PUBLIC ADVOCATE EXCLUSIVE

March 29, 2019 at 4:30 am

New York City’s new public advocate Jumaane Williams shares thoughts on Mayor Bill de Blasio, the MTA’s fare hike, the successes and failures of Thrive NYC, and the future of our city.

Aired on March 28, 2019. 

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>> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO
"METROFOCUS."
I'M RAFAEL PI ROMAN.
IT'S BEEN JUST A LITTLE OVER A
WEEK SINCE JUMANI WILLIAMS
STEPPED DOWN FROM THE NEW YORK
CITY COUNCIL AND WAS SWORN IN AS
THE NEW PUBLIC ADVOCATE.
DURING THAT TIME WILLIAMS HAS
WEIGHED IN ON A NUMBER OF ISSUES
IMPACTING NEW YORKERS INCLUDING
THE RECENTLY UNVEILED STATE AND
CITY BUDGET, POLICE REFORM, AND
THE DEBATE OVER DIVERSITY AT THE
CITY'S ELITE HIGH SCHOOLS.
WILLIAMS, WHO DEFEATED 16
OPPONENTS, NOW HOPES TO BRING
INCREASED POWERS TO THE OFFICE
OF THE PUBLIC ADVOCATE WHICH
CURRENTLY HAS A LIMITED BUDGET
AND NO SUBPOENA POWER OVER CITY
AGENCIES.
JOINING US NOW TO TALK ABOUT HIS
AGENDA PRIORITIES AND TO GIVE US
HIS REACTION TO THE NEW MTA TOLL
AND FARE HIKES IS NEW YORK CITY
PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMANI WILLIAMS.
PUBLIC ADVOCATE WILLIAMS, THANKS
FOR JOINING US AS PUBLIC
ADVOCATE.
>> THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
>> SO YOU'VE DESCRIBED YOURSELF
AS AN ACTIVIST SLASH PUBLIC
OFFICIAL AND THAT YOU'RE GOING
TO CONDUCT YOURSELF AS THE
PUBLIC ADVOCATE AS AN ACTIVIST.
HOW WILL THAT DIFFER FROM THE
WAY THAT YOUR PREDECESSORS
CARRIED OUT THEIR DUTIES IN THE
OFFICE?
>> IN TERMS OF THE OFFICE, I
WANT TO MAKE SURE WE'RE BUILDING
ON ALL THE GOOD THINGS THAT THE
PREDECESSORS BROUGHT TO THE
OFFICE.
IN TERMS OF BEING AN ELECTED
OFFICIAL, I'VE ALWAYS SAID I'M
TRYING TO BE A DIFFERENT TYPE OF
ELECTED OFFICIAL.
THAT'S WHAT I TRIED TO DO AS A
COUNCILMEMBER.
BEING TOLD THAT I HAD TO CHOOSE
BETWEEN THE TWO, I ALWAYS SAID,
NO, YOU DON'T, THE BEST ELECTED
OFFICIALS ARE ACTIVISTS.
I'VE SOUGHT OUT WHENEVER
NECESSARY AND NEEDED TO BE IN
THE STREETS, PROTESTING, THEN
BRING THAT INFORMATION BACK TO
THE HALLS OF POWER TO GET LAWS
AND POLICIES CHANGED TO MEET THE
NEEDS OF THE PEOPLE.
AND I INTEND TO KEEP DOING THAT.
>> YOU GOT ARRESTED AS A CITY
COUNCILOR A COUPLE OF TIMES.
DO YOU INTEND TO DO THAT AS
PUBLIC ADVOCATE?
>> I USE ALL THE TOOLS IN THE
TOOLBOX, WHEN NEEDED I WILL DO
THAT AS WELL.
>> I GAVE A MOVING ACCEPTANCE
SPEECH AFTER YOUR VICTORY, YOU
BROKE DOWN IN TEARS WHEN YOU
SAID YOU HAD BEEN IN THERAPY FOR
YEARS, AND YOU SAID YOU WANTED
TO TELL CHILDREN THEY COULD
OVERCOME BECAUSE YOU OVERCAME.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THAT MOMENT
TO GIVE THAT MESSAGE?
>> I WANTED TO USE THAT TIME.
I WASN'T SURE IF I WAS GOING TO
SAY IT OR NOT.
BUT I THOUGHT IT WAS IMPORTANT
TO TALK ABOUT THESE ISSUES IN A
WAY THAT DESTIGMATIZES WHAT
FOLKS ARE GOING THROUGH.
THERE WAS A CELEBRITY RECENTLY
WHO SAID THE MOST DIFFICULT
WORDS IN THE LANGUAGE WAS
"PLEASE HELP ME."
AND I THINK THAT'S IMPORTANT FOR
PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND, THAT
THEY'RE NOT THE ONLY ONES GOING
THROUGH SOME THINGS, AND IT'S
OKAY TO TALK ABOUT IT.
IT'S OKAY TO SEEK HELP.
AND PEOPLE HAVE NO PROBLEMS
TALKING ABOUT GOING TO THE
DENTIST, GOING TO THE DOCTOR,
BUT FOR SOME REASON GOING TO GET
ASSISTANCE FOR MENTAL HEALTH,
JUST A CHECKUP OR THERAPY, IS
SOMETHING THAT MANY COMMUNITIES
SEE AS A STIGMA.
I WANT TO MAKE SURE WE BROKE
THAT DOWN.
>> FIRST LADY McLEAN HAS STARTED
AN INITIATIVE, THRIVE NYC, WHICH
HAS GOTTEN HEAT FROM THE NEW
YORK CITY COUNCIL OVER QUESTIONS
ABOUT WHETHER THE MONEY IS
GOING, AND NO WAY TO MEASURE
WHETHER THEY'VE SUCCEEDED OR
NOT.
AND THRIVE NYC TRIES TO DEALS
WITH MENTAL HEALTH IN THE CITY.
DO YOU THINK THE CRITICISM HAS
BEEN FAIR?
AND AS PUBLIC ADVOCATE, WHAT
WOULD YOU DO TO HELP THRIVE NYC?
>> BEFORE THE CRITICISM, I WANT
TO MAKE SURE THAT CREDIT IS
GIVEN WHERE CREDIT IS DUE.
THE FIRST LADY TOOK ON AN ISSUE
AND SAID THAT THIS IS NOT BEING
SPOKEN ABOUT ENOUGH AND I'M
GOING TO SPEARHEAD IT.
FOR THAT WE MUST GIVE CREDIT.
I WANT TO THANK HER FOR DOING
SO.
THESE ISSUES ARE BEING TALKED
ABOUT IN CIRCLES WHERE IT HASN'T
BEEN TALKED ABOUT IN A VERY LONG
TIME.
THE CRITICISM, AT THE SAME TIME,
THERE IS VERY REAL QUESTIONS
THAT ARE NOT BEING ANSWERED.
WE SHOULD LOOK AT WHERE THE
MONEY IS BEING SPENT, HOW IT'S
BEING SPENT, MAKING SURE WE'RE
SPENDING IT EFFECTIVELY.
BASED ON A HEARING I WAS AT, WE
DIDN'T HAVE ALL THOSE QUESTIONS
ANSWERED.
THAT DOESN'T MEAN THE PROGRAM IS
BAD.
IT DOES MEAN WE HAVE TO ADJUST
WHERE WE ARE WITH THE PROGRAM
AND MAKE SURE THE FUNDING IS
BEING SPENT APPROPRIATELY.
IT'S A MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR,
THE PUBLIC HAS A RIGHT TO KNOW
WHERE THE MONEY IS BEING SPENT.
THAT DOESN'T TAKE AWAY FROM THE
JOB THAT THE FIRST LADY BELIEVED
NEEDED TO BE ADDRESSED.
AND I THINK IT'S STARTING TO BE
ADDRESSED.
I WANT TO MAKE SURE WE CONTINUE
TO TEASE OUT THIS DISCUSSION.
MENTAL ILLNESS IS SOMETHING
ACUTE THAT NEEDS TO BE
ADDRESSED.
BUT WE SHOULDN'T ALWAYS MIX IT
UP WITH GENERAL MENTAL HEALTH
WHICH I THINK EVERYBODY NEEDS TO
CHECK IN ONCE IN A WHILE WITH
THE GENERAL MENTAL HEALTH
STATUS.
>> LET'S TALK ABOUT THE ONE
ISSUE THAT I THINK MOST NEW
YORKERS WOULD PROBABLY CONSIDER
THE MOST IMPORTANT IN THEIR
DAILY LIFE, AND THAT IS THE
DECLINING QUALITY OF THE SUBWAY
SYSTEM, THE MTA.
YOU KNOW, WE'RE FACING FARE
HIKES AND ALSO TOLL HIKES.
WHAT'S YOUR REACTION TO THOSE
HIKES?
DO YOU SUPPORT THEM?
AND WHAT WILL YOU DO AS ADVOCATE
TO FIX THIS SYSTEM?
>> WELL, I CALL IT HAS
HASHTAG #CUOMOSMTA.
IT'S BEEN CLEAR FROM THE "L"
TRAIN TO THE CHANGES BEING MADE,
IT'S WHATEVER IS AT HIS WHIM.
RIGHT NOW WE REALLY NEED TO
DISMANTLE THE BOARD AND DO
SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
THAT HAS THE POWER SPREAD A
LITTLE BIT MORE EVENLY BETWEEN
THE CITY AND THE STATE FOR SURE,
BECAUSE THAT'S NOT WHERE IT IS
RIGHT NOW.
BUT I DON'T SUPPORT THE FARE
HIKE.
I THINK EVERY TIME THERE IS SOME
MONIES NEEDED, WE GO TO THE
PIGGY BANK OF THE STRAP HANGER,
AND THAT'S JUST NOT FAIR.
WE DON'T EVEN SEE ALL THE SETS
OF BOOKS TO UNDERSTAND HOW THIS
THING IS MOVING AND WHERE THE
MONEY IS GOING AND THE NO GOING.
THE GOVERNOR HAS WASTED MONEY ON
THINGS THAT HAVE TO DO WITH
BEAUTIFICATION AS OPPOSED TO
FIXING THE BRAKING AND SIGNAL
SYSTEM, AND THAT'S IMPORTANT.
I DO SUPPORT CONGESTION PRICING.
I'M VERY CONCERNED ABOUT SOME OF
THE DETAILS.
BUT I DON'T THINK WE CAN WAIT
FOR ALL OF THE DETAILS BEFORE WE
GET THE TRAIN MOVING, SO TO
SPEAK.
I DO WANT TO GET THE TRAIN
MOVING AND KEEPING OUR EYE ON
THE BALL, PARTICULARLY THIS
GOVERNOR.
IT'S ABOUT PARITY.
PEOPLE'S KNEE-JERK REACTION TO
SAYING WE DON'T SUPPORT IT,
GENERALLY WHEN YOU ASK A
QUESTION, DO YOU DRIVE INTO
MANHATTAN DURING RUSH HOUR EVERY
DAY TO GO TO WORK, 97% OF THE
PEOPLE OR MORE DO NOT.
IT'S ABOUT PARITY, WHERE WE'RE
GETTING THIS FUNDING FROM.
WE KEEP GOING TO THE STRAP
HANGERS.
THAT'S NOT FAIR.
OF COURSE THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO
ARE DISABLED, SENIORS ON LIMITED
INCOME.
WE SHOULD FIGURE OUT WHERE THEY
ARE.
I DON'
WE CAN'T KEEP GOING TO THE STRAP
HANGERS.
>> LET'S MOVE ON TO A DIFFERENT
TOPIC.
EDUCATION IN THE ELITE HIGH
SCHOOLS IN NEW YORK CITY.
THE MAYOR IS CALLING FOR
SCRAPPING THE ENTRANCE EXAM.
YOU DISAGREE WITH THAT.
WHY?
>> THEY'RE HOLDING THIS UP AND
SAY, DON'T LOOK AT ANYTHING
ELSE.
AND WE HAVE TO LOOK AT THIS AS
AN ENTIRE SYSTEM.
THOSE ARE EIGHT SCHOOLS, THREE
IN PARTICULAR, THE BIG THREE.
I COME FROM A DIFFERENT KIND OF
ANGLE.
I WENT TO BROOKLYN TECH.
IF YOU HAD USED ANY OTHER
MEASURE, I WOULD HAVE NEVER
GOTTEN INTO THAT SCHOOL.
I WAS DIAGNOSED WITH ADHD AND
THERE'S NO OTHER MECHANISM THAT
I WOULD HAVE GOTTEN IN.
MAYBE WE COULD LOOK AT TWO
DIFFERENT AVENUES.
MAYBE SOME FOLKS GET TO DO THE
TEST, SOME FOLKS GET TO DO
MULTIPLE CRITERIA, WE DON'T HAVE
TO PIT COMMUNITIES AGAINST EACH
OTHER.
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T UNDERSTAND IS
THAT THE MULTIPLE CRITERIA
SELECTION SCHOOLS THAT EXIST NOW
ARE NOT THAT MUCH MORE DIVERSE
THAN A SPECIALIZED HIGH SCHOOL.
>> HOW DO WE MAKE IT MORE
DIVERSE?
WE JUST FOUND OUT SEVEN OUT OF
800 STUDENTS IN STUYVESANT WERE
AFRICAN-AMERICAN.
>> ELEANOR ROOSEVELT RECENTLY
HAD BIAS-BASED INCIDENT THAT
OCCURRED AND MOST OF THOSE
STUDENTS ARE NOT DIVERSE, JUST
THE SAME IF NOT WORSE THAN
STUYVESANT.
SO THIS IS THE QUESTION WE HAVE
TO ASK.
WHAT IS GOING ON WITH OUR
SYSTEM?
STOP PRETENDING THAT ADJUSTING
THESE EIGHT SCHOOLS AND LEAVING
THE HUNDRED THAT HAVE SELECTIVE
CRITERIA OR THE SYSTEM AS A
WHOLE THAT'S NOT EDUCATING THESE
STUDENTS.
THE JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL I WENT TO
IS NO LONGER THERE.
THESE FEEDER SCHOOLS ARE NO
LONGER GOING THE WAY THEY'RE
SUPPOSED TO.
IT IS A LARGER QUESTION THAT WE
HAVE TO ADDRESS.
AND DEALING WITH THIS ISSUE THE
WAY THE MAYOR HAS DONE IT IS
DIVISIVE.
>> OKAY.
WE HAVE LESS THAN 30 SECOND.
I HAVE TO ASK YOU THIS.
FOR YOUR SPECIAL ELECTION THAT
GOT YOU ELECTED, THE CITY SPENT
$15 MILLION FOR AN OFFICE THAT
HAS A BUDGET OF $3 MILLION PLUS.
9% OF VOTERS SHOWED UP FOR IT.
NOT ONLY THAT BUT NOW YOU HAVE
TO RUN AGAIN IN A PRIMARY IN
JUNE AND RUN AGAIN IN NOVEMBER.
DOES IT MAKE ANY SENSE?
AS PUBLIC ADVOCATE, CAN YOU
CHANGE THAT?
>> OUR ELECTION LAWS ARE ARCANE.
THE RULES AROUND SPECIAL
ELECTIONS ARE STUPID.
AND THEY WASTE MONEY.
SO WHAT WE HAVE TO HAVE IS A LAW
THAT DOESN'T MAKE IT SO THAT WE
HAVE TO HAVE TWO ELECTIONS.
YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO HAVE AN
ELECTION TO FILL A VACANCY.
SO YOU HAVE THE ELECTION AND
THAT'S IT.
THERE'S NO REASON TO HAVE A
SPECIAL ELECTION THAT DOESN'T
FILL OUT THE TERM AND THEN A
PRIMARY.
AND NOW THE FOLKS IN MY OLD
COUNCIL SEAT ARE GOING THROUGH
THE SAME THING.
THEY HAVE TO HAVE A SPECIAL
ELECTION AND MAY AND A PRIMARY
IN JUNE.
IT HAS TO CHANGE.
SER
>> IT'S A BIZARRE WORLD.
THANK YOU, PUBLIC ADVOCATE
WILLIAMS.

Mutual of America PSEG

Funders

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