CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER CALLS FOR REFORM

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson joins us with reaction to the abrupt resignation of MTA Chairman Joe Lhota. He also addresses pandemonium at the polls on election day and issues a call for the director of the Board of Elections to step down.

Aired on November 12, 2018.

TRANSCRIPT

GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

TWO OF NEW YORK'S MOST POWERFUL LEGISLATORS ARE DEMANDING A COMPLETE OVERHAUL OF THE CITY'S ELECTION SYSTEM.

IN A DAMNING OPINION PIECE IN THE NEW YORK POST, NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER COREY JOHNSON AND MAYOR BILL De BLASIO ARE CALLING FOR EXTENSIVE REFORMS AFTER BROKEN MACHINES, A SHORTAGE OF VOTING BOOTHS, AND HOURS-LONG LINES LED TO HUNDREDS OF COMPLAINTS POURING INTO THE STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE.

SPEAKER COREY JOHNSON WENT ONE STEP FURTHER IN HIS DEMANDS, STATING THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE BOARD OF ELECTIONS WHO OVER SEES THE VOTE SHOULD RESIGN IMMEDIATELY.

SO, I'M PLEASED TO WELCOME SPEAKER COREY JOHNSON BACK TO THE PROGRAM.

COREY, IT'S SO GREAT TO HAVE YOU HERE.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

ALL RIGHT.

SO, I THINK ELECTION DAY WAS SUMMED UP IN A REALLY GREAT NEW YORKER CARTOON WHERE WE SEE A BUNCH OF PEOPLE STANDING AROUND AND ONE SAID, MY GOD, CAN THE MTA GET ANY WORSE?

AND THE OTHER PERSON SAID, THIS IS A POLLING PLACE.

[ LAUGHTER ]

THAT'S A GOOD CAR TEEN.

THAT'S A GREAT CARTOON.

I THOUGHT IT WAS ON POINT.

WHAT WERE THE PROBLEMS YOU WERE SEEING?

I WAS FOLLOWING YOU ON TWITTER AND YOU WERE REAL TIME EXPLAINED A LOT OF PROBLEMS WE WERE SEEING ON ELECTION DAY.

I WENT AND VOTED AT MY POLLING PLACE THE LGBT CENTER AT 11:00 IN THE MORNING WHICH IS A SLOW TIME.

AFTER THE MORNING RUSH AND BEFORE THE EVENING RUSH, GET IN AND OUT.

WHEN I ARRIVED, THERE WERE LINES OUT THE DOOR.

THERE WERE FOUR SCANNING MACHINES, THREE OF THEM WERE BROKEN DOWN.

PEOPLE WERE BEING INSTRUCTED TO GO OUTSIDE WITH THEIR BALLOTS, THEIR BALLOTS WOULD THEN GET WET.

THEN THEY'D COME IN, PUT THEM IN THE MACHINE AND IT WOULD JAMB THE MACHINE.

THIS WAS HAPPENING IN ALL FIVE BOROUGHS.

IF WAS HAPPENING AT HUNDREDS OF POLLING SITES ACROSS THE CITY.

WHEN THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE BOARD OF ELECTIONS WAS ASKED ABOUT THE SIGNIFICANT PROBLEMS ON ELECTION DAY, HE SAID WE HAD HEAVY TURNOUT AND IT RAINED.

WE DID THE BEST WE COULD.

WHICH IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE ANSWER, GIVEN WHAT WE SAW ON ELECTION DAY.

SO WE NEED A BUNCH OF THINGS.

WE NEED A STATE LEGISLATURE WHICH I'M HOPEFUL THEY'LL DO.

WE NEED TO ADOPT EARLY VOTING, NO EXCUSE ABSENTEE VOTING.

SAME DAY REGISTRATION.

ALL THESE THINGS THAT MAKE IT EASIER TO VOTE AND WE'LL HOPEFULLY NOT HAVE AS BIG A CRUSH OF VOTERS ON ELECTION DAY ITSELF BUT CAN VOTE LEADING UP TO IT.

WE NEED TO PROFESSIONAL OOISZ THE STAFF ON THE BOARD OF ELECTIONS.

THERE IS A PROPOSAL IN ALBANY TO HAVE THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR APPOINTED AND HIRED IN A PROFESSIONAL MANNER AND HAVE HIRING AND FIRING AUTHORITY ON THEIR OWN WHICH DOESN'T EXIST.

THOSE ARE SOME OF THE THINGS WE NEED.

WHAT HAPPENED ON TUESDAY ELECTION DAY WAS TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE.

NEW YORKERS FELT THAT WAY AND IT'S TIME FOR RADICAL CHANGE.

IS THIS SOMETHING WHERE -- BECAUSE EVERYTHING THAT YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT, OF COURSE, WAS GOING TO HAPPEN AT THE ALBANY LEVEL.

IS THIS SOMETHING WITH THE NEW STATE LEGISLATURE WE'RE GOING TO SEE GETTING SWORN IN IN JANUARY?

DO YOU FEEL CONFIDENT IF ALL IF NOT MOST OF THESE CHANGES CAN HAPPEN?

I FEEL PRETTY CONFIDENT.

YOU KNOW, THE VOTING REFORM STUFF WE'RE TALKING ABOUT, NO EXCUSE ABSENTEE, SAME DAY REGISTRATION, THESE ARE POPULAR AND IT'S NOT A PARTISAN ISSUE.

THIS IS ABOUT MAKING VOTING EASIER FOR EVERYONE, NOT ONE POLITICAL PARTY.

SO, IN THE EARLY CONVERSATIONS SINCE THE RESULTS CAME IN LAST WEEK, PEOPLE HAVE BEEN TALKING ABOUT THERE BEING PRETTY BROAD CONSENSUS ON ADOPTING THESE THINGS.

THE GOVERNOR SUPPORTS IT.

THE ASSEMBLY HAS PASSED THESE BILLS IN PREVIOUS LEGISLATIVE SESSIONS.

AND THE NEW DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY IN THE STATE SENATE SUPPORTS IT.

SO I THINK WE'LL SEE ACTION ON IT THIS UPCOMING LEGISLATIVE SESSION.

ALL RIGHT.

SO, IN THIS DAMNING OP-ED THAT APPEARED IN THE NEW YORK POST, WHY WAS IT SO IMPORTANT THAT THE HEAD OF THE BOARD OF ELECTIONS STEP DOWN TO YOU?

WELL, ELECTION DAY SADLY HAS TURNED INTO GROUNDHOG DAY IN NEW YORK CITY.

EVERY SINGLE ELECTION DAY, WHETHER IT BE THE JUNE CONGRESSIONAL PRIMARIES, OR THE SEPTEMBER PRIMARIES OR THE NOVEMBER GENERAL ELECTION, YOU SEE THE SAME THING OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

YOU SEE BROKEN MACHINES, LONG LINES, AND INCOMPETENCE AT POLLING SITES ACROSS THE CITY.

SO, I THOUGHT THAT ON ELECTION DAY, WHEN THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SAID THAT THE REASON WHY WE'RE HAVING THESE PROBLEMS IS BECAUSE OF HEAVY TURNOUT AND RAIN, TO ME THAT SHOWED A TOTAL TIN EAR ON THE PROBLEMS THAT NEW YORKERS ARE FACING, AND THAT'S WHY I THINK THAT IT'S TIME FOR US TO HAVE NEW LEADERSHIP THERE.

ALL RIGHT.

SO, I DID WANT TO POINT OUT THAT IN YOUR OPINION PIECE, YOU MENTION THAT THE CITY OFFERED $20 MILLION IN NEW FUNDING TO HELP BOOSTER -- BOLSTER, EXCUSE ME, FOR OUTREACH, BUT THE BOARD REFUSED THE MONEY.

DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHY THAT HAPPENED?

WELL, THE MAYOR PUT AN OFFER ON THE TABLE TWO YEARS AGO TO THE BOARD OF ELECTIONS SAYING, WE'LL GIVE YOU AN ADDITIONAL $20 MILLION IF YOU AGREE TO CERTAIN REFORMS.

IF YOU AGREE TO HAVE MORE TRANSLATORS AT POLLING SITES, IF YOU AGREE TO A VARIETY OF OTHER MEASURES TO MAKE IT EASIER TO VOTE, AND TO MAKE SURE THAT PREPARATION AND PLANNING WAS DONE PROPERLY.

THEY TURNED THAT DOWN, WHICH NOW IN HINDSIGHT SHOWS WHAT A MISTAKE IT WAS, AND THAT'S WHY I THINK WE NEED SOME RADICAL REFORM.

STRUCTURALLY THE BOARD OF ELECTIONS NEEDS TO CHANGE, AND THERE ARE BILLS IN ALBANY TO ADDRESS THAT, WHICH I AM HOPEFUL WILL GET A HEARING AND HOPEFULLY PASS THIS UPCOMING SESSION.

ARE THERE ANY OTHER SOLUTIONS THAT YOU'RE PROPOSING OR THAT YOU CAN SEE WILL HELP ALLEVIATE THE STRESS WE SAW ON NEW YORKERS AS YOU SAID ALL FIVE BOROUGH?

MOST STATES IN THE COUNTRY AS WE SAW IN THE LEAD UP TO MIDTERM ELECTIONS HAD VOTING A WEEK BEFORE THE ELECTION DAY ITSELF.

POLLING SITES WERE OPEN ON WEEK NIGHTS AND WEEKENDS SO FOLKS CAN ACTUALLY GO AND VOTE EARLY.

IF WE HAD THAT IN NEW YORK CITY, THE ISSUES ON ELECTION DAY, I THINK, WOULD BE SIGNIFICANTLY LESS THAN WHAT WE SAW BECAUSE THERE WOULDN'T BE AS MANY PEOPLE COMING ON ELECTION DAY ITSELF.

PEOPLE WOULD BE VOTING AHEAD OF TIME.

I THINK THAT'S ONE OF THE BIGGEST, BIGGEST THINGS WE CAN DO.

WE SHOULD HAVE NO EXECUTE ABSENTEE VOTING, SAME-DAY REGISTRATION.

THESE ARE THINGS THAT WILL MAKE IT EASIER ALL AROUND.

IT IS HARD WHEN YOU SEE HIGH TURNOUT.

WE WANT HIGH TURNOUT FOR THESE POLLING SITES TO HANDLE ALL OF THE REGISTERED VOTERS ON ONE SINGLE DAY, WHICH IS WHY WE NEED TO GIVE MANY OPPORTUNITIES FOR PEOPLE TO VOTE, NOT JUST ON THAT ONE DAY.

NOW, WE'RE TALKING ABOUT THIS IN NOVEMBER OF 2018 AND, OF COURSE, WE ALL KNOW THERE IS GOING TO BE ANOTHER HUGE ELECTION IN 2020, PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.

AND SO MY QUESTION IS DO YOU THINK THESE ARE THE KIND OF REFORMS AND CHANGES THAT CAN BE MADE IN TIME?

AND IF THEY'RE NOT, WOULD IT DETER PEOPLE FROM GOING TO THE POLLS?

I HOPE IT DOESN'T DETER PEOPLE BECAUSE WE WANT EVERYONE TO VOTE.

WE WANT EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO IS ELIGIBLE, WHO IS REGISTERED, WE WANT TO MAKE SURE IT'S EASY TO VOTE.

BUT THERE ARE GOING TO BE SOME LOCAL ELECTIONS IN 2019 IN NEW YORK CITY.

SO, IF THE STATE LEGISLATURE ADOPTED SOME OF THESE REFORMS, WE WOULD HAVE BASICALLY A TEST RUN.

WE WOULD HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY IN 2019 TO SEE WHAT'S WORKING AND WHAT'S NOT WORKING, HOW IT'S IMPLEMENTED, AND THERE WILL BE ENOUGH TIME AND PREPARATION FOR THE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY IN NEW YORK, THE 2020 REGULAR PRIMARIES THAT HAPPEN, AND THE NOVEMBER PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY AND GENERAL ELECTION.

SO THERE WILL BE MANY OPPORTUNITIES BEFORE THAT NOVEMBER ELECTION TWO YEARS FROM NOW TO MAKE SURE THAT WE'RE GETTING IT RIGHT.

NOW, OF COURSE, I STARTED OUR INTERVIEW WITH A SORT OF JOKE COMPARING THE BOARD OF ELECTIONS TO THE MTA, BUT I DO WANT TO TURN TO THE MTA BEFORE I LET YOU GO.

WE JUST SAW THE MTA CHAIRMAN JOE LHOTA STEP DOWN.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON HIS DECISION, THE TIMING AND WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE THE DEPARTMENT?

JOE LHOTA, I THINK, HAS SERVED THE CITY WELL.

HE DID A VERY GOOD JOB AFTER SANDY HIT IN GETTING THE MTA UP AND RUNNING IN A RECORD AMOUNT OF TIME AFTER A HORRIFIC STORM THAT KILLED MANY NEW YORKERS AND THAT SHUT THE CITY DOWN FOR A PERIOD OF TIME.

AND WHEN THE GOVERNOR ASKED HIM TO COME BACK, I THINK THERE WAS A LOT OF HOPE, AND THE MTA WAS EXPERIENCING A CRISIS WHICH WE'RE STILL SEEING.

I THINK ONE OF THE BEST DECISIONS THAT JOE LHOTA MADE WAS HIRING ANDY BIFORD, THE NEW PRESIDENT OF NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT WHO PUT FORWARD THE FAST FORWARD PLAN TO SAVE AND RESCUE THE MTA THE NEXT TEN YEARS.

I'M GRATEFUL FOR JOE LHOTA'S SERVICE.

AND I'M HOPEFUL BECAUSE HE DECIDED TO HIRE SOMEONE THE CALIBER OF ANDY BIFORD WE'RE GOING TO HAVE SOMETHING TO BUILD ON AND IT WILL BE A BIG ISSUE COMING UP IN ALBANY.

WE'LL SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE NEW LEGISLATURE IS SWORN IN IN JANUARY.

COREY JOHNSON, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US ON THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME.

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