COMPTROLLER STRINGER REFLECTS ON HIS MOTHER’S DEATH FROM COVID-19, CALLS FOR NEW PLANS TO HELP NYC’S VULNERABLE COMMUNITIES

ARLENE STRINGER-CUEVAS DIED FROM CORONAVIRUS COMPLICATIONS ON APRIL 3

CALLING FOR NATIONAL VICTIMS COMPENSATION FUND TO SUPPORT FRONTLINE WORKERS’ FAMILIES

HOSTING BIWEEKLY WEBINARS FOR WOMEN AND MINORITY-OWNED BUSINESSES

Arlene Stringer-Cuevas, a former city councilwoman in the 1970s and mother of Comptroller Scott Stringer, passed away just weeks ago from complications of the coronavirus. She was 86 years old. Now the Comptroller is calling for immediate action to help protect all vulnerable communities during the pandemic- from the frontline workers to small businesses and communities of color. And, as his son makes an appearance during his Zoom interview, Stringer reflects on the importance of looking out for the next generation of New Yorkers by putting out real solutions to some of the city’s real problems- today.

Aired on April 27, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I AM JACK FORD.

AS WE CONTINUE OUR BATTLE AGAINST THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC, THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS ON THE FRONT LINES BATTLING TO PROTECT US, OUR HEALTH AND SAFETY, AND WELL-BEING, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE DANGERS TO THEM, AND WHAT SHOULD WE BE DOING RIGHT NOW TO PLAN TO HELP THEM NOT JUST NOW, BUT ALSO IN THE FUTURE?

NEW YORK CITY COMPTROLLER SCOTT STRINGER HAS BEEN ONE OF THE LEADING VOICES IN TAKING A LOOK AT THOSE QUESTIONS AND MANY OTHERS, AND WE ARE PLEASED TO HAVE HIM JOINING US RIGHT NOW.

MR. COMPTROLLER, WELCOME.

IT'S ALWAYS A PLEASURE TO HAVE YOU WITH US.

GOOD TO BE BACK WITH YOU.

LET ME START OFF BY OFFERING ALL OF OUR CONDOLENCES FOR THE LOSS OF YOUR MOTHER, AS A CONSEQUENCE OF THE VIRUS AND COVID-19, AND I KNOW YOU'VE SPOKEN OPENLY AND CANDIDLY ABOUT HER.

SHE SOUNDS LIKE A WONDERFUL PERSON, A TEACHER, A FORMER MEMBER OF THE CITY COUNCIL.

I WOULD SUSPECT SHE WAS SOMEBODY WHO WOULD TAKE THE TERM A TRUE NEW YORKER AND THAT WOULD BE ONE OF THE GREATEST COMPLIMENTS YOU COULD GIVE TO HER.

GIVE ME A SENSE OF THE MESSAGE THAT YOU'D LIKE TO GET OUT TO PEOPLE BASED UPON YOUR EXPERIENCE IN DEALING WITH HER LOSS, AND THE FOLKS THAT WORK WITH HER.

LOOK, IT'S A TRAGEDY OF EPIC PROPORTION FOR MY FAMILY, FOR THE KIDS.

SHE WAS A REMARKABLE WOMAN, TEACHER, MEMBER OF THE CITY COUNCIL IN THE DAYS WHEN THE CITY WAS ON THE EDGE OF FISCAL COLLAPSE, AND SHE SERVED ON THE COUNCIL DURING THAT TIME, SO I LEARNED SO MUCH FROM HER.

SHE HAD A FIGHTING SPIRIT.

SHE WAS FROM THE BRONX AND WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, SO WHAT'S HARD IS THE CLOSURE, BUT THERE'S NO FUNERAL.

THERE'S NO -- AND FOR THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF FAMILIES, YOU CAN'T HAVE TRADITIONAL MOURNING BECAUSE OF THE VIRUS, AND SO WHAT I'VE RELIED ON, JACK, AND IT'S REALLY MATTERED TO ME ARE THE TEXT MESSAGES, THE EMAILS, PEOPLE TELLING STORIES ABOUT HER.

I WAS UP UNTIL 1:00 IN THE MORNING ONE NIGHT WITH MY WIFE.

I SAID IF I DON'T GO TO BED READING THOUSANDS OF THESE MESSAGES, I'M GOING TO BE UP UNTIL 5:00 IN THE MORNING SO WHAT I WANTED TO SAY TO EVERYBODY, IT IS OKAY TO TEXT SOMEONE AND EMAIL THEM.

IT REALLY MATTERS, BECAUSE ABSENT THAT CONNECTION, THERE'S NO CLOSURE, AND SO THAT IS SOMETHING I THINK EVERYONE SHOULD THINK ABOUT.

IT'S MADE A BIG DIFFERENCE FOR MY WIFE AND I.

I THINK THAT'S IMPORTANT TO KNOW.

I KNOW WE'VE LOST SOME FRIENDS AND FOLKS DURING THIS PERIOD OF TIME, AND TO SAY TO YOURSELF, SHOULD I BE SENDING A TEXT?

IS THAT IMPOSING UPON THEM, BUT IT'S CERTAINLY HELPFUL I THINK TO HEAR FROM YOU ABOUT HOW YOU EXPERIENCE AND THE BENEFIT IT PROVIDED TO YOU.

NO QUESTION.

I JUST THINK FOR US, IT WAS GREAT TO HEAR FROM PEOPLE, BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW IF ANYONE KNOWS, AND SHE HAD A GREAT STORY AND THE STORIES OF MOTHERS ARE THE GREATEST STORIES OF THEM ALL, RIGHT?

THERE IS NOTHING BETTER.

AGAIN OUR CONDOLENCES, BUT OUR CONGRATULATIONS ON A MARVELOUS LIFE.

THANK YOU.

THAT SHOEE HAD LIVED.

THANK YOU.

SCOTT, LET ME MENTION SOME OF THE THINGS I MENTIONED IN THE INTRODUCTION.

YOU'VE BEEN OUT FRONT IN TERMS OF SAYING WE HAVE TO BE PLANNING NOW TO PROTECT THOSE PEOPLE ON THE FRONT LINES, AND YOU'VE TALKED ABOUT, SORT OF A PROGRAM VERY SIMILAR TO WHAT WE DID AFTER 9/11.

EXPLAIN WHAT YOUR THOUGHTS ARE HERE AND HOW IT WOULD WORK.

WELL, AFTER 9/11, WHEN PEOPLE WENT TO THE HOSPITAL OR THE TRADE CENTER THAT DAY AND THE FIREFIGHTERS, POLICE OFFICERS, EMERGENCY SERVICE WORKERS, THEY DIED THAT DAY, AND THEIR FAMILIES WERE LEFT WITH NOTHING, AND THE VICTIMS COMPENSATION FUND, A FEDERAL FUND, WAS THERE AT THE END TO MAKE THEIR LIVES BETTER, TO RAISE CHILDREN WHO WOULD NEVER KNOW, IN SOME CASES, THEIR OWN FATHER OR THEIR OWN MOTHER, AND WE SPENT $7 BILLION IN FEDERAL MONEY TO DO THAT, AND IT WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO, AND THEN WE DID MORE TO MAKE SURE WE CARED FOR PEOPLE'S HEALTH ISSUES, AND SO WE HAVE A FRAMEWORK.

NOW, WE HAVE SIMILAR HEROES TODAY, BUT NOW WE MUST ADD THE NURSES, THE DOCTORS, THE PEOPLE ON THE FRONT LINES THAT INCLUDE TRANSIT WORKERS, TEACHERS, PEOPLE LOSING THEIR LIVES, BECAUSE THEY'VE GONE TO WORK TO MAKE LIFE BETTER FOR THE REST OF US.

I'D THINK ABOUT THE GROCERY STORE WORKER WHO DELIVERS FOOD.

YOU ONLY KNOW THAT PERSON THROUGH THEIR EYES, BECAUSE YOU CAN'T SEE THEM THROUGH THEIR MASK.

THEY ARE PEOPLE YOU'RE NEVER GOING TO KNOW BUT THEY'RE PROVIDING FOOD FOR YOUR FAMILIES.

SOME OF THEM ARE GOING TO PERISH, AND WE HAVE TO MAKE SURE WE CARE FOR THEIR FAMILIES AND WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT A MULTI-TRILLION-DOLLAR STIMULUS PACKAGE OUT OF WASHINGTON, IF WE CAN'T NOW ESTABLISH THAT FUND SOONER RATHER THAN LATER, WITH ALL THE MONEY WE'RE SPENDING TO FIGHT THE VIRUS AND THEN REBUILD OUR ECONOMIES OR MAINTAIN OUR ECONOMIES, THEN IT'S JUST SOMETHING WRONG WITH US SO I DO THINK WE NEED A NATIONAL VICTIMS COMPENSATION FUND.

CITIES MUST LOBBY FOR OUR WORKERS.

THIS IS CRITICAL, SO THAT PEOPLE KNOW FAMILIES WILL BE PROVIDED FOR.

YOU HAVE A VISITOR JOINING US.

THAT'S GOOD.

IT'S NICE TO SEE.

AS I SAID, I HAD -- I HAD OUR 1-MONTH-OLD GRANDSON IS LIVING HERE WITH US, AND OUR SON AND DAUGHTER AND HE MADE A SURPRISE APPEARANCE VOCALLY.

THAT'S GOOD.

OKAY.

LET ME ASK YOU THIS.

GIVEN OUR DEEPLY DIVIDED POLITICAL LANDSCAPE HERE, ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC THAT THIS TYPE OF A FUND CAN BE CREATED?

I THINK WE HAVE TO DO IT.

IT'S THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

IF YOU CAN'T BE BIPARTISAN WITH THIS, THEN I DON'T KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON IN WASHINGTON, BUT LOOK.

I WISH I COULD KNOW WHO THE EMERGENCY SERVICE WORKERS WERE WHO CAME AND TOOK MY MOM TO THE HOSPITAL WHEN SHE COULDN'T BREATHE.

I DON'T KNOW WHO THEY ARE.

HOW AM I GOING TO SAY THANK YOU?

I DON'T KNOW WHAT THEIR LIFE OUTCOME IS GOING TO BE.

WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN TO THEIR FAMILY?

I THINK ABOUT THIS BECAUSE THEY RISK THEIR LIVES TO TRY TO PROTECT MY MOM, AND THAT IS SOMETHING THAT WE HAVE TO RECOGNIZE NATIONALLY.

WE CAN GET INTO THE POLITICS OF HOW TRUMP ALLOWED THIS TO HAPPEN, THE STUMBLING AND BUMBLING IN WASHINGTON.

I COULD TALK ABOUT THAT FOR DAYS BUT LET'S DO SOMETHING WE CAN ALL AGREE ON.

LET'S SET UP THIS NOW SO WE CAN PROTECT OUR WORKERS.

YOU'RE DOING OTHER THINGS HERE, IN TERMS OF PROVIDING GUIDANCE FOR PEOPLE IN THIS CITY, BECAUSE SO MANY PEOPLE ARE SAYING, ALL RIGHT, I'M HEARING ABOUT ALL OF THESE THINGS THAT I COULD BE DOING TO HELP MYSELF BUT I DON'T KNOW HOW TO DO IT.

HOW DO I GET THROUGH THE PROCESSES, IF YOU WILL.

TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT YOU'RE DOING TO HELP PROVIDE GUIDANCE FOR PEOPLE.

REAL QUICK, WE'VE COMPILED A LIST OF PROGRAM SERVICES.

WE'VE CALLED OUR COVID RESOURCE CENTER.

IT'S ON THE COMPTROLLER'S WEBSITE.

PEOPLE ARE DOWNLOADING IT FROM ALL OVER THE CITY.

IT'S A GREAT RESOURCE GUIDE TO GET THE SERVICES PEOPLE NEED.

WE'RE ALSO TAKING IT ONE STEP FURTHER.

A LOT OF THE DISCUSSION ABOUT SMALL BUSINESSES AND HOW WE'RE GOING TO HELP, A LOT OF THIS PAPERWORK AND A LOT OF THESE PROGRAMS ARE SO BYZANTINE, IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO NAVIGATE THEM, SO OUR TRUTH DIVERSITY OFFICER IS HOLDING BIWEEKLY WEBINARS FOR WOMEN AND MINORITY-OWNED BUSINESSES SO THEY HAVE AN UNDERSTANDING OF HOW THEY CAN ACCESS GOVERNMENT TRADITIONALLY, AS YOU KNOW.

THESE BUSINESSES ARE SORT OF ON THE OUTSIDE OF GOVERNMENT, BECAUSE THE GOVERNMENT DOESN'T ENHANCE OR WORK WITH THE WMBs.

THAT'S WHY WE HAVE SUCH FEW WMBs HAVING CITY CONTRACTS.

WE'RE NOW TRANSFERRING THE WORK THAT WE DO IN THAT REGARD TO MAKING SURE THAT WE GIVE THEM THE KNOWLEDGE AND THE POWER THEY NEED TO GET THEIR BUSINESSES UP AND RUNNING.

IT'S BIWEEKLY, TUESDAYS AND THURSDAYS, JACK.

ATTENDANCE IS MANDATORY.

AND CERTAINLY STRONGLY SUGGESTED.

GREAT TO PROVIDE THIS KIND OF GUIDANCE FOR PEOPLE.

YOU MENTIONED BEFORE, AND I WANT TO FOLLOW UP ON THAT, THAT WE ARE FINDING NOW IN TERMS OF OUR MOST VULNERABLE POPULATIONS THAT THEY ARE SUFFERING SO VERY DEEPLY NOT JUST FROM, AND I DON'T MEAN TO MINIMIZE THIS IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM, COVID-19 AND ALL OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF THAT, BUT ALSO WE'RE SEEING THE DIFFERENCES, THE STRATA, IF YOU WILL, THE DIFFERENCES IN THE SOCIAL STRATA HERE, HAVING AN IMPACT ON THEM.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

WHAT IS THE CITY DOING TO TRY TO FIRST IDENTIFY THESE MOST VULNERABLE COMMUNITIES AND SECOND TO HELP THEM?

LOOK, CITY GOVERNMENT HAS TALKED A GOOD GAME ABOUT TALE OF TWO CITIES BUT WHERE HAVE WE BEEN IN THE LAST MANY YEARS?

THE TRUTH IS THIS VIRUS DISCRIMINATES, IT GOES AFTER THE MOST VULNERABLE, PEOPLE WITH DIABETES AND PREEXISTING CONDITIONS.

THE FOLKS WHO ARE SUFFERING THE MOST ARE PEOPLE IN NEIGHBORHOODS THAT TRADITIONALLY HAVE BEEN VICTIMIZED BY POLLUTION AND LACK OF PROPER PLANNING FOR HEALTH CARE, OBESITY ISSUES, INCOME DISPARITY, HOUSING ISSUES, PEOPLE LIVING TWO, THREE, FOUR PEOPLE IN ONE APARTMENT IN A SMALL ONE-BEDROOM, THAT IS CONTRIBUTING TO THE SPREAD.

SO PEOPLE OF COLOR ARE BEING HIT HARDEST BY THE VIRUS, AND THE GOVERNMENT, AS WE THINK ABOUT OPENING THE ECONOMY, WE'VE GOT TO MAKE IT RIGHT FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE NEIGHBORHOODS THAT ARE BEING HIT THE HARDEST, NEIGHBORHOODS THAT TRADITIONALLY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN HIT HARD.

YOU KNOW, SOMEONE'S TELLING ME WHEN A COLD COMES IN, A COLD COMES TO A CITY, IN THIS CASE THE VIRUS, IT'S PNEUMONIA IN COMMUNITIES OF COLOR, BECAUSE OF THE LACK OF RESOURCES.

I WANT TO CHANGE THAT STRATEGY AS WE BEGIN TO OPEN UP THE ECONOMY, AND WE WILL BEAT THIS VIRUS, SO THAT WE'RE NEVER IN THIS POSITION AGAIN, AND I HOPE THAT WE CAN DO THAT, AND MY OFFICE IS GOING TO LEAD THE CHARGE ON THIS, BECAUSE WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT BUDGETING, YOU GOT TO LOOK IN THE EYES OF THE PEOPLE WHO SUFFERED THE MOST, BURIED THE MOST FAMILY MEMBERS, AND ONCE AGAIN, PREEXISTING HEALTH CONDITIONS HAS BEEN OUR CLARION CALL FOR 20 YEARS AND LOOK WHERE WE ARE TODAY.

PEOPLE ARE DYING BECAUSE WE DID NOT THINK THROUGH ONE CITY FOR EVER EVERYBODY AND THAT'S WHAT'S CAMP CATCHING US NOW.

I WONDER IF YOU THINK IN SOME WAYS, AND WE'VE SEEN THIS IN THE PAST SOMETIMES WE NEED CRISES TO DRIVE SIGNIFICANT CHANGE.

WE TALKED ABOUT THIS FOR DECADES BUT NOW WE'RE CONFRONTED WITH A REALITY AND A CRISIS.

I ASKED YOU BEFORE ABOUT BEING OPTIMISTIC.

ARE YOU AT ALL OPTIMISTIC THAT NOW ONE OF THE CONSEQUENCES, ONE OF THE POSITIVE CONSEQUENCES OF THESE TROUBLED TIMES IT WE MIGHT SAY NOW WE'RE REALLY GOING TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS?

IT'S AN INTERESTING QUESTION.

AM I OPTIMISTIC?

I AM.

I GREW UP, AND YOU KNOW MY MOM SERVED ON THE CITY COUNCIL DURING THE CITY'S FISCAL CRISIS IN THE '70s, WE WEATHERED 9/11.

WE HAD THE HURRICANE HIT OUR CITY.

WE HAD THE ECONOMIC MELTDOWN.

WE HAVE SEEN THE HURT, THAT THINGS WE DON'T SEE WHEN IT HITS US, WE SEE WHAT ENDS UP HAPPENING TO SO MUCH OF OUR PEOPLE, SO I'VE SEEN THIS AS MANY NEW YORKERS HAVE.

WE GOT TO COME OUT FIGHTING BIGGER AND STRONGER ON THESE ISSUES, BUT I DO THINK WE HAVE TO KIND OF GET OUR ACT TOGETHER.

ENOUGH CLOWNING AROUND.

IT REALLY IS A TIME TO LOOK AT WHERE WE ARE FINANCIALLY IN THE CITY.

CITY COUNCIL, THE MAYOR SIMPLY DID NOT SAVE ENOUGH FOR A RAINY DAY.

THAT HURTS US NOW, AS WE DEAL WITH OUR HUGE BUDGET DEFICIT.

WE HAVE TO START LOOKING AT THE CITY PROGRAMMATICALLY, INSTEAD OF THROWING MONEY AT PROBLEMS, WE HAVE TO ACTUALLY MEASURE RESULTS, SO WE COULD FINALLY GET OUR HANDLE AROUND HOMELESSNESS AND HEALTH CARE ISSUES.

THE GOVERNMENT IS ASKING ME TO LOOK AT OUR HOSPITAL SYSTEM.

WE'RE DOING THAT AND GOING TO DO A LOT MORE IN THE COMPTROLLER'S OFFICE IN TERMS OF AUDITING AND INVESTIGATION, AS A WAY OF FINALLY PUTTING OUT REAL SOLUTIONS TO SOME OF THE CITY'S REAL ECONOMIC PROBLEMS AND BY THE WAY, IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT YOU AND I, JACK.

IT REALLY IS ABOUT THE NEXT GENERATION OF NEW YORKERS.

THIS LITTLE GUY SITTING NEXT TO ME IS A PUBLIC SCHOOL KID.

HE'S REMOTE LEARNING.

HE'S A BIT OF A CHARACTER, BUT I WANT TO MAKE SURE THIS GENERATION OF NEW YORKERS GET THE BEST OF NEW YORK, AND THAT'S WHAT MOTIVATES ME.

RIGHT, AND THAT'S MOST IMPORTANT AS YOU KNOW.

ONCE AGAIN NEW YORK CITY COMPTROLLER SCOTT STRINGER.

AGAIN OUR CONDOLENCES FOR THE LOSS OF YOUR MOM, A WONDERFUL PERSON.

THANKS FOR JOINING US AND YOUR BUDDY FOR JOINING US ALSO.

YOU ALL STAY SAFE AND WELL AND WE'LL LOOK FORWARD TALKING WITH YOU AGAIN REAL SOON.

THANK YOU.

TAKE CARE, SCOTT.

SAY GOOD-BYE.

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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