Guests: Rep. Lee Zeldin and NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer
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Congressman Lee Zeldin
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Zeldin on who he intends to endorse in the GOP Presidential primary:
LZ: “At this point, I don’t have any plans. I haven’t endorsed anybody and I don’t have any plans to endorse anyone here for the next couple of weeks. I’m just eager to see how the primary process shakes out here between now and March 15th. And then my plan has been to reassess the field at that point and maybe decide at that time whether or not to endorse a candidate.”
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Zeldin on whether the nominee at the top of the ticket in the Republican field could adversely hurt his chances of reelection down the ballot:
LZ: “I’ve started to give some thought to what November may look like. I don’t place a ton of weight at the top of the ticket as far as it impacts my race. I think that the biggest factor on that front is … I don’t see any of the Republican getting crushed in the 1st Congressional District of New York.”
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Zeldin on Donald Trump’s comment that he is “neutral” in the Israel/Palestine conflict:
LZ: “What is concerning for me is what is current policy, which should not be continued, is that when the Palestinians are attacking innocent Israelis, John Kirby, the spokesperson for the State Department, came out and accused both sides of terror. And these are not two sides that are equal.
The viability of a two-state solution—it’s not just about Israel recognizing the Palestinians’ right to exist, it’s also about the Palestinians recognizing Israel’s right to exist. And the fact is that the Palestinians are more and more controlled by an element that will not rest until the Israelis are wiped off the map. And I’m referring primarily to Hamas, which has a big influence within the Palestinian Authority.
So from that perspective, the idea that the President of the United States should be neutral is one that I disagree with and concerns me because we should not be neutral when the facts play out as they have where you have one of our nation’s strongest allies in the world and our greatest ally in the Middle East being targeted by terrorists. There’s nothing to be neutral about. That’s the perfect example of where we should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our nation’s strongest ally and not go out of our way to say that we’re not taking sides. We should take sides when our allies are being targeted like this and what we’re seeing overseas right now.”
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Zeldin on why Trump could be successful in winning over some Democrats:
LZ: “So for many different reasons, one that you just referenced [Trump’s position against the Iraq War], secondly, maybe Donald Trump’s answer as it related to Planned Parenthood during the debate, I have come across Democrats in my district who have told me—and this defies anything I’ve ever heard from anyone else about a political campaign—people have told me ‘I’m a Democrat. I have always voted Democrat. I do not agree with Donald Trump on just about anything, but if he’s the Republican nominee, I’m going to vote for him.’
And I’m hearing this and I’m like, ‘This doesn’t make any sense to me.’ And they cite one or two reasons. One is they say he’s not beholden to anyone and the second is they say that he speaks his mind. This is what I’ve hearing from some New York Democrats in the 1st Congressional District of New York. And as it relates to a number of issues, to Donald Trump’s point as it relates to the start of the Iraq War, that contrast that you just outlined politically may actually help him getting Democratic support in a general election for those that are open minded. …
There have been different stories and accounts and audiotapes that seem to indicate that he (Trump) may have not just have been completely opposed. He might have indicated some support for the effort. So that needs to be further vetted to better analyze it from the political aspect, but from what we know right now, it’s one that could actually potentially end up helping him if he was up against Hillary Clinton.”
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Zeldin on whether he thinks Trump’s position against the Iraq War is an affront to Zeldin’s service as a veteran of that war. Also, Zeldin on the illegitimacy of the U.S.’s rational to invade Iraq:
LZ: “I don’t. There are other people who might have different positions on that particular question than I do. You know, listen, a lot of the decision to go into Iraq, the debates over the legitimacy of going into Iraq … thinking back to Colin Powell speaking before the United Nations and going through a slew of evidence of where we were going to locate weapons of mass destruction. And then we go into Iraq and nothing was where we said it was going to be, and who knows if maybe some of that intelligence was good but something was moved.
But for sake of the legitimacy of the petition to go into Iraq, I think there would have been more legitimacy if our reason for going in wasn’t based as much on faulty intelligence as it could have been based on the fact you had a brutal dictator who was conducting mass executions, burying his own people in mass graves throughout the country. I fear there could have been a different way to approach that decision to go into Iraq where there might have been a little bit more legitimacy attached to it.”
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Zeldin on his request earlier this month for a visa to visit Iran:
LZ: “The Iranians should have granted the request. I mean, there hasn’t been any member of Congress who has visited Iran since at least the 1979 hostage crisis. There was a letter that we sent to the Ayatollah accompanying our visa that—and it’s on my website, the letter itself—and there are a number of components of our request that actually could have made it a productive trip for both sides.
The purpose of our going over there, the timing, part of which had to do with being able to observe their elections—we weren’t going over there to referee the elections or to be involved to that level—but to be able to observe it.
But also we have American hostages that are there. We just had ten detained Navy sailors. There were missile tests taking place in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Obviously there is the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. There is a way for this trip to be organized that would have been very beneficial for both sides because a lot of the debate here in the United States regarding what is going on in Iran is based off of speculation.
I was talking to someone, someone telling us what they think, not based off of firsthand experience but from whatever other evidence they can put together short of firsthand experience. So for us, being able to come back from a productive trip over to Iran and talk about the good and the bad.
When I came back from Iraq—I was in Iraq on Christmas Day—when I came back I was able to say candidly—and I’ve been critical of the president’s strategy to defeat ISIS—I said in Iraq there actually is a plan now and the plan is moving in the right direction. It’s tenuous. It could turn on a moment’s notice, but there is a plan. In Syria things are a hundred times worse than I thought that they were.
Now I’m using that as an example. I came back from Iraq and I was being honest based off of firsthand experience, some briefings with the Lt. General in charge of the conflict, I am able to say, ‘This is what is good and this is what is not good.’
If we went over to Iran and we come back and if there was something positive to report on, we report on that, if there’s something negative we report on that. But the Iranians saying that they don’t need foreign interference with their national affairs because they already know they have the greatest democracy in the Middle East … it’s a farce when the elections that we weren’t able to watch take place and they knocked 12,000 applicants off the ballot because they disagree with those that are currently in charge. So for us to be able to observe what they call a great democracy in the Middle East would certainly help the debate. And I still think they should grant the visas.”
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Zeldin on the poor quality of some Albany legislators:
LZ: “There are good members in Albany. There are good members is Washington. But what I came across too often up in Albany was, you know, I kept stumbling across people where I’d just say to myself, ‘How the heck did this person get elected?’ It happens in Washington as well, but not to the same level that I experienced when I was up in Albany.”
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Zeldin on whether the state Legislature should become a full-time body:
LZ: “Unless you’re coming from wealth, I don’t see how, at that current salary, you’d be able to continue to serve. So I think part of the conversation, and you referenced with regards to outside income, capping it at 15%. That’s one idea. When I was up in Albany, there was some discussion as to what the salary might be if they moved to a full-time legislature. They may want to increase the salary a bit if they were to eliminate outside income just because I would not want to lose the ability to recruit high-caliber state legislators just because they can’t afford to survive. I (don’t) want to get to the point where we either have wealthy people or those who can’t find any other jobs. I think finding the sweet spot is trying to figure out exactly what the salary would be. I guess one way to benefit might be your proposal of allowing a little bit of outside income, which I think might be a good idea. I think part of the conversation may also be what to do with that $80,000 number and if that needs to be increased at all if they make the conversion to full-time.”
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NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer
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Stinger on the Mayor de Blasio’s comment last week on Effective Radio that the power dynamic between the state and city is “semi-colonial” and on whether home rule should be expanded for New York City:
SS: “Well, I think the mayor is talking about this relationship in the same way previous (mayors) have described it. There’s no question that New York City has to come begging to Albany for just about everything under the sun.
And I think that we local elected officials many times have a better understanding of how to grow our city’s economy than upstate Republicans, who love when New York City is contributing money throughout the state because we have a lot of revenue, but don’t understand the challenges we face in terms of homelessness and education.
So Bill de Blasio is 100% right, but here’s the question: This relationship is not going to end anytime soon, so we have to go to Albany with a strategy. You can’t go to Albany and play checkers with this Legislature. You really have to have a game plan. You gotta play chess. You gotta outsmart the opposition. You have to build the coalitions necessary to address inequity in education funding, how we’re going to get more affordable housing funds, how we’re going to make sure that we have a level of fairness.
I served for 13 years in the state Assembly and I know how difficult it was and how shocked I was when one day, because of a silly State Senate race in Rockland County, the commuter tax ended and it cost New York City, it’s now cost New York City, it must be now $1.5 to $2 billion dollars in revenue. That was the gross moment when New York City was held hostage to political events beyond our control.”
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Stringer on the 2017 Constitutional Convention vote in New York State:
SS: “I haven’t yet taken a position. A constitutional convention could be a vehicle for ethics reform, voter reform, a lot of the issues that get stymied in the legislature.
But we could also, without campaign financing, whatever proposals were to come forth—I mean, this could be a runaway special interest bonanza. So I think we have to keep a close look at this. I think progressives have to start to think about what it would like because, look, it’s on the ballot. There’s a possibility that this could pass.
People, voters are very down on the government we have today. But I just would be mindful. I’ve always worried about public referendums because, if you look at what goes on in California, it doesn’t really work there. I just don’t want to bring that to New York.
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Stringer on whether Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget is bad for New York City:
SS: “I joined the mayor and testified before the two legislative committees to talk about the budget and we identified areas of concern. The state does not give us any more revenue sharing, like other large municipalities (and) big cities get. I am very concerned about proposals that would weaken CUNY or Medicaid, but at the same time I also want to say that I do praise the state for a lot of money that relates to affordable housing and there were good aspects to this budget.
So it’s really up to the Legislature, especially lawmakers like Liz (Krueger) on the city side to fight and get us a people’s budget for New York City. Let them get up there and do their work and fight it out and we will be there to assist them because part of the problem, quite frankly, is a lot of these Republican legislators just do not understand the challenges New York City faces.
I just analyzed the mayor’s preliminary budget, supported a lot of that budget, but also there’s a warning. We’re now seeing in our budget out-years deficits that are at $3.8 billion dollars. Things change within a year. That’s concerning. If we were to sustain a billion dollars in cuts because the Legislature cut our budget, our budget deficit could balloon to $5 billion dollars and that is not good for New York City and it’s not good for the rest of the state.”
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Stringer on the additional Medicaid costs placed on New York City over the next two years in the Governor’s proposed budget:
SS: “The mayor and the governor have talked about making that, making us harmless to that kind of increased costs so I take them at their word. I will say though in the interest of fairness and balance (that) the Department of Education fails to get, files the paperwork to get some $650 million dollars in Medicaid reimbursements. And that’s pretty outrageous. We’ve been highlighting that in every budget presentation. So I think the city has an obligation to do the homework necessary to get those reimbursements because it’s pretty outrageous that it languishes there because of ineptitude. But I also think that we can’t afford to take a hit like that.”
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Stringer on New York City’s proposed retirement savings plan for private sector workers:
SS: “First of all, let me to say to you (that) a lot of the discussion around retirement security for the 1.5 million New Yorkers who don’t have access to a retirement plan comes from your [Bill Samuels’] efforts…
BS: “Thank you.”
SS: “I do think for low-income private sector workers, I mean, 74% of people don’t have that security and you’ve been raising this issue on a city level and on a state level and you really can see the fruits of grassroots organizing because I was very happy to stand with Mayor de Blasio, AARP, yourself and my colleagues in government to begin to talk about what the city could do to provide that retirement.
It’s absolutely critical because too many seniors rely entirely on Social Security and the average annual benefit is just $15,000 to live on and that can leave them to choose between paying their rent or purchasing the medicine their health depends on. It’s not right. So my job in all of this is to protect the financial health of the city and to make sure every New Yorker has a fair and fighting shot to make it. And when people retire without enough savings, the city has to pick up the tab and people have to fall back on our social safety net. So we either pay for it now over time or we pay for it at the end all at once.
So to your question about what will pass in the State Senate, my sense is that we have a long road ahead but we really began the other day with that press conference. I’ve been studying—my office has been studying, as you know, with a diverse retirement security study group. We have brought together the nation’s top academics in this field to identify solutions and we are working on a range of innovative recommendations to increase retirement saving options.
And I think as the governor’s commission evolves, as the mayor continues to push his recommendations, I do think we’re all going to get to a very strong place in New York State to push something that could lead the nation. There’s a lot of work that has to go into this. We have to do a lot of analysis. We have to work with the federal government. Certainly, the city needs that opt-in, as the mayor pointed out. We have the Cuomo Commission, which is going to start up, and I’m certainly going to work with them. But at the end of the day, the goal is still the same and we have all got to be on the same page.”
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Stringer on his proposal to create a land bank to develop the vacant lots owned by the government of New York City:
SS: “Our city is in the midst of an affordability crisis and a homeless crisis. So we have to do everything in a our power to ensure that New Yorkers have a fair and fighting chance to make it in the city. And city-owned vacant lands are a precious resource. And, quite frankly, according to our audit, the city has been sitting on them for far too long.
We identified in the audit 1,100 vacant lots that could be used to build affordable housing and we found that 75% have been vacant for more than 30 years. We are proposing a New York City land bank. Now a land bank is a government-created non-profit that focuses on building low-income, permanently affordable housing on vacant and tax-delinquent land. I believe the land bank would be a tool to partner with nonprofit developers to build housing that is truly and permanently affordable.
Our office estimates that we can construct up to 57,000 low-income, permanently affordable units on these city owned lands. And so this, I think, compliments what the mayor is trying to do with his housing plan, because one of the things we have to make sure of is that we are building housing also for the poorest people in our city. We cannot solve the homeless crisis unless we are able to move people out of homeless shelters and into permanent housing.
Believe it or not, there are people who are working during the day at jobs but going back to homeless shelters at night. That makes absolutely no sense. So I would hope that with some of these properties, maybe not every property, but surely we can identify sites that could be used as part of a land bank formula that could create housing for 99 years, not for 10, 20 or 30 years.”
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