THE OPEN MIND
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Congressman Herman Badillo
Title: Running for Mayor
What follows is an uncorrected transcript of an OPEN MIND television discussion between Democratic Congressman Herman Badillo and Richard D. Heffner. This episode of OPEN MIND will be televised on WPIX, Channel 11, at midnight on Sunday, June 26. It will be repeated at 1:00 p.m. on Monday, June 27. It was videotaped June 10.
Congressman Badillo is one of six Primary candidates for the Democratic nomination for Mayor of New York City. Mr. Heffner, the moderator/producer of OPEN MIND, is an author, historian and Professor of Communications and Public Policy at Rutgers University. OPEN MIND is a weekly one-hour discussion series that began on television 21 years ago.
All of the Democratic and Republican Primary candidates for Mayor of Our Town will appear on OPEN MIND before the Primary election in September.
I’m Richard Heffner. It’s been 21 years since I began THE OPEN MIND serving as its producer and moderator. In that time we’ve never before enjoyed the opportunity to explore at length the thoughts, the aspirations, the personal and the political assumptions of candidates for such a major American office as Mayor of New York. We do so now. For this is one of a series of special OPEN MIND programs. A series devoted to those who would be Mayor of our town. My guest for today is Congressman Herman Badillo.
Congressman Badillo, welcome to THE OPEN MIND. I’m glad you’ve joined us today for a program that I hope won’t be in the traditional pattern of…how did you react to this morning’s headlines? I’m reminded of seminars that I used to participate in at the Aspen Institute some years ago, and occasionally I’d begin by asking participants who they are. And you’re a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Mayor of New York, and I’d ask you in lieu of our viewers, in place of them, who are you? What are you? What way do you want to present yourself to the people of the City of New York?
BADILLO: Well, I’m a person who really is fundamentally interested in whatever I’ve been doing in the problems of the cities and the culture of the cities and the feel of the cities. I have been City Commissioner. I have been president of one county in the Bronx in New York City. I have been a member of Congress for six years. In Congress my specialty has been the urban problems of America, and I serve on a committee called The City which I think is fascinating because the city is the greatest domestic crisis, I think, that we have. And, we study the cities, we read about cities and we find that in some ways cities are obsolete in our modern society. At least they are obsolete in the United States. You see, the city was built for people to live and work together at a time when we didn’t have the automobile and when we didn’t have the telephone and the airplane. Before the program, you and I were talking about going back and forth to California on Tuesday and coming back on Wednesday. And I pointed out I go to Washington four or five times a week. We don’t need cities in our modern society anymore in the United States because with the means of communication and transportation, if I were the chief planner for the United States, I would plan a regional center for housing and another one for work and another one for culture and other matters. So we don’t need them. They’re not essential to our society. But the problem in the United States is that they are also undesirable primarily because of the black and white problem. In Europe cities are not essential either. But there they are desirable. And there they are treated like jewels. People want to live in London. If a piece of London or Paris or Rome is abandoned, it is rebuilt. Here if the buildings are abandoned in the South Bronx or in Williamsburg or East New York nobody builds anything. So that contrast between America and Europe is one of the things that interests me. And as someone who comes from the Caribbean. I was born in Puerto Rico, and I lived there until I was eleven years old. I have an attitude of the cities that is related to the Mediterranean concepts. And therefore, I’m running for Mayor because I am deeply concerned about this problem and I think that the opportunity to come up with some ideas on the urban problem is the most interesting thing that I could be doing, especially in the City of New York.
HEFFNER: Well, let me ask you this. You said the black and white situation makes cities or city living undesirable. Tell me more about that.
BADILLO: Well, if cities are not essential then the problem is that in our society we tend to reject that which is not essential. I find that the best way to find out what is undesirable in the society is to see where the poor go. In the old days when cities were important, and if you looked at New York City you’d find that the most expensive apartments were in the center of town: Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue. Because that was the desirable part. Now you find that the poor in America are going into the urban centers. The middle class is moving out to the suburban areas. That’s because the cities are not essential. And the problem in the United States is basically the problem of color. Those who are not white have a great deal of difficulty, and we who come from the Caribbean see this very clearly because Puerto Rican can be white or black or mixed or Indian. And we find that if you are Puerto Rican and you come here and you are white and you learn to speak English, you are treated like a white man. If you are black and you learn to speak English, you are treated like a black man, and that’s a big difference. If you are mixed, some people treat you as white and some people treat you as black. The Puerto Rican, therefore, understands some of the problems of this country in a way that those who were not born here do not. And we can see that some of the problems really have to do far more with race and color than those who were born here and who have lived in this society.
HEFFNER: You know, there’s a question that I’d like to ask you. I don’t want to make it too long and too convoluted. But it has to do really with the recent concern that many people have expressed about Ambassador Young’s discussions of black and white in the United States. And I wonder whether what you say relates positively to what I gathered was the sense of the dichotomization that he saw. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Is black and white, is it at that state in this country, in this city perhaps?
BADILLO: Well, look. It’s a dangerous subject to discuss especially for a politician because people are very nervous about it, and they don’t like to refer to it. But you’ve asked me a problem about the cities, and I have to give you my honest answer. I fell that the problems of the cities are very clearly related to the black/white problem, because the cities in Europe are thriving while the cities in the United States are dying. And the basic problem, as I see it, is that the cities are getting to be concentrations of black people and Hispanic people and that the rest of the society is living in the suburban areas. So, we are getting into a polarized society which is uniquely applicable to the Untied States. Having come from a Mediterranean background I don’t have that rigid attitude of separation between black and white that I find in the United States. And so therefore I am more aware of the subtleties of race and color than someone from here would have been.
HEFFNER: Do you think that Ambassador Young’s characterizations of races and his attribution of racist attitudes – however one wants to define that, and I don’t mean to box him in by any definition of mine – but do you agree with his approach to the problem that we have that there is something inherently racist in white attitudes? He picks out Swedish attitudes and British attitudes and American attitudes. Can you find yourself in sympathy with that approach?
BADILLO: Oh, yes. And I understand why he’s so sensitive about it, because he’s lived through it. I have known Andy, of course, since he was a member of Congress when we served together for at least a couple of years in the House of Representatives. And he has very, I would say, bitter experiences from the Civil Rights days that are part of his make-up. And so he is very sensitive to the question of color and to the polarization in the United States; and, therefore, it is logical that as he goes out to the rest of the world as U.N. Ambassador he would carry that particular sensitivity with him and be aware of look upon South Africa or Sweden whatever it might be, whatever country he might be in, from the point of view of the racial experience that he has had in the United States.
HEFFNER: Now you’re a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Mayor. You hope to preside over this major, major metropolitan area that is, as you’ve indicated, a center of black/white concern. What’s the resolution to the problem, or is there any? Are we condemned to the dichotomization, the polarization?
BADILLO: No, no. I think the resolution is apparent in countries and in societies like the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. Because in a sense we have those of us who are from Mediterranean or Caribbean background have more experience with this question. And we don’t throw a line between whites and blacks in Puerto Rico. We don’t ask anyone to identify himself by race. And so we, by recognizing that there are people who are white, and people who are black and people who are mixed, we tend to soften the impact on the racial question. And there are countries throughout the world where that polarization between white and black does not exist. And I think that that is one of the major contributions that I can make. Because I have that feeling that you don’t have to draw that sharp line that you can be more relaxed about the racial issue and so does the Latin community. In that sense the Latins, because they are not polarized as white and black, can serve as a bridge between the white community and the black community. For example, if you ask any Puerto Rican what he is he won’t say he’s white or he’s black though he might be. He’ll say he’s Puerto Rican. Now that already changes the situation you see. I would rather have New Yorkers say that they are New Yorkers, not that they are whites or blacks. But you find in New York if you go to someone who is white, you ask him what he is he’ll say he’s white; go to a black, he’ll say he’s black. A Puerto Rican well say he’s Puerto Rican. That’s one of the reasons why I was really one f those who started the idea of saying whites, blacks, and Puerto Ricans. Not because Puerto Ricans re a special race, but because I felt that if the Puerto Rican community begins to divide itself into white and black won’t help the Puerto Ricans. But by saying Puerto Ricans we then try to indicate that you don’t have to make a choice between one and the other and then serve as a bridge between the two groups.
HEFFNER: What indication is there at all, and I’m not questioning whether there is other than to make it a point-blank question. I’m not raising my eyebrow. What indication is there that you can use the Puerto Rican community as that kind of bridge between black and white?
BADILLO: Well, if you look at New York City you find that there are many areas of the city where Puerto Ricans have moved into different neighborhoods and then they have been followed by blacks. I used to be Commissioner of Housing Relocation in New York City for four years. My job was to move people who had to be relocated when there was a school being built or an urban renewal project. And I found that there were many neighborhoods where blacks did not live and were not allowed to live, and the Puerto Ricans might move in first and then the blacks moved in and it softened the impact and it was more possible to begin to have an integrated neighborhood. That’s one indication. The fact that I ran for office before – this is not the first time I’ve run for Mayor – I ran for Mayor in ’69 and ’73. I came in second to Beame, and some people say I was the luckiest guy in town by coming in second to Beame because of the financial disaster in New York City. But I carried overwhelmingly the black community and I carried many areas of the white community. I spoke then as I’m speaking now about the need for all of the people of New York City to work together and about the need not to be polarized in to one group or another. It’s not an easy message to get across. But it’s a message that I think must be delivered. And it’s a message that if you keep at it, can be understood.
HEFFNER: You know I came this morning from my son’s high school graduation and heard a lovely, lovely young woman give an address, a student, a graduating student. She’s black, and she talked about her experience coming to a private school out of a public school. She talked about the importance to her and her adjustment, what she called her transition, the importance of the black and Latin American club or group in that school. And it seemed to me that she was saying the opposite of what you’re saying. It seemed to me that she was saying that here we were able to be together, the blacks and the Latins, and we were together in a way that enabled me to finally make my adjustment or transition into an essentially white society.
BADILLO: That’s just what I said now. I said to you we take a neighborhood and we have Latins moving in and then the blacks and that helps them move to bring about a coalition of the three groups.
HEFFNER: Doesn’t it dichotomize it even more? Whites versus blacks and Hispanics?
BADILLO: No, you see the fact is we really draw very sharp lines in this country that we don’t understand in Puerto Rico. I could never understand how anybody called Adam Clayton Powell…but, I don’t know if you’ve met him, but I’ve met him many times…
HEFFNER: Yes, indeed.
BADILLO: He was, as far as I could see, he was German. He was white. In Puerto Rico we would not call him black. And there are many people in this country who are called black because they may have one little bit of black blood and then they became polarized to one extreme. We just don’t have that tradition. We don’t draw those fine and sharp and bitter lines. And, therefore, we do have the confidence. And it’s not just in theory; it’s an experience. We know that these lines need not be drawn. We know that it is possible for different people from different shades and colors to be part of their society. And I really believe fundamentally we resolve this if we are going to be able to rebuild our cities. Because you cannot have a society where you have one part of the society, black, living in one section of the country and another part of the society, white, living in another section of the country. That’s not a society. We can only have one society in this country, and we’re only going to be able to do it if we can get the groups to begin to live together. And that, I think, has got to be in the cities because I don’t see that massive movement into the suburbs by the blacks and the poor. And, therefore, I think that this is where the solution is going to be found. It’s going to be found in an urban center such as New York which has so many other factors which make it exciting and interesting. And it’s going to be found in an area where there’s a group that can help avoid the polarization and that is why the Hispanics can make an important contribution.
HEFFNER: You talk about your own life experience. And it’s been clear to you that this is the way that human beings can and should live together. But we haven’t in the continental United States. We haven’t in this mainland. I wonder why you make the assumption or how yo make the assumption that you can help lead us to living in that way.
BADILLO: Well, because I’ve seen it happen.
HEFFNER: But not here.
BADILLO: Of course not. But there was slavery, for example, in Puerto Rico. But you did not have any civil war there, you see. As a matter of fact, the people of Puerto Rico abolished slavery as a petition of the people of Puerto Rico to Spain. It was done by petition from the people. So there’s a different tradition. That’s why it is easier to accomplish in Puerto Rico. But having not gone through the polarization, we can see that the same thing is going to happen in this country. The only question is how long is it going to take?
HEFFNER: Well, I won’t push this further. I just find it not just passing strange, but passing happy that you should be that optimistic. That what needs to be done can be done. Because basically that’s what you’re saying. It needs to be done; it has to be done. Therefore, it will be done.
BADILLO: Well, because of the fact that it is now affecting the very existence of the cities.
HEFFNER: In terms of crime?
BADILLO: In terms of the very existence. I mean there is such a thing as a city dying. In Newark, for example. I know when we were fighting in Washington. You remember when we had the big crisis when we couldn’t meet the payroll on a Friday in New York City, and we were trying to get a loan for New York City and all of us in the New York delegation, whites and blacks and me as the one Hispanic, were united for once to get help for New York City. One of my colleagues from Baltimore says, Badillo, I don’t know what you’re getting so excited about. So New York City is dying. So what. In Baltimore we died three years ago, and nobody cared. And I said, yeah, but that’s Baltimore. New York is not going to die because we’re all going to care and we’re going to get in and fight regardless of what President Ford may say whether we should drop dead or not. And we fought, and we put up a good fight. And we didn’t get everything, but we got at least a loan to carry us through. And this year in the congress we have been fighting the formulas that discriminate against the urban centers. And we’re being successful in getting additional funds for housing for the cities, for counter-cyclical funds so we can build public works, sewers and streets and libraries, for manpower training programs. So we have stimulated a new spirit to fight back in the urban centers. And this whole concept of Committee of Urban Affairs…You know, when I went to Congress I found there never was a committee on Urban Affairs. The farmers had a Committee on Agriculture where all of the problems of the farmer, whether it would be subsidies for the farmer or college education for their kids through the agriculture college or anything that pertained to the farmers, would go to the Committee on Agriculture. We couldn’t do that in the cities. If we had a concern about education, we had to go to education and labor. If we had a concern about health, we had to go to another committee. If we had a concern about transportation, it was another committee. If it was a concern about housing, it was the Housing Committee. I proposed the establishment of the Committee on Urban Affairs. Now we have, and I’m the only New Yorker who serves on the Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs, this year for the first time we set up the committee called The City, where we have jurisdiction to analyze all of the urban problems; The problems of race that we were talking about; The problems of economic development, the problems of transportation, the problem of culture; Everything that has to do with the city. So it’s no great victory. I won’t say we won, but in the short time I’ve been in Congress I see a greater movement to pay attention to this massive domestic problem. For that reason, I think we can move ahead. We may not accomplish it quickly, but there are positive steps.
HEFFNER: Well, you know a few moments ago you talked about, you smiled when you said that the last time around perhaps it was a good thing you came in second in the primary. And I, in reading I guess it was the New Yorker talking about quoting you, this is 1973, you had said I’m making my last try for Mayor this year. Next time around you may not even get an intelligent man to run for Mayor. Why should he? Basically he’ll be just a receiver in bankruptcy. Now this is quite prescient.
BADILLO: Exactly. I was very exact because, you see, I understand budgets because among other things I’m a certified public accountant. And I know that the City of New York was going bankrupt. What I meant then was what I just said; that there come s a time when the city, if it loses enough middle class people and becomes too…has too high a proportion of poor people, simply cannot provide for its operating budget. The poor people cannot pay taxes because they don’t make enough money. On the other hand they require more city services for police, welfare, everything else. So then you end up with not just a ghetto, a slum area, you end up with a whole destroyed city. And that was what I was warning about. And I was talking in that fashion because it was trying to alert people that we were facing a massive crisis. Mr. Beame, my opponent, was saying there was no problem. He also happens to be a certified public accountant. He was saying, I looked at the books, I know the buck, there’s nothing wrong. And don’t worry; I’ll take care of balancing the books. He was one hundred percent wrong. And the disaster that I predicted almost came about and would have come about if it had not been for what we did in Congress. We’re the ones who are keeping New York City now from bankruptcy because of that loan that we got for New York City. It’s only an interim solution. But in fact, the problem is that the crisis continues. We have got to more directly come up with solutions to the urban problem, otherwise all of our cities are going to be facing exactly what New York City has been going through. They cannot balance the budget, they cannot provide essential services – not luxuries – essential services. Now at one point years ago Mayor Addonizio from Newark got on television and announced that they were closing libraries in Newark. And people said look at that fellow, how absolutely uncivilized. How does anyone who is sophisticated close down libraries in the city. And three years later John Lindsay, who was certainly sophisticated and civilized gets on television and he announces that he’s closing down libraries. And this is how we can measure the progress. I generally knew from what is happening in Newark what’s going to happen in New York. That’s why I can predict when the prices go up because it usually takes place three years later. And we are in a situation now where it’s not even a question of closing libraries. We’ve done that already. Now it’s a question of firing police and teachers and sanitation men. And that is about the last stages for being able to provide for a civilized atmosphere.
HEFFNER: Congressman Badillo, will you open libraries, hire police, firemen, etc.?
BADILLO: We can’t do it unless we can begin to restore the economic basis of the city. We don’t have that now. I am running for Mayor because now what I’m warning about is not the disaster that is taking place. What I’m warning about now is that the policies that are being followed by Mayor Beame and Governor Carey will lead to a greater disaster in the next four years. The policy of having, borrowing money at a consistently higher interest rate where now over twenty percent of the budget of New York City is being used for mortgage and interest payments is something that the City cannot continue to afford to do. The policies of refusing to build in the slum areas, the so-called planned-shrinkage theory which you may have heard of that says we don’t build in the slums. As if somehow the poor will mysteriously disappear. Well if you don’t build in the slums, all that happens is the poor people not having any place to live then move into the middle class areas. The middle class people having mobility because they are predominantly white then move out of the city. And then you end up with higher proportion of poor people in the city. If you want to maintain the middle class in the city, what you have to do is to build in the slums. And that’s what I propose to do. Not the high-rise, low-rent housing that we’re accustomed to. But three-story, brownstone-type housing because if and when I look at Washington, D.C., and Bedford-Stuyvesant and other cities throughout the country that brownstone-type housing is the one that generally seems to be maintained fairly well and with a sense of community wherever it has been built. Whereas high-rise public housing doesn’t last. Well, none of my counter theories to the planned-shrinkage theory is to build the slum areas in order that we can stabilize the middle class. If Mayor Beame or the people who support him or the people who support Governor Carey get elected to office, they will continue the planned-shrinkage theory, in which case we will become more of a poor city and less able to provide for liveries and the other services in the next four years.
HEFFNER: If that’s true, if you feel that strongly about a Beame candidacy or I gather a Cuomo candidacy, does that mean that you would not support either one if either one won the democratic primary?
BADILLO: It doesn’t…we went through this last time and when Beame won the Democratic primary that was the whole campaign. That happens to be the reality in New York City. As a matter of fact there were in my district, for example, my Congressional district, more people voted in the Democratic primary than voted in the general election. Because this is what counts. I mean it doesn’t matter whether you support or you don’t support. The winner of the Democratic primary is the next Mayor. And I hope everybody understands this. You know, it’s just playing games to say I will support the winner or I won’t support the winner. In this kind of situation the Democratic primary is the campaign.
HEFFNER: Yes, but it’s not playing games in terms of taking measure of the candidates in the primary. People are watching you, hearing what you have to say, taking your measure, trying to understand what kind of man you are as they will of the other candidates. And isn’t it fair to ask the question of whether it is meaningful in terms of the numbers who vote or who will get the nod in November? The question, it seems to me, is legitimate. What will you do? What will your attitude be after the primary election?
BADILLO: Well, I haven’t worked with Mayor Beame in the past four years. There’s no reason I should work with him in the next four if he gets elected. Everybody knows that we’ve opposed each other consistently on philosophical grounds. He’s been the Mayor, and I’ve been the Congressman. And I fought for New York City and put money into the city, but I completely disagree with the manner in which he allocates the funds that we have for the city. I disagree, for example, with the…I think that the most fatal decision to New York City has been imposing tuition in the city university. Because if you do that then you are closing the doors of opportunity to the poor and the middle class people who simply cannot afford to go to college. And Beame should certainly have known that because he was a graduate of the city college as I was. The amount of money saved in infinitesimal. The closing of doors of opportunity is immense. And I would reverse that. And frankly I don’t see any possibility that Mr. Beame is going to be any more understanding about the problems of the city and that he’s going to be any less of a disastrous Mayor in the next four years than he’s been in the last four.
HEFFNER: Well, that’s really what motivates me in pressing this question. I respect what you have to say, and we’re not trying to make a headline. Badillo says so-and-so and boxes himself in. I wonder as a voter, I’ll vote in this primary and I’ll vote in November, and I wonder as I talked to the candidates in the primary what their attitudes are to their party and therefore what it is they would do in the election themselves. And I infer from what you say that perhaps you will not support the Democratic candidate in November if he were Mayor Beame.
BADILLO: No, I haven’t supported him, I told you, in the past four years; and I wouldn’t support him in the next four years or whatever time he might be in office.
HEFFNER: Is he the only one you would feel that way about among your primary opponents?
BADILLO: I don’t know. I’d have to see what some of the policies are. But I’m talking now about working together in the specific programs that have been developed. Here we have very clear experience.
HEFFNER: You seem to be taking on Governor Carey, too.
BADILLO: Yeah. The reality is that it’s the Emergency Financial Control Board which has, because Mayor Beame has allowed them to primarily, dictated basic policy in city government. They have not been just looking over the books as they are supposed to. They have mandated certain basic courses of action which I have opposed, and still oppose. For example, they are responsible for increasing the subway fare. They are responsible for abolishing free tuition in the city university. They are responsible for the attempts to close the municipal hospitals. And they are not planning…governor Carey has just announced in the past couple of weeks that he is planning to move toward the abolition of rent control. Those are all policies which I know were policies that were being projected by the Emergency Financial Control. I know for a very simple reason because I read the Wall Street Journal. You want to know what they’re going to do? Pick up the editorials in the Wall Street Journal and they’ll tell you. So, I know when I read the Wall Street Journal that some months later it’s going to come up at a casual meeting of the Emergency Financial Control Board. And sure enough it does, and those policies of the essentially business community are really bad policies for the city. They will if continued, again, lead to a situation where the city will become much more of a poorer and poorer city. The increase in the subway fare, for example, as was predicted by me and others did not result in additional income coming into the subways, it resulted in a greater deficit. And we’ve seen this happen when the subway went…from the time the subway went from five cents it’s at now. Each time. And so those policies, really, we should have learned do not make sense.
HEFFNER: (Inaudible)…Can you explain this? If you feel that our economic policies have been chasing the economic well-being or the potential for economic well-being away from our own doorstep, how can you lay those policies at the doorstep at the very community that must be concerned with the economic reconstruction of our town, the business community, the Wall Street community if you will?
BADILLO: Because they’re wrong. They’re just plain wrong. And this is not guesswork as the same way that what you quoted from four years ago was not guesswork. I’ll give you a very ideal example. Ten years ago, 1967, I was then president of the Bronx. I was the only public official who voted against the World Trade Center, those two huge towers, those two white elephants that are not only good for climbing up and down or walking in between but that cannot be rented to anybody. I said then that if those towers were built, and by the way, David Rockefeller, all of the Wall Street community came down to testify before us on the Board of Estimate. All of labor came to testify. The economists, all the geniuses in the country said that if the two towers were built New York would become an international center. I said that if they were built they would be twenty-five million vacant feet of office space in New York City. And they said, a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, what does he know? Turned out that I was right. Now we have twenty-five million vacant square feet of office space. And it’s because of my understanding that cities are basically obsolete in our society that people are not just going to come in rushing into the cities just because you built taller and taller buildings and more and more offices and you have to do more. And it’s also because…now you see this is exactly the case. Everybody in Wall Street was wrong. David Rockefeller was wrong. The labor unions were wrong. These geniuses are not very bright. They have been consistently wrong. They have been consistently wrong on America. They have destroyed the cities. We’ve got to stop listening to people who have been wrong. They have lost themselves, by the way, millions of dollars. I won’t say that only the poor have suffered. They have suffered and some of them are in danger of bankruptcy. The banks are now in danger of indictment because they try to dump some New York City bonds and maybe the FCC will catch up to them before September. But they have been wrong. They are not geniuses. It is not true that because people who are Wall Street top executives say so that it is right. I submit the record over the past fifteen years has been full of mistake after disastrous mistake. Now one of the criteria, by the way, that I use because again, this is no great secret, is that I will not build anything in New York City where private enterprise would come to me with experts and statisticians telling me that it should be built because we’re going to be a world center, or a universal center or anything else unless private enterprise would agree to do their share. See, the problem with the World Trade Center is that they were built by the Port of New York Authority. Sure, Rockefeller was willing to speak for it and the labor unions. It wasn’t their money. It was coming out of us, out of the money that’s collected for the bridge and tunnel tolls. So, therefore, you can always get the bankers and the stockbrokers who sell the bondholders, you know, they sell the bond to the Port Authority. They will support a stairway to the sky because they collect interest rates. The unions don’t care. As long as they’re working, they don’t care what they’re building. So therefore what may appear to be a universal consensus of labor and industry and business and the stock market is really a conspiracy of people who are going to make something for themselves but really bring nothing to the city. That’s where judgment of the public officials comes in. That what appears to be universal agreement is really that. And that’s difficult to distinguish. What is right from what is merely agreed upon. And everybody who is running for office has to devise some criteria for making the right judgment. Mine is that I would only build something if private enterprise wants to go in as partners with the public. For example, this is crucial to a major issue in this campaign. The Convention Center. The same geniuses, the same labor unions, the same fellows with the ribbons of medals from colleges and string of degrees are saying we must have a convention center in New York City. It will provide hundreds of thousands of jobs. Solve the financial crises. Put us on the Cover of Time and Newsweek and every other magazine throughout the world. But the problem is that they are asking the city of New York to pay for it one hundred percent. And if I’m the Mayor, I’d say, “Look fellows…You really believe that this is going to happen. And you think that we’re going to fill up every hotel and we’re going to get every convention throughout the world to come to New York. Then why don’t we join together. Let’s both go to the bank. Fifty-fifty. You put up fifty percent, the city will put up fifty percent and we’ll go to the bank and see if the bank is willing to give us a mortgage. See what Mr. Rockefeller says. If Mr. Rockefeller agrees to give us the mortgage, you want to go in fifty percent, then we’ll build it.” Because then I will know that’s it’s real. That the private enterprise really believes it, and then I will know that we’re not going to have cost overruns. Now what the other problem is…people tell someone like Lindsay, let’s repair Yankee Stadium, it’s only twenty-four million dollars. Sounds good. We end up with two hundred million dollars. Beame is now talking of a convention center of one hundred seventy-one million dollars. It’s going to be one billion seven-hundred and ten million dollars. Because nobody cares about the overrun in costs when the public is paying for it. When private enterprise is paying for it, they care. So this is the philosophy that I have about the city. If it’s going to be a real city, it can’t be paid for with public funds. Private enterprise has to be willing to take a rise, too.
HEFFNER: You know, it sounds like a Populist platform. That’s what it sounds like. It sounds…
BADILLO: I’m talking about experience in the past ten years. Again, I was called a radical. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I lost last time, because I was talking about bankruptcy. And they said: “He’s a radical. He did all these things. He voted against the World Trade Center.” I’ve been against Battery Park city. I talked about bankruptcy. People thought I was far out. Now I think people are beginning to think I was far ahead. But I was not wrong. And it is a prediction of reality. Of a fiscal reality and it’s a prediction of what is required in order to have a city survive. You don’t just provide offices by building office buildings. If you do that, you find you have empty buildings. You have to have an understanding of what makes for a city if you’re going to rebuild a city. My interest is in rebuilding New York City. And the person who is in charge of that should be someone who understands what makes a city. So it’s not just a Populist theme, it’s a philosophy of urban life in the United States.
HEFFNER: Well, I’m impressed with a little bit before when you said there’s a difference between something being right and something agreed upon. You think it’s possible to be right in this city and not be agreed upon by the very forces, the very substructures of this city banking, business, etc.?
BADILLO: Sure. Again, that’s a question of judgment. As I had mentioned to you, labor unions have said they want work for their workers. They don’t care. They’ll build a stairway to the sky, but they would like to build something useful. They don’t like to build 210-story towers that nobody then uses. All they want to do is to be kept busy. Their function is to provide work for their members. The function of the public official who referees in this thing is to see to it that they build something useful. The banks want to spend the money that they have, and they want to spend it in bonds that are secure. They don’t want to spend it on white elephants. So that is you have a project that is meaningful and that then generates jobs, they’re not going to complain about it. The same thing with the builders. So that there’s nothing inconsistent in having agreement upon a cause that is right. The only point that I made is that the history of the people who have been running the city for the past decade are the people who have been wrong. They’ve been able to get agreement but they have misjudged the fact of agreement with the validity of what they were trying to build, and that’s a fundamental error. And many people say, “Well, how can you think that you are right when everybody else says you’re wrong?” And I say, I’m not using an opinion. I’m telling you. Wait five years. Wait ten years. You’ll see. So we see now that the fact that these different interests were together doesn’t mean that they were right. They you need an additional factor which is judgment about what is right. And so we have to use different standards. We can no longer say…and because Wall Street says it is so that they are right. That’s why we have to review the performance of the emergency Financial Control Board. Because the Wall Street Journal says this is so does not mean it is so. Because the Wall Street community and the bankers and the labor unions say it is so does not mean it is so because they have been wrong. Therefore we have to introduce that additional factor if we’re going to begin to make right judgments in the years to come.
HEFFNER: What about the areas in which people in our town seem to be asking for more and more perhaps a return to what has been cut away in terms of the police force, in terms of the fire department, in terms perhaps, of welfare? How can we reconcile your rather realistic, tough-minded approach to the demand, seeming demand, on the part of more and more for more and more?
BADILLO: Well, we have to stop the erosion of city services. You know, we’ve lost 65 thousand city employees in the past three years.
HEFFNER: How do you stop it?
BADILLO: Well, I’ll tell you what happened, exactly. If you read the newspapers you might think that there are being budget cuts. I mean you’ve heard that phrase. Beame cuts the budget, right? They fire so many people from the city university and cut the budget. But if you look at the budget you find the budget hasn’t been cut one penny. In fact, you find the budget increased by well over a billion dollars since the crises began. So what happened? We lost the city employees. Where did the money go if the budge was not cut? The money went for debt service, for mortgage and interest payments. All that has happened is that the budget has been rearranged. We have taken the salaries and services of policemen, firemen, teachers, sanitation men, and others and we have given them for debt payments…(inaudible)
HEFFNER: What would you do?
BADILLO: I would stop that increase in interest rates. See, for example that last bond issue at Felix Rohaytin negotiator. Six percent notes were exchanged for 9 ¾% bonds. That’s an over 50% increase in interest. Well, somebody has to pay that increase in interest. That is where the policeman, the teacher, the sanitation man gets fired to pay that interest. We have to stop paying those inflated rates of interest which really go far beyond what the state pays. Now here the Governor is sitting as Chairman of the Emergency Financial control board. He’s supposed to be looking after our interests. The city is the ward of the state. So what does this great father figure do to us? The state of New York is only paying four and a quarter percent interest. We’re paying 9.75% interest. That is not taking care of your child. And therefore, what is happening is that this position is being used to ease up the pressure on the state and increase that on the city. This is the understanding that has to be perceived by everyone so that so that we no longer agree and I will not as Mayor agrees with Mr. Rohaytin and Mr. Carey to an exchange process where the bondholders and noteholders got a 50% increase in interest.
HEFFNER: Now, you know historically, traditionally, always, candidates speak this way about those who are in power at the moment.
BADILLO: Well, not, but I haven’t done it. You must understand. I’m not a candidate. I’m a congressman. And I have been in office. And I’m not talking about things that I would do. I have not supported these programs in the past. I have consistently been against these programs. I have predicted that these programs would result in greater interest costs, for example. So, it’s an experience because I sit as an observer on the Emergency Financial Control Board. And I have warned that these exchanges would increase the interest cost and would result in layoffs without a cut in the budget. I warned that nearly three years ago. We not find that this is what has happened.
HEFFNER: Well, now we have two choices. We can assume that this was designed and desired by those who made these decisions in the first place or we can say that it was a trade-off, and they saw no other way in which to move. Which interpretation…?
BADILLO: Well, this was desired because as I said to you, the Wall Street Journal indicated that this is what was going to happen. If you read the Wall Street Journal they will tell you. And they say very clearly we have to get rid of rent control. Now it is not that the Governor suddenly desired that there should be a study of rent control. And he thought that this is something that we should have the best brains in the world to concentrate on. All of a sudden we pick up the paper and the Governor suddenly decided there should be a study on rent control. The concept of a means test for tenants, no thought of a means test for landlords, just for tenants. He just happened to get up and while he was shaving thought of that. Nobody is going to convince me that this was the only way. Nobody has proposed it other than the Wall Street Journal and the people who are in that community. So when it happens and it comes out of the clear blue in that fashion, then I know from whence it comes.
HEFFNER: Then, presumably you’re making the assumption that you would or could or in the other order, could and would as Mayor be able to restore those services, be able to change the budget figures around in such a way that we had more for services and less for interest.
BADILLO: No. You have to be able to oppose the existing trend. You see these things…the way it happens is not that you restore the services. You have to draw a halt to the process, whereby the Emergency Financial Control Board is in fact, the Mayor of New York. They are making policy. The Mayor of New York right now is just taking orders. That’s what Abe Beame is doing.
HEFFNER: Why are you running for Mayor, then?
BADILLO: Because I think the Mayor of New York is an important function. And I would not, I would not passively sit by as I see Mr. Beame doing week after week in the meetings of the Emergency Financial Control Board. Having individuals ask him about closing this hospital or about increasing tuition and say, “Look fellow, I was elected by the people of the city. I alone have the power to make that decision, not you. You only have the power to see to it that the figures I give you are accurate figures; that I’m presenting a properly balanced budget. You do not have the power to decide how many policemen or firemen or teachers or students there should be at the city university”.
HEFFNER: But if there are fewer students and there are fewer firemen and there are fewer policemen, in order to pay a higher interest rate…
BADILLO: (inaudible)…this is continuing. You see, we have a bond issue coming up in another month. We have another coming up in another year. And this is a pattern which I have said will continue indefinitely unless it is changes.
HEFFNER: OK. I understand that. That question that I ask you is where you would get the money, where you would get the power to say the interest rates will stay at a certain level and will sell those bonds.
BADILLO: Well, the Mayor has agreed to this. All the Mayor has to do is a very simple English word. You say “no”.
HEFFNER: And then, how do you sell the bonds?
BADILLO: You don’t sell the bonds. The banks are not giving us any money now. You see this is what another misconception…aside from budget cuts. People think we have to do this because if we don’t do it bankers won’t give us money. Banks have not given New York City five cents since April of 1975. The only reason New York City has been able to survive is because of the unions lending money to the city out of the pension funds. Not the banks. And because of the Federal Government providing a $2.3 billion loan. I would move, and I am moving in Congress, to extend that seasonal loan program so that we can continue to have the guarantee of assurance of stability from the Federal Government that we have been having. And I’m sure we will. That’s no problem. Under those circumstances we can say “no” to the banks because they’re not doing anything for us anyway.
HEFFNER: But you say the budget is increasing, not decreasing.
BADILLO: The budget is increasing…
HEFFNER: And you’re saying that those increases go not to services.
BADILLO: Yes, because of the exchange procedure. We’re exchanging notes of 6% for 9.75% and there’s a plan afoot to take all of these old debts and exchange them for new debts at a higher rate of interest. The worst that will happen is that the banks won’t give us money. But they’re not giving us money now, I say. And it’s the truth. Therefore, the worst is here. Therefore, there is no need to make a concession to someone who has not conceded.
HEFFNER: All right. Now let me ask you this question. Why is the concession being made now?
BADILLO: The concession is being made now because the people who are running the Emergency Financial Control Board, four of them include people…Felix Rohaytin works in Wall Street. The other people are appointed from private enterprise. And the Mayor is going along. I would not.
HEFFNER: You really feel you’d have an option?
BADILLO: Absolutely. Because we’re not getting one cent now.
HEFFNER: What would your game plan be? You’d not go along. What would happen next? Without that trade-off where would we be? What would be the next step?
BADILLO: We would be where we are now. We are now getting help from the Federal Government. We are now getting help from the unions. That’s where we are now. That’s where we have been. And we would then be in a position if we can stabilize the city services we can then begin to plan so that when we get additional programs when we put in additional…when we have programs to provide additional jobs in the city. For example, building for industries like the flower industry in Manhattan. Building a plant for them, let us say on a pier on the East Side so that they stay in the city. Developing an economic program so we can attract new businesses for the city. We would be in a position where the income that would be received from those programs would be available for additional services, not for the interest payments. So then we would be in a position to rebuild. If you do not stabilize the situation so that you know that whatever additional resources you can bring whether from private enterprise or the Federal Government or the state will be available for new services you will continue to have a deterioration of the city.
HEFFNER: Congressman Badillo, like many other voters and citizens in New York, I suppose the question in my mind is: “But what are we going to do tonight?” And the question really comes down to, what happens to services, what happens to police, what happens to protection, what happens to any of the number of services that we have become increasingly accustomed to if you become Mayor?
BADILLO: Well, the first thing you have to do tonight is replace the existing administration…
HEFFNER: OK. Next…
BADILLO: Because we know what’s going to happen under that, see…a continual deterioration of services…
HEFFNER: But with Badillo as Mayor, what?
BADILLO: With Badillo as Mayor I would move to stabilize the city services, which is the first step.
HEFFNER: What do you mean by stabilize?
BADILLO: Well, I would move to stabilize the city services by not agreeing to fire any more city employees in order to use those monies.
HEFFNER: What about vacancies as they occur in the police department? Do you fill them or do you let them stay vacant?
BADILLO: No, you have to fill them. You see, one of the problems is that they have been…the method that has been used for firing people has been what is known as attrition. Which means that in effect you get rid of your most valuable employees because when someone gets to be 55 in many areas, they are at the height of their experience and ability to make a contribution. If you get rid of those employees at age 55 or in the case of a policeman it could be at age 40, 42, because they retire after 20 years. You are then adding to the pension cost first of all, because they retire at a top salary; you are also losing experienced people.
HEFFNER: What would you do about it?
BADILLO: I would change that process. I would not…I would abolish the policy of retiring people by attrition because that is the policy that is most…results in a greater loss of experienced people and also results in a greater cost to the city.
HEFFNER: Would you change…could you and would you change the provisions for retirement?
BADILLO: Yes…if…well, no. You see, these people are not being fired because they want to. They are being, in effect, forced to leave. So it’s not a question of changing. Just don’t force them to leave. If you have to save money, I would look at functional programs. For example, the affiliation contracts in the city hospitals. Those…there are areas there where cuts can be made which do not affect city employees. I would rather abolish the affiliation contracts than fire policemen. In other words that is more of a functional program than saying we’re going to have a 5% cut for every city agency which is what we’re doing now. You are wiser to look at functional cuts that have less of an impact on city services than on a straight, across-the-board cut at the level of the highest paid employee through attrition.
HEFFNER: Are you satisfied as a CPA, as an expert, as someone who knows city government very well that that approach can save enough to stabilize the situation as you suggest?
BADILLO: Yes, yes. Absolutely.
HEFFNER: To restore services?
BADILLO: Yes, yes, yes. I think the functional approach is much more effective, sounder, and a very durable approach to the problem.
HEFFNER: At one minute left, I know the end of the first year of the Badillo Administration…will we have more policemen, more firemen, more social services?
BADILLO: I think we’d have a much different spirit in New York City than we do. And I think we would have much more stability not only in city services, but in the erosion of people from the city. Because one of the other problems is we have a hundred thousand middle class people leaving the city every year. That also makes it difficult to provide city services. If we can maintain stability in the city, we don’t have erosion of people we are less likely to have erosion of services. And I think that I could stop that erosion in both cases, people and services.
HEFFNER: I was going to start off the program and now I end it with the question which I can answer myself now, do you really want to be Mayor of the City of New York, and the answer is obviously very much, “yes”. Thank you very much for joining me today, Congressman Herman Badillo, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Mayor for the City of New York and thanks too, to you in the audience. I hope that you’ll watch this special OPEN MIND series again next week when we’ll bring you another of those prominent Americans who would be Mayor of our town. This is Richard Heffner. Thanks, and good-bye.