health care. And some observers have said they look a lot like Mr. Ferrer’s proposals. Do you think some of his ideas have merit and if not why do the proposals seem similar?

Bloomberg: He wants to build affordable housing and so do I. The difference is I have a way to do it with capital funds, he is going to have to do it with raising taxes. Look, what I have tried to do over the last months as this campaign has unfolded is tell people what I have done and what I would do if reelected. They have a right to know – what are your plans, how would they work, who do we hold accountable. How will we know that a promise made is a promise kept? And who is going to pay for it? Rather than just worrying about slogans and complaining and identifying problems, what I am trying to do is to lay out a clear plan that everybody can look at. Your vote is too precious to just waste. You should know who you are voting for. You should know what they have done in the past. And you should know what they are going to do in the future.

David Ushery: Your affordable housing plan had been out there for a while and then in the last week or so you expanded the number so they match Ferrer's, it would appear.

Bloomberg: What we did is that we had a plan to build 86,000 units of affordable housing funded by a variety of ways, not taxes. We are ahead of schedule on that plan, roughly 47,000 of the 86,000 either under construction or completed. We think we have a ways with private money, philanthropic money at the beginning and then private money, to double the size of that. I comes out to be roughly the same number.

David Ushery: Let me ask Mr. Ferrer conversely, if there is such perceived similarities, why should the voters change direction now?

Ferrer: Well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I am flattered. The simple fact is I've yet to meet a New York family who can live in a pipeline. Now the number keeps on growing as the election draws closer. Thank goodness for elections. But again, we are in the middle of a housing crisis in this city. And it requires resolve, a serious plan, and a plan that can be funded. I have put forward all three.


Melissa Russo: Mr. Ferrer, you have said that if you are elected, you would not cut the police department nor services for senior citizens. You have not ruled cuts however to the schools or the fire department. Now you have also promised to cut taxes, and as mayor you would have to close next year's $4.6 billion budget gap. What would you cut?

Ferrer: You mean the budget gap in Mike Bloomberg's next budget?

Melissa Russo: Correct. Unless you are convinced he is going to win reelection?

Ferrer:Well some people are, but I am not. It goes like this. There are important things we need to do to get this budget under control. And one of them is going to the governor, going to the legislature and finally getting serious about ending the fraud, waste, duplication, and abuse in the Medicaid program that cost the city and the taxpayers several billion dollars a year. And here is another way to do it. As I proposed the other day, going against the governor and the state legislature and saying look we have had enough of this. We had a commuter tax in this city; I want it reinstated. That will give us more than $500 million a year of dedicated revenue to not only to deal with that budget deficit, but pay down budget deficits going forward.

Melissa Russo: Mayor Bloomberg, you always talk about how more and more of city spending is mandatory. Things like pension costs and salaries that can't be cut. Your opponent is talking about getting revenue from elsewhere. You know being mayor for four years you have to make cuts. What would you cut?

Bloomberg: What we have done is cut about $4 billion out of the expense budget, either by finding ways to do more with less or by finding alternative funding sources. That is why the quality of services in this city has actually gone up over the last four years. What we have also done is try to get as much money out of the federal and state government. Remember, it was the Democratic led Assembly that ended the commuter tax. And we will not see that back, I think, for a long time. I have fought for it for four years. I will continue to fight for it. But the truth of the matter is that the votes from the suburbs are sufficient to keep the city from getting a commuter tax. What we have to do is be self-sufficient. The ways to do that is to grow the economy so our tax revenues come in. That's from having big projects, from getting jobs here.

Melissa Russo:What are you going to cut?

Bloomberg: I believe we can maintain services that we have now and improve the quality of them without cuts.

Ferrer: I'll answer that question.

Jorge Ramos: We have to go to another topic here.


Ferrer: Oh, I'm so sorry because this was so good, because I can't let New Yorkers labor under the misimpression that Mike Bloomberg fought for the restoration of the commuter tax for four years. That's not true.




Jorge Ramos: The thing is you have been criticizing each other for the last 50 minutes. Fernando Ferrer, what about Michael Bloomberg do you most admire?

Ferrer: Here is the one thing I do admire. Mike Bloomberg did not go down the path of exacerbating racial tensions in this city. And as a New Yorker, Mike, I thank you for that.

But at the same time, you didn't do much about the fact that there are two New York's. And by the way neither New York could afford you multi-billion dollar tax payer funded Jets Stadium.

Jorge Ramos: This is about admiration. This is about admiration for Michael Bloomberg.

Ferrer: I just expressed it.

Jorge Ramos: Mr. Bloomberg, what do you most admire about Fernando Ferrer?

Bloomberg: I think my opponent is a great family man. And I think he speaks Spanish better than I do. Pero estoy aprendiendo.

Jorge Ramos: Anything about his public service?

Bloomberg: Most of it took place before my time. But from what I have read he was in a position where he criticized the school system but he never took the opportunity to fix it. Every child that is in high school today was in elementary or middle school when he was in office.

Gabe Pressman: That is admiration mixed with other things. Jay DeDapper?


Jay DeDapper: Mr. Bloomberg, it was three weeks ago when you began pushing for a bigger role for the city at Ground Zero. There have been numerous reports over the years that you have had a tacit understanding with the governor that you would get the lead role on the West Side where the stadium was going to be developed and he would get the lead role at Ground Zero. First of all, is there such a deal, was there such a tacit understanding?

Bloomberg: Never discussed it. Never had the understanding. And we were part of what was done over the last four years downtown.

Jay DeDapper: But you have got to admit that the governor is the lead down there. The Port Authority is controlled by the governor and acting Governor Cody in New Jersey. The LMDC board is controlled by the governor.

Bloomberg: Jay, three years ago I tried to get the Port Authority out. I tried to swap the land for the city land under the airports for that site, for exactly that reason.

Jay DeDapper: But in the last three years, with the exception of that beginning time, a lot of people say, "where have you been for the last three years while you were doing the West Side and while the governor was doing press conferences at Ground Zero?"

Bloomberg: Jay, we were part of the process that picked the master site plan. We were part of the process that picked a design for a memorial. We are not trying to walk away from this at all. What I have said is that recently if you take a look at the marketplace downtown, it may be shifting. And for buildings that we have not yet started, buildings 3, 4, and 5, we should take another look at what the plan called for – not where they are – but what they would be used for. I'm not sure that we should change. But the marketplace is the following: 9,000 housing units have been built downtown, just since 9/11. If you go back and take a look at the need for commercial space, at the moment, there does not seem to be the need for 10 million square feet of office space down there.

Jay DeDapper: Mr. Ferrer, you have criticized him for being missing in action at Ground Zero, but we have not heard from you a defined detailed plan of what you would do differently at Ground Zero if you become mayor in January.

Ferrer: You heard in the last debate but let me be even more specific now. First of all, talking about 9,000 units of housing. Too many of them are multi-million condos, luxury rentals that we are giving them tax breaks for. That's nuts. We need affordable housing in this city. But let's talk very specifically about the hole that is Ground Zero. We need to replace office space and commercial space. Before all of that, we need to have a fitting memorial, not only to the nearly 3,000 New Yorkers who perished in that attack, but to the hundreds of emergency service workers, police officers, and firefighters who perished there.

Jay DeDapper: But that is underway. Fundraising is going on...

Ferrer:And we still haven't seen one brick piled on another. We've waited four years. That's wrong.


Gabe Pressman: Now to the one minute closing statements. Mr. Mayor, you are first.

Bloomberg: I came to this city with nothing but dreams and I have been very lucky. I was elected by the voters four years ago to run this city. It was a very difficult, tough time for this city. People were worried, people were scared. We pulled together. This is a city that I am proud to lead and proud to be part of. I think if we continue to do we what we are doing. Continue to make sure that every child gets a good education. If we continue the course of making sure that this city is safe, safe from criminals and safe from terrorism. If we keep building and getting investment to come here and jobs to come here, then the future for the city is something that we will all look back on and say, we stood the test. I want my children to look at me and say, “Daddy, you governed honestly. You governed fairly. You didn’t report to anybody but the public that you work for. When you had the opportunity to do what was right, even when it wasn’t popular, you stood up and did it.” And I think that is exactly what this city wants and will continue to want.

Gabe Pressman: Mr. Ferrer?

Ferrer: Mike Bloomberg says this city is going in the right direction. In some ways, that is true. But in too many other important ways, it isn’t. Look, I was brought up on a tough corner in the South Bronx. What brought me from that corner to this podium tonight, was crossing over a bridge of hope and opportunity. I am running for mayor for the millions of New Yorkers who are finding it increasingly difficult to walk over that same bridge I did. I am running for school kids and the education they deserve. After-school programs, ending overpopulation, overcrowding in their schools, ending the drop-out rate. Instead of teaching to a standardized test, teaching to the highest standards. I am working to lift up from poverty and unemployment New Yorkers who need a good job and that can be fueled by small businesses having access to capital and doing business with this city. Cutting the taxes of moderate- and middle-income homeowners being priced out of their homes. And providing a bold housing program to build affordable homes for everyday New Yorkers.

Gabe Pressman: Times up, Mr. Ferrer.

Ferrer: I’m asking for your vote next week. And if you vote for me, I’ll make you proud you did.











Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice

Gotham Gazette: New York Voters Approve $4.2 Billion Environmental Bond Act
New York Voters Approve $4.2 Billion Environmental Bond Act
Gotham Gazette: 
New York City Voters Approve Racial Justice Ballot Measures
New York City Voters Approve Racial Justice Ballot Measures
Gotham Gazette: Max Politics Podcast: A Winning Formula for Democrats in Tough New York Races
Max Politics Podcast: A Winning Formula for Democrats in Tough New York Races
Gotham Gazette: Max Politics Podcast Max Politics Podcast