PUBLIC ADVOCATE EXCLUSIVE

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. 

TRANSCRIPT

> 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.

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