Mayor Bill de Blasio held his 31st town hall meeting in Harlem last week. On the campaign trail for re-election, the mayor, along with several commissioners, took questions from Upper Manhattan constituents at the Harlem Police Athletic League’s gymnasium.
Participants, who RSVP’d to attend the town hall, were chosen at random by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Bill Perkins. During the longer than three-hour meeting, de Blasio took questions on housing, homelessness, transportation and quality of life issues.
“I’ve had an amazing opportunity to go to communities all over the city and spend real time listening to people’s concerns and having a real back and forth,” he said.
Before the meeting, de Blasio sat down with the AmNews to discusses several issues affecting Black New Yorkers.
The town hall meeting took place just days after an NYPD officer fatally shot a 32-year-old Black man, Dwayne Jeune, in the Bronx. Jeune’s mother called officers because her son was acting erratically. He allegedly waved a flat-ended knife at officers before being Tasered. When he didn’t back down, an officer fatally shot Jeune five times in front of his mother.
De Blasio said at the time he didn’t know every detail of the issue but said the shooting was “painful” because something went wrong in Jeune’s life that wasn’t treated effectively. He mentioned his wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray, who works with mental health advocacy.
“Something obviously went wrong a long time ago, and what I want to get to is we have to get at the root causes here,” he said. “This is what my wife is trying to do with the Thrive NYC initiative. There are many thousands of New Yorkers with untreated mental illness.”
Addressing the police’s actions, de Blasio said the investigation is ongoing and said the officer involved followed police protocol because the call did not specify the officers were being faced with violence.
“Based on what we know now, it does appear every protocol was followed and that’s why we have full investigations,” he said. “We have been continuing to train more and more officers in how to handle emotionally disturbed people. That has been helpful, but we have a lot more work to do.”
When asked about police and community relations, de Blasio admitted there is a lot of work to do but said there have been changes.
“Stop and frisk is down 93 percent since we took office, complaints against officers are way down [to] the lowest they’ve been in 15 years. Neighborhood policing is much better model. More than 50 percent of our officers live in the five boroughs,” he said. “I understand why a lot of people are not only concerned but, in many cases, skeptical because of decades of injustice, and my job is proving that these changes can take hold.”
On the issues of affordable housing, the mayor called the issues a “crisis” that he says the city is expanding resources on, but thousands aren’t able to be reached right away.
De Blasio outlined four points to address housing: intensive investment in public housing, fairness for the 2 to 2.5 million New Yorkers living in rent-stabilized housing, the city’s new affordable housing plan started in 2014 and the newly passed the Right to Counsel Law. The law gives city residents making less than $50,000 the right to a free city-paid lawyer to fight an eviction.
“All of those pieces can help,” he said. But that’s still not enough. I’m looking for more and more opportunity to go farther to find additional resources. This vision reaches well over 3 million to 3.5 million people.”
However, while the mayor praised himself for more affordable housing, his administration was slapped with a lawsuit this week by three Black residents accusing him of trying to hide a report on the racial breakdown of affordable housing lotteries.
The Anti-Discrimination Center, a nonprofit organization, says hiding the numbers maintains segregated neighborhoods. Preference in affordable housing lotteries is given to those already living in the neighborhood. Those outside can’t move in.
When asked about one of the hottest topics on voters’ minds this election season, public transit, de Blasio maintained that it is up to New York State to deal with the issue. This week de Blasio unveiled his plan to tax the rich to pay for repairs to the MTA along with reduced fare for low-income New Yorkers.
“What has happened over the last couple of months is a crisis,” he said. “It’s dredged up a lot of truth and the fact that the state does run the MTA and for a long time has not taken full responsibility. Accepting of the responsibility is the first way you solve a problem. This crisis has forced that clarity. The state has to give the resources it should have done long ago, including the $156 million that they took out of the budget the last few years and did not give back. We are ready to work and sit down on a bigger plan to address the long-term needs.”
De Blasio announced that as part of his “City Hall in Your Borough” tour the next stop will be Manhattan and will be centered at an uptown location. The location and dates will be announced soon.