Mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio participates in a candidate’s forum in New York, Tuesday, August 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, endorsed by The Nation earlier this month, has recently gone from long-shot candidate to one of the front-runners in the New York City mayoral race. Running on a relatively progressive platform, he’s managed to stir up a latent liberal base in a city that hasn’t elected a Democratic mayor in over twenty years.
I caught up with the candidate yesterday at Good Stuff Diner near Union Square where he was holding court for the afternoon. Munching on a BLT sandwich, he seemed a bit fatigued from the weeks of campaigning as he fielded my questions. He was in a good mood though, and the diners passing by all recognized him. A few mentioned that it was his son Dante’s appearance in a recent advertisement campaign that won them over.
We discussed labor issues, climate change, the New York Police Department, the city’s beleaguered community hospitals and the legacy of Alex Rodriguez.
The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Bhaskar Sunkara: We’re in a unique situation—none of the municipal labor unions has a contract. Do you have any firm commitment with regard to retroactive pay for public employees for the years since their contracts expired?
Bill de Blasio: The only way to resolve what’s an unprecedented situation is to sit with each union, as mayor, in private, not through the media, and work out a situation that works for each of them. And I said, put every item on the table. I imagine a lot of unions will put retroactive pay on the table, and we’ll put forward an account of the city’s financial situation and we can talk about ways in which we can save money. Real issues for labor like contracting out and privatization concerns, I share a lot of labor’s feelings that those have been counterproductive efforts by Bloomberg. So we’re going to have to work it out case-by-case, but retroactive pay is certainly a valid thing to discuss. I just won’t ever commit in advance of negotiations to any particular outcome.
You’ve staked out a relatively progressive platform on labor issues, but you lack the support of key municipal unions. Do you see not having those endorsements having any impact on your ability to negotiate contracts in either direction?
Look, I’ve always had a very positive relationship with the municipal labor unions, a respectful relationship. I think that we can work well together, but these will be tough negotiations because of the situation we’ve been left in. But I think we can work it out. I always use the example of the 1970s, when the near-bankruptcy of New York City was a much tougher situation than what we face now, and labor stepped up and was very creative and responsible. I think it will be again.