COUNCIL SPEAKER COREY JOHNSON ON THE STATE OF THE CITY

HOW WE REOPEN THE ECONOMY IS VERY IMPORTANT

CITY FACING AT LEAST $6 BILLION BUDGET HIT; WE NEED MORE FEDERAL HELP

WE’RE FOCUSED ON FINANCIAL SAFETY NET FOR NYC

FOOD INSECURITY, SCHOOLS, HOMELESSNESS ALSO KEY ON OUR AGENDA

As the mayor and city lawmakers hammer out a new budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1st, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson says he and the council are conducting business remotely, in an effort to get a new budget approved by the deadline. Tonight, he joins us for a wide-ranging interview on the difficulties facing the city that he’s most concerned about, as well as an issue he says is of the utmost importance — not just when to reopen the city, but how to reopen the economy.

Aired on April 10, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS' I'M JACK FORD.

NOT SINCE 9/11 HAS THE TRI-STATE AREA SUBJECTED TO THE TURMOIL VISITED UPON US BY THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC.

HOWEVER, WE'RE BEING TOLD BY AUTHORITIES THAT DESPITE AN INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF DEATHS, THERE ARE SOME SIGNS THAT COULD SUGGEST SOME HOPE.

THEY POINT TO A DECREASE IN THE NUMBER OF HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS, THE POSSIBLE FLATTENING OF THE CURVE, ALL SAYING CAUSE FOR VERY, VERY CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM BUT ALSO ENCOURAGING US TO CONTINUE TO ENFORCE THE RESTRICTION THAT WE BECOME USED TO NOW, SOCIAL DISTANCING AND SO WHAT DOES ALL THAT MEAN FOR THE CITY NOW AND WHAT MIGHT IT ALL MEAN FOR THE CITY MOVING FORWARD.

TO TALK ABOUT ALL OF THAT WE'RE VERY PLEASED TO BE JOINED BY COREY JOHNSON.

MR. SPEAKER, THANK YOU.

IT IS ALWAYS GOOD TO HAVE YOU JOIN US HERE AND I HOPE YOU'RE DOING WELL.

THANKS, JACK.

IT IS GOOD TO SEE YOU IN THIS HARD, DIFFICULT MOMENT FOR OUR CITY, OUR STATE AND OUR COUNTRY.

THANK YOU FOR CONTINUING ALL OF THE SHOW TO GET INFORMATION OUT TO NEW YORKERS.

WELL, WE ARE INDEED DOING OUR BEST AS YOU ARE ALSO.

LET ME START OFF WITH YOUR THOUGHTS ON HOW I JUST CHARACTERIZED WHAT WE'RE HEARING FROM AUTHORITIES.

SOME CAUSE FOR HOPE, SOME CAUSE FOR VERY, VERY CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM.

DOES THAT SOUND LIKE AN ACCURATE CHARACTERIZATION, YOU ARE ON THE GROUND LITERALLY IN WHAT HAS BECOME THE EPICENTER OF THIS PANDEMIC IN THE UNITED STATES.

DOES THAT SOUND LIKE AN ACCURATE CHARACTERIZATION TO YOU?

WELL, I'LL JUST START OFF BY SAYING THAT THE MOMENT THAT WE'RE IN IN OUR GREAT CITY IS SURREAL AND TRAGIC RIGHT NOW.

AND THE LOSS OF LIFE IS BEYOND COMPREHENSION.

IT IS HARD TO EVEN SUMMON UP WORDS THAT DESCRIBE THE AMOUNT OF PAIN THE CITY IS GOING THROUGH RIGHT NOW.

WE JUST SURPASSED THE DEATH TOLL THAT WE SAW ON 9/11 WHICH IS A MILESTONE THAT NONE OF US WANTED TO SEE.

SO I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO TRY TO FIND SOME HOPE IN THIS MOMENT.

AND THE LATEST NUMBERS THAT HAVE COME OUT HAVE SHOWED LEVELING OFF, DIMINISHING OF THE NUMBER OF HOSPITALIZATIONS THAT WE'RE SEEING AND ICU HOSPITALIZATIONS AS WELL.

SO, YOU HEARD THE GOVERNOR AND MAYOR BOTH SPEAK ABOUT WHAT THAT POTENTIALLY MEANS.

YOU KNOW, I'M NOT AN EPIDEMIOLOGIST SO I DON'T WANT TO PRETEND TO BE A DOCTOR BUT I'VE LEARNED A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OVER THE PAST FEW WEEKS, BUT WHAT WE COULD BE SEEING IS A FLATTO, SO THE CURVE IS STARTING TO FLATTEN BUT IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMIND YOUR VIEWERS JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE FLATTENING THE CURVE, IT DOESN'T MEAN THAT SOCIAL DISTANCING CAN END BECAUSE WE ACTUALLY NEED TO START COME DOWN SLOPE.

AND WE NEED TO COME DOWN SLOPE TO RELIEVE THE PRESSURE OFF OF THE HEALTH CARE SYSTEM AND TO ALLOW FOR US TO ACTUALLY GET THOSE HEALTH CARE HEROES IN A SITUATION WHERE THEY DON'T HAVE OVERRUN HEALTH CARE FACILITIES.

THERE WILL BE A CONVERSATION AT SOME POINT ABOUT WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE WHEN YOU DO START TO COME DOWN SLOPE, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR THE CITY, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN IN REGARDS TO WIDE SCALE COMMUNITY TESTING BUT IT IS IMPORTANT FOR US, JACK, TO HAVE SOME HOPE RIGHT NOW.

AND I'M HOPEFUL THAT BECAUSE OF THE EFFORTS OF NEW YORKERS THAT WE ARE EVENTUALLY GOING TO COME DOWN SLOPE AND THAT WILL TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF OF OUR HOSPITAL AND HEALTH CARE SYSTEM.

IN ADDITION TO THE OBVIOUS, VERY OBVIOUS AND UNDERSTANDABLE CONCERNS ABOUT MEDICAL CIRCUMSTANCES, WHAT ARE YOU HEARING FROM YOUR CONSTITUENTS, THE PEOPLE OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, IN TERMS OF THEIR MOST URGENT CONCERNS RIGHT NOW AS THEY TRY TO CONTINUE THEIR LIVES?

WELL, WE'RE DEALING WITH THIS CRISIS THAT IS UNLIKE ANYTHING WE'VE EVER DEALT WITH BEFORE BECAUSE YOU HAVE THE HEALTH CARE CRISIS, YOU HAVE HALTING TRANSMISSION, WHICH IS WHY WE'RE DOING THE SOCIAL DISTANCING.

YOU HAVE BUILDING UP HOSPITAL CAPACITY AT THE SAME TIME.

THAT IS WHY YOU SEE THE JAVITS CERTAINTY AND THE 'COMFORT' SHIP AND THE HOSPITALS BUILT AT THE PARK AND BILLY JEAN AND ARTHUR ASH AND THEN WE'RE DOING THOSE THINGS AND THEN THE SAME TAINUS THING THAT IS HAPPENING IS THE ECONOMIC DEVASTATION THAT HAS BEEN FELT BY THE CITY THAT HAS BEEN FELT BY SMALL BUSINESSES, THAT HAVE BEEN FELT BY NEW YORKERS AT A LOSS, THAT LOST THEIR INCOME BASICALLY OVERNIGHT BECAUSE OF THIS.

SO EVERY DAY WE'RE TRYING TO SORT OUT HOW TO PROVIDE RELEAF TO THOSE FOLKS.

THE THIRD STIMULUS BILL PASSED BY CONGRESS A FEW WEEKS AGO, THAT $1,200 DOES NOT GO VERY FAR IN NEW YORK CITY.

WITH THE COST OF RENT AND THE COST OF EVERYTHING ELSE.

THE STATE UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM HAS BECOME OVERWHELMED WHERE PEOPLE CAN'T GET THROUGH TO IT BECAUSE OF THE CRUSH OF PEOPLE TRYING TO CALL IN.

AND SO AT THE CITY COUNCIL WE'RE FOCUSED ON A VARIETY OF THINGS.

I'LL JUST GIVE YOU ONE EXAMPLE.

FIRST IS I REALLY WORRY ABOUT FOOD INSECURITY.

YOU KNOW, 20% OF NEW YORKERS WERE LIVING BELOW THE FEDERAL POVERTY LINE IN NEW YORK CITY BEFORE THIS CRISIS.

AND THAT NUMBER IS GOING TO GO UP BY A STAGGERING AMOUNT WHERE WE ARE NOW BECAUSE OF THIS CRISIS AND THE LOSS OF INCOME AND JOBS.

IN 32% OF LOCAL FOOD PANTRIES HAVE CLOSED IN THE LAST TWO AND A HALF WEEKS IN NEW YORK CITY.

THESE ARE FRONT LINE PLACES THAT PROVIDE FOOD FOR NEW YORKERS THAT ARE FOOD INSECURE.

WE NEED TO GET THOSE FOOD PANTRIES OPEN.

PART OF THE REASON WHY THEY ARE CLOSED IS BECAUSE THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE FOOD PANTRIES ARE RUN BY VOLUNTEERS AND ALL OF THE VOLUNTEERS ARE SENIOR CITIZENS WHO ARE RETIRED, WHO HELP OUT IN THE LOCAL COMMUNITIES.

AND SO WE ACTUALLY NEED TO HIRE FULL TIME STAFF TO STAFF THEM AND GET THEM REOPENED BECAUSE THESE SENIOR CITIZENS ARE STAYING AT HOME TO REMAIN SAFE.

LOOKING AT FOOD.

WE'RE LOOKING AT HOMELESSNESS.

WE'RE LOOKING AT SCHOOLS.

WE'RE LOOKING AT THE SOCIAL SAFETY NET.

WE'RE LOOKING AT WHAT SHOULD BE IN THE FOURTH STIMULUS BILL FROM CONGRESS FOR NEW YORK CITY.

THERE IS SO MUCH TO DO EVERY SINGLE DAY AND THAT IS THE HARD PART OF THIS CRISIS, TO DO ALL OF THIS REMOTELY, AWAY FROM EACH OTHER.

AND I'M WORKING AROUND EVERY DAY AND THE COUNCIL IS AS WELL.

WE NEED HELP FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, THOUGH.

WE NEED MORE HELP FROM WASHINGTON.

LOOKING BACK HERE AND AS YOU KNOW WE'RE OFTEN TIME THAT BY LOOKING BACK AT HISTORY IF WE DON'T LOOK BACK AT HISTORY WE COULD BE DESTINED TO REPEAT IT AND LOOKING BACK.

AND I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT ASSESSING BLAME HERE.

THERE WILL BE TIME TO TAKE A LOOK AT THAT DOWN THE ROAD.

BUT JUST WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM YOUR LEADERSHIP CAPACITY HERE, LOOKING BACK, THAT WE DIDN'T DO?

THAT SHOULD WE HAVE BEEN READY FOR AND THAT WE NEED TO BE ABLE TO HAVE IN PLACE MOVING FORWARD, GOD FORBID, WE'RE EVER CONFRONTED SOMETHING LIKE THIS.

WHEN I BEGIN, I DON'T MEAN THAT IN A FUNNY WAY, I MEAN THAT IN A TRAGIC WAY.

THERE HAVE BEEN SO MANY MISSTEPS FROM THE ONSET OF THIS.

NOT JUST HERE IN NEW YORK CITY BUT ALSO WHAT HAPPENED FEDERALLY.

YOU KNOW THE INITIAL TESTS THAT WERE SENT OUT BY THE CDC DIDN'T WORK.

THEY WERE FAULTY TESTS.

WHICH PUT US BEHIND THE EIGHT BALL IN A WAY WE WEREN'T ABLE TO DO THE COMMUNITY TRACING THAT YOU SAW IN OTHER PLACES LIKE SOUTH KOREA AND IN TAIWAN THAT ALLOWED THEM TO GET AHEAD OF THE DISEASE AND TRACE IT IN THE APPROPRIATE WAY.

SO THAT WAS A GIGANTIC MISSTEP.

WE'LL HAVE TO LOOK BACK AND UNDERSTAND WHERE AT ALL -- ON THE FEDERAL LEVEL, THE STATE LEVEL AND THE CITY LEVEL, WHERE WE COULD HAVE DONE BETTER FROM A PREPAREDNESS POINT OF VIEW, WHERE WE COULD HAVE DONE BETTER FROM A PUBLIC HEALTH POINT OF VIEW, AND WHAT SURVEILLANCE TECHNOLOGY SHOULD HAVE WE HAVE BEEN USING AT THE TIME.

AND I'LL SAY THIS, JACK, YOU KNOW, I WAS A HEAD OF SOME OTHER ELECTED OFFICIALS ONLY BIA COUPLE OF DAYS ON CALLING FOR SCHOOLS TO CLOSE AND LARGE GATHERINGS IN BARS ANT RESTAURANTS.

BUT WE ARE WERE ALL TOO SLOW.

IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC LIKE THIS AND COMMUNITY SPREAD HAS HAPPENED AND YOU WANT TO DO THE TRACING AND SURVEILLANCE AND TESTING THAT YOU NEED, YOU'RE DEALING WITH AN INVISIBLE ENEMY SPREADING.

SO WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO GO BACK AND DO A FORENSIC AUDIT WHEN WE'RE OUT OF THERE TO FIGURE OUT WHAT WE DO DO BETTER AND WE HAVE TO DO THAT SOONER RATHER THAN LATER BECAUSE YOU ARE GOING TO POTENTIALLY SEE A SECONDARY SPIKE THIS SUMMER OR THIS FALL WHEN WE DECIDE WE'RE GOING TO REOPEN SLOWLY.

AND THE WAY TO DEAL WITH THAT IS THROUGH PUTTING THE TRACING IN PLACE, PUTTING THE TESTING IN PLACE, PUTTING THE THERAPY IN PLACE THAT WILL HELP US TAMP DOWN ON THAT.

SO WE HAVE TO LOOK AT THAT SOON AND COMMUNICATE THAT TO NEW YORKERS.

YOU MENTIONED EARLIER THE NOTION OF THE ECONOMIC CRISIS THAT HAS ACCOMPANIED THE MEDICAL CRISIS HERE.

HAS ANY VISION STARTED TO EMERGE AMONGST YOU ALL AS THE GOVERNMENT LEADERS AS TO WHAT IT IS GOING TO LOOK LIKE WHEN WE START TO REENGAGE OUR ECONOMY HERE, HOW WE WILL DO THAT.

WELL, IT'S PRETTY OVERWHELMING AND DEVASTATING AT THIS MOMENT TO EVEN LOOK AT THE RECENT NUMBERS.

AND I'LL GIVE YOU JUST SORT OF A FLAVOR OF THAT, NOT A GOOD FLAVOR, A FLAVOR THAT IN THE CURRENT FISCAL YEAR IN NEW YORK CITY, THE ONE WE BUDGETED FOR LAST YEAR, WHICH ENDS AS THE END OF JUNE, WE'RE LOOKING AT POTENTIALLY A $2 BILLION HIT AT LEAST TO THE CITY'S BUDGET AND THEN FOR NEXT FISCAL YEAR, THE NUMBER COULD BE $3.5 BILLION TO $4 BILLION.

AND THAT IS MONEY IN A SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME AND THAT IS MONEY THAT PAYS FOR THE POLICE AND SCHOOLS AND THE FDNY AND ALL OF THE THINGS THAT WE NEED AS A CITY AND ESPECIALLY THE SOCIAL SAFETY NET, THE SOCIAL PROGRAMS THAT TAKE CARE OF SO MANY NEW YORKERS, ESPECIALLY THE MOST VULNERABLE.

SO WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO LOOK AT THE GUIDANCE FROM PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS ABOUT HOW WE REOPEN OUR ECONOMY, WHAT DOES THAT LOOK LIKE.

THAT IS WHY SOME OF THE ANTIBODY TESTS ARE IMPORTANT.

I DON'T KNOW THE EXACT SCIENCE BEHIND THEM BUT WE NEED TO TALK TO THE PUBLIC HEALTH FOLKS TO LOOK AT THAT.

THE PLASMA TREATMENT THAT IS BEING TALKED ABOUT.

SOME OF THE OTHER THERAPIES THAT ARE BEING LOOKED AT RIGHT NOW.

THAT WILL HELP US FIGURE OUT HOW WE REOPEN THE ECONOMY.

BUT I DON'T THINK YOU'RE GOING TO SEE ANY TIME SOON LARGE CONCERTS OR DANCE CLUBS REOPENING UNTIL WE HAVE THE VACCINE.

SO HOW WE REOPEN IS GOING TO BE VERY IMPORTANT.

AND THE LONGER THIS GOES ON FOR THE CITY OF NEW YORK, THE BIGGER ECONOMIC HIT WE ARE GOING TO HAVE.

STILL, PUBLIC HEALTH NEEDS TO BE THE TOP PRIORITY RIGHT NOW.

BUT IT JUST PUTS THE FINE POINT ON, JACK, THAT IN THE STIMULUS BILL, THE CITY OF NEW YORK NEEDS BILLIONS OF DOLLARS NOT JUST FOR COVID-19 RELATED COSTS BUT FOR THE REVENUE THAT WAS LOST.

THE REVENUE THAT WAS LOST IN SALES TAX AND PERSONAL INCOME TAX.

IN THE HOTEL OCCUPANCY TAX, IN THE TOURISM DOLLARS THAT HAVE DRIED UP.

WE NEED THAT TO COVER OUR ECONOMY.

AND NEW YORK CITY'S ECONOMY IS THE THIRD LARGEST ECONOMY IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

AND HOW OUR ECONOMY DOES AFFECTS THE REST OF THE COUNTRY.

SO WE NEED THAT FEDERAL MONEY TO GET US THROUGH THIS DIFFICULT TIME AND WHILE WE'RE FIGURING OUT HOW TO REENGAGE AND REOPEN THE ECONOMY HERE.

LAST QUICK QUESTION FOR YOU, I I HAVE ABOUT A MINUTE OR SO.

WE LOOK TO OUR GOVERNMENTAL LEADER SO MUCH, WE WANT THE TRUTH FROM THEM, EVEN IF IT IS PAINFUL, WE WANT OPTIMISM FROM THEM IF IT IS REALISTIC AND WE WANT HOPE IF IT IS REALISTIC.

ALL OF THAT BEING, FROM YOUR POSITION AS A NEW YORKER AND A LEADER IN NEW YORK, WHAT IS A QUICK MESSAGE YOU WOULD WANT TO GET OUT TO THE PEOPLE OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK?

MY MESSAGE IS THAT THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT THINGS OUR CITY HAS EVER FACED AND THERE IS NO WAY TO DOWNPLAY THAT.

BUT, JACK, I WASN'T HERE FOR IT, WE GOT THROUGH THE FISCAL CRISIS OF THE 1970s AND NEW YORK CITY CAME OUT OF THAT.

WE GOT THROUGH 9/11 TOGETHER, WHICH WAS ONE OF THE WORST MOMENTS IN NEW YORK CITY'S HISTORY AND THE COUNTRY'S HISTORY.

WE GOT THROUGH THE GREAT RECESSION OF 2008 AND 2009 TOGETHER.

WE GOT THROUGH HURRICANE SANDY TOGETHER.

WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS.

I DON'T KNOW HOW LONG IT WILL TAKE AND OF COURSE THE GRIEF AND LOSS IS GOING TO BE OVERWHELMING.

BUT THE WAY WE ARE GOING TO GET THROUGH THIS IS BECAUSE OF THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN NEW YORK CITY.

NEW YORK CITY IS THE GREATEST CITY IN THE WORLD, NOT JUST BECAUSE OF THE GEOGRAPHY BUT BECAUSE OF THE PEOPLE.

WE NEED TO BE ONE NEW YORK.

IF WE'RE UNITED, KIND, COMPASSIONATE AND SMART AND STRATEGIC, WE'LL GET THROUGH THIS TOGETHER.

I BELIEVE IN THIS GREAT CITY AND I BELIEVE WE CAN DO IT.

WELL, NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER COREY JOHNSON.

AGAIN, WE SO APPRECIATE YOU SPENDING SOME TIME WITH US AND YOUR THOUGHTS ON ALL OF THIS AND I KNOW YOU AND EVERYBODY THERE ARE WORKING VERY HARD.

SO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR ALL OF YOUR HELP.

YOU ALL STAY SAFE AND HOPEFULLY WE'LL TALK MORE DOWN THE ROAD.

COREY THANK YOU SO MUCH.

SO GOOD TO TALK TO YOU.

YOU TOO, JACK.

STAY SAFE.

YOU AND YOUR FAMILY.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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