March 6th, 2016


Guests: NYC Public Advocate Letitia James and NYS Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long

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NYC Public Advocate Letitia James

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James agrees with Samuels that the Mayor’s city-run retirement savings plan is a great start, but can be strengthened as it takes shape:

LJ: “I think that this is just the beginning of a long journey. This will require businesses with ten or more employees to establish a retirement account for all their employees. It’s not mandatory. There’s no mandatory contribution from their employer and this … account for all employees that they contribute to or opt-out. But I agree with you. We’ve left a number of freelancers, independent contractors and individual employees, tipped employees who work at small restaurants, unfortunately, [they] will not be in a position to take advantage of this. And, clearly, we need to refine it. We need to strengthen this. We need to expand it, not only on a city level but, hopefully, on a state level, assuming we get the legislation from the federal government.”

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James on whether Gov. Cuomo’s proposed budget is bad for New York City and whether James has had conversations with the Cuomo administration to push back against the nearly $1 billion in new costs to the city:

LJ: “In two areas I’ve had conversations with staff members on the Second Floor in the executive level as well as conversations with the Speaker of the state Assembly … Carl Heastie. And the CUNY cuts concern me. During the recent Black, Puerto Rican and Asian Caucus weekend there were a number of workshops dedicated to organizing individuals against any cuts to CUNY and, in fact, we should be strengthening CUNY.

And two, making sure that we stave off these Medicaid cuts. [Speaker] Heastie was at the caucus and indicated that he too shares these concerns. He too is a graduate of CUNY and he too is concerned about any negative impact on the financial coffers of New York City. So my confidence rests in the New York State Assembly, which will continue to block any cuts that are being proposed, any harmful budgetary items that are in the state budget that are being proposed by the Governor of the State of New York. We need to hold New York City harmless. We need to move forward and continue with the progressive agenda of Mayor Bill de Blasio. And you’re absolutely right. Though I disagree with him [de Blasio] from time to time, I stand with him in making sure that New York City is held harmless.”

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James on criticism that she has overstepped the bounds of her office by getting involved in bringing lawsuits and on her belief that the role of the Public Advocate should be expanded:

LJ: “The Charter is silent on whether or not we’ve got the authority to initiate litigation against the administration. And so because of that, in the absence of particular language, I’ve decided to press the issue and we have initiated 12 actions against the administration and others, a few against the Department of Education protecting disabled children, against some contractors, against some developers, against some landlords.

And so we have been specifically pushing the envelope because we believe, and I believe, that the Charter and the Constitution is a changing document and it really needs to reflect … the basic needs of New Yorkers.

Two, I believe that since we do not have an attorney in the City of New York representing the interests of New Yorkers, that this office is suited to represent the interests of New Yorkers, particularly when we can establish a pattern and practice of abuse. So in the absence of specific language, we have filed litigation.

And so I’m hoping that we could work with the administration. I’m hoping that we can continue to gain standing in the City of New York with regards to our ability to file lawsuits whenever we see wrongdoing. The office of Public Advocate really should be a pain in the butt to this administration, but more important than that, we should be in a position to establish policy, to litigate matters, to introduce legislation and last but not least, to use this office as a bully pulpit against those abuses that continue to exist in the City of New York, standing up on behalf of the most vulnerable, standing up on behalf of those individuals who are locked out of the sunshine of opportunity, standing up on behalf of all New Yorkers in the City of New York regardless of your political affiliation, regardless of your race, gender, et cetera.

If you have a cause, you don’t need an expensive lobbyist or an expensive lawyer. All you need is a righteous cause. Come to the office of the Public Advocate located at 1 Centre Street. We should strengthen this office. The Executive, the mayor’s office—again, I’m a friend of the mayor—has too much power and that power should be balanced. There should be a counterbalance and that counterbalance should be the office of the Public Advocate.”

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James on whether Rikers Island should be shut down:

LJ: “We are continuing to examine that issue. Obviously, it raises a number of concerns. Let me just say that I agree with the Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, in that we should decriminalize a number of low-level crimes.

Two, I believe that a significant number of individuals that are currently on Rikers Island suffer from mental illness. In fact, some have indicated that 30 to 40 percent of the inmates on Rikers Island suffer from some degree of mental illness and what we really need to do, again, is we need to urge the Governor of the State of New York, who has closed a number mental institutions in the State of New York, we need to really think about reopening them for those suffering from chronic mental illness in the City of New York. We are seeing them on our streets, on our subway. They’re homeless and what they need is severe care.

And last but not least, we need to deal with gangs and we need to focus on gang violence in the City of New York. So there’s an isolated number of bad actors that continue to cause havoc, but they’re a small number and we should really focus on those individuals. And perhaps what we can do is downsize Rikers Island.”

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James on the status of her effort to get the city’s pension funds to divest from gun retailers and manufacturers:

LJ: “[Wednesday], we filed an amicus on behalf of individuals who filed a lawsuit against Walmart. As you know, Walmart is the largest retailer of guns in this country and it’s really critically important that we make sure that we hold Walmart and other gun retailers and manufacturers liable.

Do you know that in this country gun manufacturers and gun retailers are the only industry, which is not liable for their products? In fact, there’s a special provision, a special law that Congress passed to protect and give these gun manufacturers complete immunity from litigation and that’s unacceptable. If your toaster broke tomorrow and injured you, you would be in court tomorrow and file (against) the manufacturer of your toaster. But, unfortunately, if you were injured as a result of a gun because a gun manufacturer or a gun retailer did not secure their product, unfortunately, you would be prevented from filing a lawsuit.

We need to change the law in Congress, but we also need to test the law. So that is why we are joining with advocates to file a lawsuit against Walmart, which is the biggest retailer of guns and other gun manufacturers.”

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James on whether she agrees with activist Randy Credico that the city’s pension funds should divest from for-profit prisons:

LJ: “I agree with Randy [Credico]. I’ve seen Randy on the streets. I’ve seen him at his protests and our office. In addition to urging the pension fund to divest from gun retailers and gun manufacturers, we are also considering a resolution that would be put before the board. I sit on the NYCERS board. In New York City, as you know, there are five pension funds. I sit on one, which is New York City Employees’ [Retirement System], and I am proposing—we are considering a resolution that should be put before the NYCERS board to divest from private [prisons] as well as from gun retailers. The gun retailer resolution is currently being considered by the fund, by our advisors and we are also looking at the possibility of putting a resolution, again, to divest from private prisons. Randy is right on. I support him. I agree with him. And I’m looking to do just that. We’re having conversations internally.”

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James on whether she supports Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ idea for the NYPD to pilot a smart guns program:

LJ: “I support it. Listen, I’m the first City Council member several years ago to put video cameras in public housing in my district. Then-Commissioner Ray Kelly said Tish was in the forefront of that. I’ve been in the forefront of body cameras for New York City police officers in the aftermath of all of these tragic shootings. Three, I have been involved with Commissioner Bratton in ShotSpotter, which is a technology to detect where gunfire is happening all throughout the City of New York. And we have put ShotSpotter all throughout the City of New York, which has increased response time by NYPD.

And so I know that the Borough President of Brooklyn, Eric Adams, supports smart guns. We have already been talking to the administration about smart guns. We just did not want to go out publicly, but we’ve been having these discussions for some time.”

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James on whether she has yet taken a position on the 2017 state Constitutional Convention vote:

LJ: “No, I have not. I know a number of progressives and a number of my friends, again, are concerned about opening up a can of worms. But I know that others … there’s two sides of the aisle on this discussion. I look forward to having those discussions and, basically, analyzing the arguments on both sides. I do know that campaign finance—we need campaign finance on a state level and I support campaign finance on a state level. We need to, again, overturn Citizens United. We need to make sure we level the playing field. I would not be in this position but for campaign finance and I also know that I’m looking at perhaps sponsoring a convention for women as we celebrate the anniversary of the suffrage movement in the State of New York.”

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NYS Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long

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Long on term limits for state officials:

ML: “The party platform, (the) Conservative Party platform, calls for eight years, but we’d certainly be very willing to see twelve years in term limits.”

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Long on why we doesn’t support a cap on outside income for members of the State Legislature:

ML: “I believe we should have citizen politicians. Therefore, I believe the elected officials that we have should be spending—number one, they are part time legislators, okay? They should be spending less time in Albany. The more time they spend in Albany, the more they become surrounded by lobbyists, the more they become insulated among themselves and lose contact with their community. The sessions should be shorter. They should be outta there by the middle of April. Go in in January (and) get outta there by the middle of April.

The legislators in many other states, some of them meet every other year. We don’t need to have a permanent legislature. So I don’t believe that we should limit and penalize individuals that … they can’t make any outside income because then what you’re asking for is to have a professional class of employees working for the taxpayers of the State of New York. I don’t want that.”

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Long on whether New York State should have a Constitutional Convention:

ML: “I certainly would be for a Constitutional Convention, but my problem is that … the inside powers would control that convention again. So what would happen is that you’d have the Sheldon Silvers of the world, okay, or the Dean Skeloses of the world running to sit on … as a member of the Constitutional Convention and, therefore, not provide any change. I mean, if you’re going to have a Convention, you need a real citizen’s Convention. …

If I was to run for the constitutional convention from my community—there’s no question about it, I’m bent on a certain philosophical beliefs—but if I’m going to run for that, but I have to run against the incumbent senator or the incumbent assemblyman, I don’t really have a chance because the name ID is so much higher, their mailing privileges that they can use in the Assembly and the Senate … it would just totally kill any citizen that is trying to make a legitimate change to bring about term limits, to bring about various things that would make Albany a better place for all of us.”

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Long on his receptivity to early voting:

ML: “A few days of voting I would be open to. But there are many proponents of early voting that want people to vote for a month in advance. That’s where the problem begins.”

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Long on what his party is doing to help Chris McGrath win in SD-9 on Long Island in the April 19th special election:

ML: “We’re doing everything possible to encourage and … from the grassroots level, contacting the Tea Party people—there’s a pretty big Tea Party group out there in that district—contacting them. They were very anti-Dean Skelos. I think I’ve turned that around. They’re now pro-Chris McGrath, who is the conservative Republican candidate. My hope is that he is able to pull this off so within my own personal limitations and within the party’s limitations we’re making every effort to hold on to that seat.”

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Long on criticism that his party has prevented Republicans from nominating centrists with a greater chance of winning in moderate districts and whether his party’s strategy regarding which candidates they support will change if the Democrats gain a majority in the State Senate following the April 19th special election:

ML: “That’s the constant cry from people who are left-leaning or on the more moderate side… [they] claim that we’re pushing the envelope to the right too far. I don’t know where there’s any examples they can prove that and that we caused people to…

Look, if a person doesn’t embrace conservative values and principles both on a socially and economic… side, you know, we’re not going to throw away the baby with the bathwater and surrender our principles just to win an election. We want to win an election with people who are going to enunciate the principles that are important to turn this state around. …

If we lose control of the Senate in this special election, how would that change our strategy? I’m not looking to change… You know we have a platform and you can go online and get it. We may be the only party, state party, that has a statewide platform that we present every year. And that platform doesn’t change because issues become different. It changes because of circumstances maybe, but we don’t change our basic principles and we don’t intend to. I think our strength as a minority party, namely the Conservative Party, our strength is that people understand that we say what we mean and we mean what we say and we stick to our principles.”

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