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Bill de Blasio on inequality, Eric Garner and his 2020 competitors

Democratic presidential candidate and Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio says that he is running for president because he wants to “rebalance” the country. 

“I had this fundamental belief that what’s happened over the last 40 years since the election of Ronald Reagan is, the country is less and less serving working Americans, more and more serving the very few, the wealthy and the big corporations,” de Blasio told PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff. He said as president, he would focus on working class and middle class Americans, and push for a significant tax increase on the wealthy. 

De Blasio touted his record as Mayor of New York City as one of his key qualifications, despite the fact that only 29 percent of New York state registered voters view him favorably, according to a recent poll by Siena College. He listed wage increases, universal pre-K and criminal justice reforms among his accomplishments.

Confronting critics, de Blasio explained why he did not immediately act against New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put Eric Garner in a choke hold during an arrest in July 2014. A medical examiner ruled Garner’s death, shortly after the incident at a local hospital, a homicide. Garner’s death sparked protests around the country over police use of force, heightened further when a local grand jury decided not to indict Pantaleo later that year. De Blasio said he held off on action against Pantaleo at the advice of the Department of Justice, which undertook its own investigation. Last month, it announced that officers involved in Garner’s death would not face federal charges, though a New York Police Department judge has recommended Pantaleo be terminated. That decision now goes to the city’s police commissioner. 

“In retrospect, I thought I was dealing with an honest broker in the Justice Department. That proved not to be true,” he told Woodruff. “Five years passed. I have said we would never make that mistake again.”

Other highlights: 

On the future of the Democratic Party: De Blasio said he is running for president primarily because he wants to see a government that puts working people first.” De Blasio said he “thinks very highly” of Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, two progressive presidential candidates, but that his record leading New York City brings something different to the table. “I’m someone who is running one of the biggest, most complex places on Earth and has been able to make real change for everyday people,” he said.  

On a $15 minimum wage: As mayor, de Blasio raised the minimum wage for city workers to $15 an hour, which he says was a precursor to New York State’s state-wide $15 minimum wage. 

“We did it on a very big scale. And when the 15 dollar minimum wage idea first came out and got currency, I supported it from the beginning.” He listed the wage hike among the ways he says he has made fundamental changes in New York City. “I’ve [put working people first] in New York. I want to do it for the whole country.”

On taxing the rich: In the July presidential debates, de Blasio had one of the most memorable lines, saying he wants to “tax the hell out of the wealthy.” He has since released a plan to raise taxes, starting with a 1 percent tax on assets over $10 million that gradually increases  to a 3 percent tax on assets over $100 million. “We’re in a dramatic problem where the rich have gotten richer,” de Blasio said. “You talk to folks all over America. They’re feeling this society is not fair to them. That’s a dangerous reality we have to solve.” 

 

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We continue our series of conversations with 2020 presidential candidates. Last week, Judy Woodruff sat down with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to talk about his run for the Democratic nomination.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mayor Bill de Blasio, thank you for being here.

  • Bill de Blasio:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why are you running? I ask because there were already some 20 people in the race when you announced that you were going to jump in. And frankly you already got a big, complicated job.

  • Bill de Blasio:

    I do have a big job, and that's one of the reasons why I'm running, because to take on the role of president, you better be ready for it. I have a job that's often been described as the second toughest job in America. And I've been able to get a lot done in New York.

    It's a tough big place. It's a big place. It's the most diverse place on earth.

    We got pre-K for all our kids done. We lowered crime while improving their relationship between police committee, getting rid of things like stop and frisk that were dividing us. We did the $15 minimum wage, a lot of fundamental wages.

    So, I'm running because I know I can make change. And I'm running because I have this fundamental belief that what's happened over the last 40 years since the election of Ronald Reagan is the country is less and less serving working Americans, more and more serving the very few, the wealthy and the big corporations.

    We have to fix it. We have to put working people first again. I can do it. I have done it in New York. I want to do it for the whole country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You clearly are a candidate with progressive ideas. There are already two other prominent candidates in the race —

  • Bill de Blasio:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    — with progressive ideas, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren. They are running well ahead of you in terms of recognition, support. Why not leave it to them to make this argument?

  • Bill de Blasio:

    Judy, I think very highly of both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but I remind you it's six months until anyone even starts voting. We have a long way to go.

    And what I bring to the table is something different. Both of them are very fine legislators. I'm someone who is running one of the biggest, most complex places on earth and has been able to make real change for everyday people. That experience, that ability is different from other candidates.

    You can respect people. You can share values with them but still bring something different to the table.

    Now, what I'm concerned about is the Democratic Party, at this point there is a big debate going on, who are we, what's the heart and soul of our party? I say we need to be a progressive party. We need to be a party that's about working people. We need to be a party that actually shows people we're not about the status quo.

    And I think folks are more interested in actions than words. I'm able to say, look, you want to know who I am? Look at what I've done for 8.6 million people. And I think that would give voters assurance that they know what they're getting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mentioned a minimum wage. You brought that up in the debate the other night.

  • Bill de Blasio:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we noticed that Governor Andrew Cuomo's aide, one of them, tweeted after you said that that you had zero to do with the statewide $15 minimum wage, and that you raised the minimum wage for New York City workers only after workers in other parts of the state of New York —

  • Bill de Blasio:

    Well, that's just not accurate with all due respect to that individual. We moved the $15 minimum wage for city workers and for non-profit organizations that were funded by the city before the state of New York acted. In fact, that was one of the things that spurred the state of New York to act.

    So, I stand by that statement. We did it on a very big scale. And when the $15 minimum wage idea first came out and got currency, I supported it from the beginning. A lot of other Democrats held back and said it wasn't realistic. I fought for it from the beginning and helped to achieve it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Another economy-related question. You delivered what many people would say is a memorable line at the debate. At one point, you said you planned to tax the hell out of the wealthy.

  • Bill de Blasio:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What exactly does that mean?

  • Bill de Blasio:

    It means —

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where does it start?

  • Bill de Blasio:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where does —

  • Bill de Blasio:

    It's — look, the reason I was dramatic about it is to say we're in a dramatic problem where the rich have gotten richer to such a point now that the top 1 percent have more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. It keeps getting worse. In fact, the last big action on taxes was a huge giveaway to the wealthy and corporations.

    So I said, tax the hell, because I want to make it very clear, we can't just do this incrementally. We need to go back to the tax levels associated with those well-known radicals, John F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower. And the plan I put out, and you can go to taxthehell.com and see all about it, the plan makes very clear — we should have a 70 percent income tax rate for the wealthiest individuals.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Starting at what income?

  • Bill de Blasio:

    At $2 million.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    OK.

  • Bill de Blasio:

    And we should — we should repeal the Trump tax cuts. We should repeal the loss of state and local tax deductibility. That needs to go back to the way it was for 100 years. It was fair, we need to put it back.

    But for the wealthiest Americans who have benefited literally for four decades from favorable tax policies and all sorts of other benefits, we have to rebalance things. I can tell you, you talk to folks all over America, the feeling the society is not fair to them, that's a dangerous reality we have to solve.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're not worried about the signal that sends people in the middle class here, oh, yes, he says he's only going to tax the rich, but we know what that means?

  • Bill de Blasio:

    Well, I would say to people, look at what I have done, which has been very consistent on behalf of working people and middle-class people. The fact is this status quo — I think you'll find this all over this country — folks look at the status quo, they know it's broken. We're not going to fix it with little half measures. We have to do something really strong to rebalance the equation of this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You've had an up-and-down relationship, I think it's fair to say, with the New York City police. You're now —

  • Bill de Blasio:

    With the unions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    With the union. Well —

  • Bill de Blasio:

    I want to be clear. The rank-and-file are 36,000 people with all sorts of different views, but with some of the unions. That's a true statement.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just recently, criticism that you didn't — you have not called for the firing of Officer Pantaleo, who was responsible in the chokehold death of Eric Garner. What do you say to those people?

  • Bill de Blasio:

    So, one, the city of New York was told by the federal Justice Department soon after the tragedy of Eric Garner, and I know the family. They've gone through hell. It's a horrible tragedy. It should not have happened. We can't let it happen again.

    And we're focused on making sure there never is such a tragedy again in New York City. We have changed the way we police profoundly. Implicit bias training, de-escalation training, all sorts of things to make sure it never happens again.

    But the federal Justice Department told us, do not proceed with any action, do not proceed with departmental trial, because the Justice Department wanted to be able to do it the way they wanted to do it for — regarding criminal charges.

    I will tell you in retrospect, I thought I was dealing with an honest broker in the Justice Department. That proved not to be true. Five years passed. I've said, we would never make that mistake again, and God forbid there is another tragedy.

    But here's why I do not issue an opinion. A police department judge, this is something you wouldn't have assumed in the history of New York City, under today's NYPD, a police department judge said Officer Pantaleo must be terminated. We have two weeks now just procedurally it goes to the police commissioner.

    I believe this has been a fair, open, transparent process that will yield justice. My voicing of an opinion only complicates it and prolongs it because that could lead to a court case and prolong this case for a long time. We got to close this capture for the Garner family, for our city, for our nation. We've got to close this chapter with justice.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mayor Bill de Blasio from New York City, thank you very much for joining us.

  • Bill de Blasio:

    Thank you very much.

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