A Conversation with Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (S3E01)

Being the mayor of New York City is one of the hardest jobs in politics and government. Former NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio served two terms after a long career in city government and politics. Listen to a lively conversation about government and pizza.

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Bill de Blasio: Here in this city. I love my people. But as I say, you know, I represented 8.8 million highly opinionated people. If you get scared of criticism or swayed too much by criticism, you might as well go home. Government rooted in the needs of the people. Government that listens to the grassroots and stays connected to the grassroots and government that is not captive only to the wealthy and the powerful. I’m a big believer in perfect is the enemy of good. I’m a big believer that sometimes you start something and then you, you know, it may not work perfectly the first time you keep going.

David Martin: Welcome to The Good Government Show. I’m Dave Martin, and I’m about to have a conversation with an old friend. But there’s a twist. My old friend is former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. So this really is a special conversation with the ex-mayor. Mayor de Blasio helps us kick off season three of the good government show last year.

Back in season two, we started to talk to government leaders to get their take on government what they thought good government was all about. So this season we’re going to expand on that. We’ve lined up interviews with leaders across the country and we talk a lot about what works and what it takes to get good government. So first up, the former mayor of New York City, Mayor de Blasio, who started in politics volunteering first on the campaign for Mayor David Dinkins.

He won and that led him to work on the mayor’s staff and city hall. He ran a congressional campaign, and that led to his appointment as regional director of U.S. Housing and Urban Development. Then he was campaign manager for Hillary Clinton. Her successful run for New York Senate. Then he ran his own races. First elected to the New York City Council, then as New York City public advocate and lastly, as mayor of the city of New York.

But there’s so much more to his story. He continued to work on housing issues. He have same sex partners, get equal rights. He created a watch list for bad property owners, exposing poor landlords who wouldn’t make repairs. And he opposed a plan to lay off some 4000 teachers in a budget cut. He ultimately won that fight against City Hall, as Mary had both highs and lows and we discussed both.

He was elected in a landslide win and then reelected in a landslide. He served two terms as mayor of the city of New York, and he goes down in history as the tallest mayor in the history of New York now. How’s that for a record? Now he’s teaching the next generation of leaders at New York University. So with all that experience and all those years behind him, this really was a fascinating conversation on government, all with the former mayor of New York City.

And I’m going to have that coming up right after the break.

David Martin: The good government show is sponsored by NACO. That’s the National Association of Counties. County Government is actually the oldest form of government in the United States, and it touches more people directly. Roads, highways, hospitals, schools, recycling law enforcement, water and sewers in most of the country, those services are maintained by the county that’s county government. Naco is a nationwide organization that represents all 3069 counties across USA.

NACO helps county government work better together through things like sharing best practices. Because when county government works well, well, that’s just good government.

David Martin: Welcome to the Good Government show. I’m Dave Martin. And I’m very honored to have the former mayor of New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio. Thank you for joining us.

Bill de Blasio: My pleasure, Dave. We go back a long way. It’s good to be reunited.

David Martin: Yes, I was going to I was going to sort of disclaim that right at the beginning. We’ve known each other for I don’t know, how long have we do we go back to your work? We I met you on the Hillary Clinton campaign. So that’s 23 years.

Bill de Blasio: Oh, wow 23. And you live you live in what was my city council district in Brooklyn?

David Martin: Correct. We are practically neighbors.

Bill de Blasio: Yes. So?

David Martin: So, yes. And we’ve we’ve managed to stay in touch over the years in your service. So you were and correct me if my information is correct and please feel free to fill in some details you started off working in in campaigns, Charlie Rangel, former congressman, and also Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign. You worked for Housing and Urban Development, I believe, and then you were elected to city council, my district right here in Brooklyn. Then you served as public advocate for the city of New York, and then you were finally elected mayor, correct.

Bill de Blasio: For two very long terms. Including two years of fighting COVID. You left out that. I started out.

David Martin: On the campaign of David Dinkins when he ran for mayor and ended up serving in city hall for four years. And I’m on his second campaign as well. So.

Bill de Blasio: So when you see it all day, I see it all.

David Martin: So. So were you when you walked out after your last day of the Dinkins administration, did you say, I’m coming back here someday?

Bill de Blasio: No, you decidedly not. No, no, no, no, no, no. I at that point was very unsure. And that was a really tough time in the history of the city as it was. And I think Mayor Dinkins was not always treated fairly, shall we say and the at the end of that experience, I wanted to continue to be in public service, but I was kind of soured on the notion of running for elective office. And then over time, my my mind opened up again. But if you had said to me that day, Hey, pal, you’re coming back here, and in that job, I would have said, You’re smoking something, my friend and that’s when it wasn’t legal.

David Martin:
So when you came back as mayor and you watched, how do you say, Huh, this is different? Wow. This is a different. What did was it a whole different experience walking back in as mayor?

Bill de Blasio: Oh, my God. Yes. I mean, I.

David Martin: Mean, obviously, you’ve been in the building as public advocate and, you know, speaker, but there’s a little bit difference walking into City Hall and Gracie as mayor.

Bill de Blasio: Yes, you said, speaker, I was not speaker of the city council. I wasn’t I wasn’t every day member of city council. But Chirlane, my wife, Chirlane, who I met working for Mayor Dinkins, she likes to talk about the first time she got invited to a meeting at Gracie Mansion as a staffer. She snuck some of the napkins out and kept them as a souvenir because it felt so special to be there and then like, you know, fast forward, we’re living there. It was you know, it was a strange familiarity. Yeah. Because it had been so much of our lives around City Hall and Gracie Mansion. And at the same time. You know, I had thought that being. A staffer years earlier prepared me. And I think a little bit of it did. But the world had changed so much. It was so much faster. Yeah. And so much more intense that we didn’t, you know, thank God Mayor Dinkins didn’t have to deal with social media, among other things. A lot of changes. And so, no, I’m glad I had the previous. Experience because I think it gave some grounding, some familiarity to the Rhythm City intensely. But but it was a whole different species by the time I got there.

David Martin: They say that being the mayor of New York City is the second hardest job in politics after being president. United States. Do you agree?

Bill de Blasio: I do. I do. Look, I had the opportunity. To work in the Clinton administration to work on the second Clinton presidential campaign and obviously to work with the first lady when she ran first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, when she ran for U.S. Senate. So I got a very substantial exposure to the world of the presidency and then. You know, worked with a lot of. Mayors around the country through the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities. I worked with members of Congress over the years, governors. You know. I think there’s a lot of tough jobs. I don’t want to belittle the. Others, but I think in terms of scrutiny. Speed. Expectation, the media dynamics, and we always are the toughest, biggest media in the country, in New York City. And just the diversity is the most diverse place on earth. You know, it’s almost 9 million people packed in together in a small area. What could go wrong?

David Martin: I mean, I think I read somewhere it’s like it’s the largest board of education in the nation. It’s the largest It’s the sixth largest army in the world. I think, you know, when you when you look at different ethnic groups, there’s like more Puerto Ricans in New York and there are in the island in Puerto Rico, there’s more Asian-Americans than there are in like all of Japan. I mean, I think these are all fair stats, right?

Bill de Blasio: But I think those are, you know. Some exaggeration, guys. Okay.

David Martin: All right.

Bill de Blasio: I think you’re right about largest. School system in the country. You’re right about our police forces, the largest in the country. And yes, rivals the size of many armed forces around the world. Our community is a different people from different countries are. Typically one of the. Largest outside those countries.

David Martin: Okay.

Bill de Blasio: That’s a true statement. So it’s it’s quite striking. I mean, just to generalize on our very, very diverse Latino communities, three million latinos in New York City, you know, I don’t have the latest count on the size of the total population of Chicago, but I think it’s somewhere in that ballpark. Okay. You know, just just. To recognize it’s not just diversity, it’s the intensity of the diversity.

David Martin: How do you manage that? How do you manage when someone says and I’m sure this happens like, oh, you can’t do that because, you know, that belongs to this group, Oh, you can’t do that because, you know, on that day, because that’s a special day for this group. I mean, how do you manage to to juggle all of that?

Bill de Blasio: Well, of course, it creates complexities. But I think if you start from the perspective that you want to respect all groups and include all groups, it helps a lot. I mean, for example, when I came into office, a lot of members of our Muslim community, which is depending on who you talk to, some people would say it’s about a half million people. Some people would say it’s closer to a million. But probably about. 100,000 kids or more in our school population are of Muslim background. And we as a city did not. Recognize their religious holidays, but we did recognize Christian and Jewish religious holidays. So one of the things my team and I did was we. Formally added. The two most important Muslim holidays to the school. Calendar. Well, I’ll tell you, that had a. Massive impact in terms of the community, both the human reality, the familial reality, but also the sense in the community that they were being respected and seen as an important part of all that is New York.

David Martin: City was a parent with a kid, a public school. It was like, you have another day off.

Bill de Blasio: Yeah, yeah. I know that. The parents might have had different views on that. But yes, but the the important. Point was to keep some harmony around here. And I would note that New York City is, in the scheme of things, much more harmonious than most very diverse places in the world. And certainly more harmonious than we were. You know, when I started working in New York City government politics, the end of the 1980s, there was horrible tensions and often violent tensions between communities. We’ve got problems but far, far improved over those decades. So, you know, I think the notion of making a very evident display. Of respect for all communities really matters. And then there are some things that you can do to to kind of create some. Balance. And you’re right, there are times when you can’t do something, you know, on a certain day, or you have to think through the prism of respect for that community. The Orthodox Jewish community has a lot of holidays that.

You know, a lot of people who are. Don’t happen to be Jewish or Orthodox Jewish might. Not know about it. You have to learn that and understand there’s certain days that if you want to do anything that might involve members of that community, don’t even think about it. But it’s fine. It just becomes its own language. You sort of get used to. Did you balance to be struck?

David Martin: I hate to use this word, but I will. Is it a fun job? I mean, did you enjoy doing it or is it just is there so much thrown at you daily that you just are getting through the day, getting through the, you know, the calendar?

Bill de Blasio: It does elements, of course. Both. There were some times that were not fun at all. Yeah, I went through some very painful realities in the relationship between police and community. We lost some police officers. We had tragedies involving neighborhood residents. I mean, we had lots of things that no one could possibly think or fun. And just the entire experience of the pandemic was. Also months lost and just unbelievably. Tense and confusing because we didn’t have enough information and we didn’t know where this whole thing was going.

David Martin: And for a while, New York was the hardest hit city in.

Bill de Blasio: America, unquestionably. But there’s also some beautiful things, of course, about the job. I mean, if you love the city, I am in love with New York City and always have been. And in the way. You get to experience the city is unbelievable. As mayor, I mean, you just you you see and. Feel it probably. More completely than anyone gets. To.

David Martin: And you took the subway. You took the subway to work.

Bill de Blasio: I did not take the subway to work directly. That’s not true. Bloomberg did that. Okay. I got his you know, he was chauffeured to the subway stop. So from his extreme, from his Upper East Side mansion. So I’m like, I don’t want to overdo the meaning of that. Okay. I, I took the subway. A fair amount. Is.

David Martin: The best way to get around town.

Bill de Blasio: Yeah, a lot. Of times, especially going into midtown, it just made more sense. But no, I think the the thing that is. Beautiful about the job is the connection to the people, the city, and all the diversity and the richness of the city in terms of the humanity. The other thing is you meet. Amazing. People. Yeah. And you one thing I loved, I. Mean, there’s days when you take an idea and you actually bring it to fruition and that that creative process. I mean, I love talking about how we got to universal pre-K because it was extremely difficult, extremely challenging, but also a lot of creativity, a lot of teamwork, a lot of inspiration. And, you know, big things. Can happen in New York.

David Martin: That was something I really wanted to ask you about because that was one of your campaign promises just bring universal pre-K, certainly a good government idea to bring universal pre-K. How hard was it to get that accomplished?

Bill de Blasio: Well, I’ll tell you, I Don’t think it is the hardest thing in the world by any stretch. And I’ll tell you why. Because first of all, it is the best investment of your education dollars you could possibly make. So right there. If and I’d say to any of the folks listening. Who are thinking about. How to improve their school systems, they don’t happen to have universal pre-K right now. I’d say whatever you’re spending on education, if you don’t have universal pre-K, I’d take some of your current resources and move it.

That way. Or think very seriously about what we did, which is figuring out a path to create some new resources where some some people can do that, some people can’t. Why originally propose a tax on the wealthy? And we did it very mindfully, realizing that it. Might be one of the. Things where there could be some unity that if you were going to ask more of those who had done very well asking for it for education, particularly education for the youngest kids, is something that even a lot of wealthy folks bought into.

Yeah. And that will work in some places. Obviously, it won’t work in other places. We ultimately got our state legislature to fund the program partially. Directly. Instead of doing a tax. I think there’s a real bipartisanship around universal pre-K. It’s fascinating to watch in this country. Only about a third. Of American kids get full day pre-K, which is a horrible dynamic. But it’s interesting that some red states, including Georgia and Oklahoma and Alabama, have done some. Really. Groundbreaking work to make pre-K more accessible compared to most of the country. And obviously. Blue states and cities as well. And New York, Washington, D.C., New Jersey is doing it a lot more now. Michigan’s doing a lot more.

The the fact. Is, this is an issue that lends itself to bipartisanship. And in terms of the. Methodology that. We know how to provide quality pre-K in this country, it does exist. It exists in public schools, exists in community based organizations, religious schools, charter schools. We used all of them. And it’s not. Something you have to invent. It exists. It’s something you have to fund. You have to find teachers, you have to train the teachers. You make sure the quality levels are.

David Martin: But you’re not reinventing the wheel. So that makes it easier, right?

Bill de Blasio: Yeah, that’s right. And I just couldn’t let me tell you. And we saw. The test results. Whatever you think of test results, other one measure we saw. The improvement began as soon as we got kids getting a third grade who had been in full day pre-K, we saw the improvement beginning of test scores. And we particularly saw that the achievement gap was starting to close and it benefited African-American, Latino kids deeply. This is something if this is as good government as it gets, I urge everyone to find a pathway, even if it takes time.

David Martin: So let’s look at let’s look at the other side of the coin. You came under fire as mayor for having a sort of a what’s the best word frosty relationship for the police department. How do you manage that and how do you manage the kind of severe backlash you got in the media for not being as attentive to police department as they thought you should have?

Bill de Blasio: Well, I really liked the way you. Phrased the questions, because I think that’s not what happened. But I think that’s exactly what was perceived. Okay. Because what’s the police department. So there’s a police leadership. Yeah. There’s the police. Union. There’s the rank and file members who don’t necessarily think the way the leadership or the unions. You know, I think yes, I think. It was much more comfortable. I had a fantastic relationship with the police leadership and, you know, a lot of the policies we put in place actually were agreed. Had a lot of. Support for agreement from even the unions. Some of the unions, at least we had five police unions and some of the rank and file. And then there were other things that clearly there is disagreement on. But it wasn’t one thing. And then. You know, I have. To be clear. The media portrayal. You know. I think it’s a problem in America when if you if you fight with a union and I’m. Pro-Union. Yes.

Obviously have a long history of believing labor movement. But I have had real differences with public safety unions. And I think there’s something we need to talk about, about public safety unions having a right to support and defend their members interests, but also having an obligation to the broader. Public. Because of the nature of their work. And that’s there’s an imbalance there that hasn’t been addressed. You know, I. Did a series of policies that anyone would have said were respectful of police, including we expanded the size of police force. We added a lot more training for police officers. And, you know. My. Police commissioners were all long term veterans. The NYPD were highly respected by you put cameras.

David Martin: You put cameras on body cameras on the cops. That was on your body.

Bill de Blasio:  Your body cameras on the cops. And actually, there was a growing appreciation in the force that that was something that in many. Ways would help good. Officers to prove that. They’re. Behavior was. Appropriate.

David Martin: How do you how do you manage that? You got criticism. How do you manage that? How do you deal with that as mayor in your head?

Bill de Blasio: You know, it’s an excellent question. It’s here in this city. I love my people. But as I say, you know, I represented 8.8 million highly opinionated people. Yeah. If you get. Scared of criticism or swayed too much by criticism, you might as well go. Home. Okay. And it’s interesting because there is a. Thin line between being armored. And strong and consistent versus becoming. Numb to it. And, you know. It would be crazy to try to run New York City. To. Flail around and, you know, read the papers each morning and get all. Upset.

David Martin: Over what you read the papers every morning. I mean, I know that you get cuts. Yes. But would you pick up three every morning?

Bill de Blasio: Would you.

David Martin: Pick up the Daily News and read it, you know, back to front like everyone else.

Bill de Blasio: Oh, I would I would. Get a briefing and have all the papers in my office. And depending what’s going on, I might get into some pieces or other pieces. But the point being, you could be upset at every. Interest group criticism, every commentator, criticism, whatever. You could go for anything about running about, and you would never get anything done. But you also. Have to it. It just took some learning on my part. You have to when someone’s right, you have to be able to say, That’s a damn good point. Maybe we didn’t understand something, right? Maybe we did something. That we didn’t. Have enough information. Maybe we had the wrong idea. At first. I kind of. Saw. Criticism with one broad brush and then over time, I came to understand that some of it was very constructive.

David Martin: Okay.

Bill de Blasio: But you can’t you can’t get. Lost in it. So it’s, you know, something I worked on a lot to try and strike that balance.

David Martin: We could talk about this all day and I’d like to just quickly, what are you proudest of as mayor that you accomplished?

Bill de Blasio: I’m certainly proudest of pre-K for all. Okay. And I’m proud of it in particular. I mean, the number one reason for the children and the families we reached, but also because they you know, the classic they said it couldn’t be done. I mean, we had be, you know, the most August. Editorial boards of our city sort of, you know, patting me on the head and say, well, what a lovely and impossible idea. And we were able to do it. You know, we had 20,000 kids originally before I came into office. And so they pre-K and within less than two years in office, we brought that number up to 70,000 and made it a universal right.

And it’s. Worked.  And it’s the kind of thing. That will. Benefit people for generations. So I’m very, very proud of that. But but I’ll tell you, because good government is the theme here. Yes. I also am. Proud about in terms of the structure of government. Is we came. To understand that if you put the decision makers. And the key. Folks in the room, the key folks are to make any policy come to life in a room and you just keep coming. Back. You can do extraordinary things. I mean, the reason we got pre-K done in record time was we just had a kind of a nonstop war room. You know, we met whenever necessary at the highest levels. And we repeated that again, of course, during the pandemic. We repeated that in terms of fixing some of the problems we found in our own homelessness policies that had to be improved.

We found that kind of war room running, constant war room approach. To being incredibly valuable. And we also found that so much of the problems, so many problems that plague American cities are not about everyone. They’re about actually a small number of people. Who loom. Large in everyone else’s lives. You know, Bill Bratton was my first police commissioner, outstanding public servant. And he said to me one day. You know, the the number of violent. Criminals who really cause the majority of the problems in New York City in terms of violence are a few thousand in a city of almost nine. Million. And we know who a lot of them are. And obviously the challenge was to build an appropriate case in some cases, in other cases to identify someone.

But but the point. Was it was find out was homelessness. Street homelessness in New York City are the federal count each year. You know, we. Got to a point in the last few years where that number was, give or take, 3000 people on the streets. When we actually came to the decision, we needed to know exactly who each one was. And we started having our outreach workers go out and really build deep relationships with each individual street homeless person, and then keep a running program to identify literally person by person to what was going to get them off the street.

And it took different approaches for each person. But my. Point being. If a few thousand people were the cause of a lot of our violent crime and the event of a few thousand people were painfully on the street and obviously that that was harmful to everyone and painful for the whole city. But the. Solution is not necessarily always big. Broad brush policies. A lot of times it’s how do we help this specific homeless person to come in and stay in the street? Or how. Do we find this individual who’s causing pain in their community, who’s who’s violent. And work the. Equation to prosecute them and get them off the street? And we found you could apply that to. A lot of. Social problems. We never got to expand it as far as we want to do. But it’s actually I think, the shape of things to come.

David Martin: So would you tell someone to run for mayor if somebody came to you and said, Hey, I’m thinking about this, I’ve got I’ve been a state rep or I’ve been a city councilman, would you encourage them to do it? Yeah, I would just say knitting it out, get another job, do something else.

Bill de Blasio: No, it’s an amazing job. It’s an amazing job if you’re if you’re. If you’re going to handle the heat in the kitchen.

David Martin:  Do you miss it?

Bill de Blasio: I mean, yeah, I love I miss the ability to make an impact. I miss. The people. I mean, the people. The camaraderie. The camaraderie is amazing. I mean, that’s you know, this is this is everyone I talked to since our administration ended just over a year. Ago, everyone. Feels this kind of sense of we were in something so intense, so passionate. Everyone shoulder to. Shoulder did mean. You all agreed with each other every single day. But, you know, there was a sense of common cause. And deep commitment. Yeah, course I missed that. And I see a lot of things out there that I’d love to be able to have an impact on. But I. Also I’ll tell you, it’s. Of. Course, it’s nice to be away from that, too. It’s nice. It’s nice to have more time, which. You know, I never. Got to see friends. It’s nice to spend more time with family. It’s nice to, you know, not be woken up in the middle of the night. All those things. But of course, I tell I’m going to run because. Of and. You know, it’s interesting because right now, talking. To. Prospective public servants or mid-career public service, which I’ve experienced now over the last six months or so, teaching in a few different institutions. I always. Tell people this is the best life. Choice.

David Martin: Okay?

Bill de Blasio: That in terms of your ability to make an impact, whether it’s running for mayor or sort of one of the ultimate examples, but there’s lots of others. But, you know, I always say to folks, if you want to make an impact, if you want to live a life that is creative and energetic and. Filled with meaning and. Work with great people, go into public service. And I think elective office is the highest form of public service in many ways. But only, you know, a lot of young people. I talked to are worried about the negativity, the criticism, the social media. And and I tell them, you know, that comes and goes. I get it. I don’t.

I don’t I think about that now. But don’t think about it much compared to the things we were able to. Do and. And the amazing experience. But I think one of the things I say to anyone in public life and now it’s not just elected officials. I mean, look at the horrible negativity thrown at election workers and election officials who weren’t elected and. You know. Just serving people and doing the best I could. I think we all. Have to come to the conclusion that, you. Know, no. One intimidates us. No one, because of their negativity, can tell us not to serve or not to. Follow the path we believe in.

And I think, you know, some people may feel that that negativity is too much for them. And I don’t want to value Judge if that’s what they feel. I respect that. But I would also. Say, you know. Don’t don’t let people have ill will. Dissuade you from what could be an extraordinary life, an extraordinary sense of mission.

David Martin:
I could talk about these we can we could keep this going forever. We have in the past, but we have to get to the to the questionnaire, the good government show questionnaire. All right, I’m ready. We have a question. This is going to reveal your your true philosophy on government. Here we go. All right. Now, you were a you worked in government as a staffer. Then you were elected to city council, public advocate. And mayor, what is your definition of good government?

Bill de Blasio: A government rooted in. The needs of the people, a government that listens to the grassroots and stays connected to the grassroots and government that is not captive, only to the wealthy and the powerful?

David Martin:
How did you measure your success or lack of success? You know, when you were mayor, how did you just how did you know if you were doing providing good government?

Bill de Blasio: You know, some of it is easy. I mean, we thank God for the first six years before the pandemic crime went down and we had a very elaborate crime statistics to prove it. We saw it on education, our graduation rate go up, our test scores go up, not anywhere near as much as we wanted, but still steadily, you know, and something like pre-K for all was measured by the number of seats you produced and the quality of people’s experience. So there were a lot. Of. Very straightforward measures. But the. Measure I also applied all the. Time was, you know, we had a platform, okay, and where. We were in terms of employing our platform and we had a very specific tracking system of all the initial platform commitments and then later commitments that were made in the course of governing and how we were doing in terms of implementation. We did pretty damn well in terms of the quantity reaching deeply deep into our platform and implementing a lot of it. Qualitatively, I think most of it went quite well. There’s obviously a few areas I’m not happy about or, you know. We, we. Learned the painful. Lessons or we had to do better.

David Martin: Did he keep you up at night like, Oh, I can’t believe I can’t get this done? Oh, man, this is not going well.

Bill de Blasio: Yes or no, I. The sheer volume and the intensity.  If you let it get to you. When there was an imperfection again, you might as well go home. There’s a lot of factors.

David Martin: Okay.

Bill de Blasio: I’m a big believer in perfect is the enemy of good. I’m a big believer that sometimes you start something and then you may not work perfectly the first time you keep going. I always talk about the New Deal. The New Deal? Best moment, I think, in American government history with Franklin Roosevelt. You know, some of those programs were amazingly good, like Social Security. Others failed within a year or two. And we don’t talk about more. But that’s okay. Okay. You experiment.

David Martin: So let’s look at this from the perspective of citizens and residents. They have a lot of, you know, as you said, social media, traditional media. How do they know when they’re getting good government? What should they use as a yardstick?

Bill de Blasio: Well, not. Necessarily traditional media. And we all do respect traditional media. I think people people know what they see with their own eyes. And a lot. Of times the best information flow is from. Community. Grassroots media, ethnic media. You know. When there’s a parent listserve or, you know, the parent website or something, you have all sorts of grassroots, highly engaged, stakeholder based modes of communication that a lot of times are providing the best information and the most responsive to people’s needs. But I always found that, you know. You got a pretty good. Read from people in communities of their own lives that told you a lot more than anything you would ever read in the paper or see on a. News report.

David Martin: If people feel like they aren’t getting good government, if they feel like their elected leader, the mayor or other people aren’t giving them the government that they either voted in or wanted, what should they do?

Bill de Blasio: I think there’s. A difference sometimes between the. Feeling and the reality. Okay, because I think it’s been a very frustrating time in our history, a very, you know, obviously a certain level of division. And. The reality of the pandemic. The reality. Of the inequality that. Plagues this country. So sometimes government might be doing good and sincere things, and yet people are very sour and feel overwhelmed and they’re not wrong to feel that. So I feel we experience some of that where a lot of the programmatic approach was good in the scheme of things. But but, but people’s problems and challenges were so deep, it was kind of. Beyond what. Could be done in a few years or what our local government could do. So I think if people. Nonetheless, if people feel something’s not working, their voices are a lot more powerful than real life to me.

I would know pretty quickly if community. Was upset. About something really. I mean, and I had a I had a vast city, but, you know, there were a lot. Of listening stations and. People, you know, writing and emailing. And coming to community meetings and going to their local representatives on that stuff or going to the media, that stuff would bubble up pretty. Quickly. So I think making your voice heard really makes a difference. One of things DAVIES appreciated 70 town hall meetings across the communities in New York City in the first six years. And people consistently got. Up passionate, angry, complaining and then offered their solution. And that I really appreciate. And I think that’s what most people do. They actually know something about what they think would be a better approach.

David Martin: As a political insider, elected official and also worker, what would you like people to know about how government really works on the inside?

Bill de Blasio: I’d like him to know how hard people work, how constant it is, how devoted. I mean. People. In government do not get paid what they’re. Worth. As a rule. They have incredible responsibilities, much more than most people in the private sector. And they get paid much less. But they show up every day. They do their job overwhelming. I mean, there’s certainly some bad actors, don’t get me wrong, but the vast majority. Work incredibly hard and it’s not. Portrayed that way. This is an area where I think I’m glad your show is focusing on where you are. I think a lot of the media should really examine themselves on this point. They do not portray the truth of how sincere and how hard, how hard working most people in government are.

David Martin: That is essentially why we started the show. So thank you for that, gentlemen. I sit here to hear those. I think here to hear those quotes again. All right. Now, hardest question. Who’s your political hero?

Bill de Blasio: Franklin Roosevelt. Really hard at all.

David Martin: Not hard at all.

Bill de Blasio: And Fiorello Fiorello LaGuardia as mayor, unquestionably.

David Martin: Did you get to as mayor? Did you get to, like, look at the faults and like, you know, read some of the speeches and like, see stuff I.

Bill de Blasio:  Saw, you know, one day. I did tour the archives at one point and they brought out all this actually much better than the big speeches they brought out, like a lot in day to day correspondence. With. LaGuardia. It was absolutely riot like just. The stuff people would come up with. The New. Yorkers are so colorful to write in. About. And LaGuardia, you know. Didn’t mince words. What he felt is what he said guy was absolutely amazing person in our history. I always say, you. Know, unlike. In sports where. You know. We’ll use the obvious example, you know, Tom Brady, a lobby was the greatest of all time at quarterback, but he’s only been around the last 20 years. You know someone was greatest of all time before him. Someone will probably one day be greater. Yeah well when it comes to mayors in New York City, there’s only one all time greatest, only one ever will be. And that’s General LaGuardia.

David Martin: You are probably the only person who’s going to give that answer. So I think you’ve you’ve staked that out for yourself. So just because I’m a New Yorker and I worked at One Police Plaza where they have Teddy Roosevelt’s desk under glass, is there like stuff like that for the mayor’s office? It’s like Fiorello LaGuardia is chair somewhere that we should be.

Bill de Blasio: Yeah, absolutely. His desk. Where’s the. Desk? That was my formal desk in my office. I loved that school. I loved it. And it was it was important to me. Also, there’s the the portraits of the mayors. And it’s really interesting. You go and look at all the portraits and most of them. You know, they’re okay. You get a little sense of the person. The one of LaGuardia has these kind of searing, intense eyes that. Really capture his passion.

David Martin: So just because most people are now New Yorkers who are listening, just give me a 32nd synopsis of who Fiorello LaGuardia was.

Bill de Blasio: And for my family, he was like a saint. He because my family went through the Depression in New York City. He governed during the Depression. He was a very close partner with Franklin Roosevelt. In developing a lot of the New Deal. And he, you know, he was a child of. Immigrants. Who.  Expressed the passion and the emotion of New York City and everything he. Did. Very progressive, very much a reformer, but also close to the ground, close to the people. A model that, you know. We all should be so lucky to even emulate a part of.

David Martin: And he read the comics, too, in New York City during the papers.

Bill de Blasio: Well. There was a newspaper strike at one point. You’re right. There was a newspaper strike. And so people couldn’t get their their comics. And it was a big deal. The comic strips. Were really big back then. So he made it a point. To go on the radio and read them to the people in New York City. That’s one of the things people loved.

David Martin: Yes. All right. You live in Brooklyn. You were mayor of the entire city of New York. Some of these come to New York. What’s your favorite dish? What must I eat?

Bill de Blasio: Oh, that’s that’s. That’s literally a near. Impossible. To.

David Martin: Say for one answer.

Bill de Blasio: No, I’m not. I’m going to answer yes. Say good is ridiculous. Question.

David Martin: I’m sorry. You you have to answer them.

Bill de Blasio: Now that we’ve established that.

David Martin: Okay.

Bill de Blasio: You know, I am. I always say as a town American. Yes. I’m very comfortable saying the best pizza in New York City is ah, which is D I, capital. F a r a. Off beach area and Midwood, Brooklyn. All right. And it’s not a fancy place at all. But if you want if you want the very best of New York City pizza but also to feel what Brooklyn is really like. Go to. The father pizzeria.

David Martin: The Father pizza and don’t eat. Don’t use a knife and fork.

Bill de Blasio: You know, it depends on what kind of pizza you get in life. I drive very crazy. A typical New York neighborhood corner joint. Don’t use a knife and fork. But if you get real Neapolitan pizza. Yes. Which is more what they have a disorder. You might you might choose to.

David Martin: You might choose to. All right. We will leave that controversy back to the. So when you were growing up, did you did you want to be president, United States? Did you want to be governor of Massachusetts? Do you what did you was this something you thought you’d wanted to do all the time?

Bill de Blasio: When I was growing up, you know, I had the. The Seminole experience in many ways was the Watergate hearings, because I was 12 years old and riveted I guess I was not a typical 12 year old.

David Martin: Watching this. I was watching them take on my little 12 inch black and white Great.

Bill de Blasio: My brother, great white kid. It was about the most dramatic thing. About the most. Dramatic thing I’ve ever seen and have seen or seen since. But that certainly convinced me that the notion of public service leadership, whatever form it would take. I think there’s always a. Fantasy. About for. Me, I’m sure for so many people care about government politics, a fantasy about being elected to something really. Big. But, you know. It’s hard not to see that as a fantasy. You know, I guess, or your brain, you know, I’d. Also I also wanted to play first base for the Boston Red. Sox, you know, so I like really I probably spend. A lot more time on that fantasy. But I you know, I knew it wasn’t happening. But at the same time, what a beautiful idea.

David Martin: Well, I read All the President’s Men and Hunter Thompson. So I got I got to this side. You got on that side, Tiger. In your time in the city of New York, in elected office, what are some of the good government projects that you were able to put forward? Let’s end on a high note. What’s your legacy for New York?

Bill de Blasio: Well, you know, ironically, the. Number one legacy for all of us is the people we bring along. You know. Ten members of my team or my circle or however you want to say it, have been elected now to public office or political office. And I think more coming behind that. That means a lot. I mean, so many people got credentialed and have said to me is very moving. You know, they now who drown even higher roles, but that the door to that was opened by the time that they did work with me for those eight years. So the human factor of legacy should never be underestimated. I think some of the people I was honored to bring into my team. You know. Five, ten, 20 years from now are going to be doing amazing things. But in terms of the work I think the legacy is to that we showed you could do something about inequality. And I. Believe.

That going forward, this country, you know, everyone knows one of our biggest challenge is going to be addressing the climate crisis. I think increasingly people understand one of the other big challenges is going to be addressing the unfettered development of artificial intelligence and automation and where that’s taking us. But the third. The third leg of the stool is the inequality crisis in this country, particularly income inequality. Is it really. Going to get worse and worse and worse, particularly with more and more automation? And we got. To address that. We proved in eight years that you could actually structurally address inequality. You could start to bend the curve the other way towards really helping working people get better wages, better benefits, more affordable housing available and affordable or free pre-K, a lot of things like that. So I think the big legacy item, if you want to generalize it.

Is showing that even at the local level. We can go at a structural crisis like that and make a real difference. And I think the summary to. Me is what I. Found as mayor was a lot of things we were told were impossible we actually could. Do. I think. What the mayors can do, I think what local governments can. Do is far beyond. What is often recognized. And we have to more and more because so much of the time the federal government, the state government has taken a pass on dealing with really crucial issues. So they everyone out there in the counties and the cities and the towns, I want to say thank you. And I also want to. Say believe in. Yourselves, in your ability to do big and transcendent things, because a lot of times no one else is going to do it unless it’s. You.

David Martin: I think I read somewhere that you said you would never run for elected office again. How do you continue how do you plan to continue to serve? Because obviously what you’ve been talking about is continued service. What are your plans for the future?

Bill de Blasio: Well, you know, there’s a lot. Of forms of public service. Right now I’m. Teaching, which is I’m teaching folks who are going to go into public service. And I’m at New York University Wagner School of Public Service. I’m also doing a fellowship at the American University, a sign Institute of Policy and Politics last year at Harvard Institute of Politics and the Chan School of Public Health. You know, I’m I have had this. Blessing over this last six seven months to. Work with the. Next generation coming up and hopefully coach them, train them, help them, inspire them. That’s a form of public service. There’s obviously lots of roles in government in nonprofit world. You know, I’ll be at. This a long time in one form or another, but I can’t paint the picture. Yet.

David Martin: Okay. Well, listen, it has been a great pleasure to talk with you again and to have you as a friend all these years. I appreciate that. The next time we meet, I think we need to go to Midwood. We’re going to go get a pizza together. Dad, No microphones. Just talk. We could do that. All right.

Bill de Blasio: And that’s. That’s the kind of invitation I want more of, and that’s okay.

David Martin: So there you go. Thanks for keeping your phone. You felt the same all these years.

Bill de Blasio: So we’ll be all right.

David Martin: Thank you very much. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City and a professor at NYU. We thank you for sitting down and talking about good government with us and having a good conversation. Thank you for that. Excellent day. Well done.

Bill de Blasio: See you. Soon. See you around.

David Martin: Brooklyn. Okay, Very good. We will be good. Government show is sponsored by our CO. That means our community. Our CO has found a way to make government even more effective. Our CO provides a platform that blends in-person and digital interactions and that connects people with their government. Their mobile app transforms meaningful conversations into reliable data, and the result is actionable insights that inspires a positive change.

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So visit our COCOM. That’s 0urco dot com and learn how they do it. And while you’re there, get a demonstration. Eight years in City Hall, it’s still possible to be optimistic. That’s good for government. And of course I’m going to report back on this pizza in Brooklyn. So that was a look at government from the mayor of New York City.

Certainly a special perspective on government. And that’s what we’re going to do this season. On the good government show. We’re going to talk with leaders from big cities, small towns, newly elected officials, longtime government veterans, leaders who have been tested, and younger politicians who are just getting started. They all have their own views us how government works and how it should work.

Join us as we go inside government and learn what makes government work most of the time. Join us again on the good government. We have another conversation with another government leader. I’m Dave Martin. Thanks for listening to the Good Government show and a conversation with is produced by Valley Park Productions. Jim Ludlow, David Martin and David Snyder are the executive producers.

Our editor and producer is Jason Stershic. This is a good government show. Thanks for listening.


**This transcription was created using digital tools and has not been edited by a live person. We apologize for any discrepancies or errors.