By Stephen Witt By Charles Hack
Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx Borough President, is again running for mayor after narrowly losing the Democratic nomination to Mark Green in 2001. Thus far in this campaign he has received the support of such diverse Brooklyn elected officials as Carl Andrews, Kevin Parker, Bill de Blasio, Lew Fidler and Carl Kruger. The following interview took place in a diner near Ferrer’s campaign headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. In person, Ferrer cuts a dapper figure in a crisp suit and trimmed mustache. While at first answering questions with arms folded, he proceeded to loosen up during the interview and proved both animated and quick thinking. What’s you favorite thing about running for mayor? Meeting all kinds of different people in every corner of this city. You can go from Williamsburg for a wedding and essentially see a 10th century eastern European town. You can go to Richmond Hill and see the Sikhs, to go to their temples. It’s extraordinary, this city and it never ceases to amaze a guy who spent all his life here. You have alluded early in your campaign that New York is two cities – the wealthy and the struggling. Do you still see it that way? Let’s go beyond the metaphor to what the economic condition of this city is, especially when you look at all these Olympic deals. You find out how many blue collar jobs are being sacrificed for an archery range, an aquatic center, and how this is increasingly becoming a city of the very wealthy and everybody else. I don’t think that’s right. It’s not the kind of city that people came here for over nearly 400 years to make a better life for themselves and having bigger dreams for their kids. Speaking of blue collar jobs, in Red Hook the city recently signed a deal to bring in the cruise industry on Piers 12 and 11, and at the same time they appear to be giving the heave-ho to the stevedoring industry on Piers 6-10. How would you handle the pier situation in Red Hook? Red Hook should have both. It’s [stevedoring] good jobs. People, who work them, support their families, pay their bills and put food on the table for their kids. Even the vice president of the cruise line company, I think in the Daily News, said they can both co-exist and they should. It’s very shortsighted and it’s really giving away an important part of the heritage of this city, the waterfront, to developers and people who are looking at this in terms of multi-million-dollar waterfront views — rather than multi-million-dollar places where people work and places where people enjoy. They should not be incompatible. So you think Red Hook should be come some type of mixed use and income neighborhood? This is what we’ve always been. In fact this is a radical change from what we’ve always done in this city, where the waterfront provides jobs and provides recreation and also should provide housing. Do you agree in the perception that the Bloomberg administration’s economic plan centers on Wall Street and tourism? In my view, it’s worse than that. It’s a very unique and even breathtaking brand of democracy, that says we can’t afford to lose even one job on Wall Street, but we’ll sacrifice hundreds of middle- and working-class jobs. We’ll sacrifice them at any time. Why? Because of the Olympics. It won’t cost the city a dime. Well, look at the human cost to this city, and in fact, when you scratch the surface of these deals, there’s a financial cost to this city as well. I don’t think that the people of the city should be used as pawns to build a monument to Dan Doctoroff and to Mike Bloomberg. You said recently there needs to be more transparency in the proposed Atlantic Yards deal. However, there are also several grassroots, mainly African-American organizations that support it including the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, ACORN and BUILD. There are people who support it and are in opposition to it. I have different questions. We still don’t know so much about these plans. When you’re talking about people’s neighborhoods, public dollars and everything else. Don’t you think the people have the right to know what the full impact of this is? So are you saying you are for or against the Atlantic Yards plan? I think we have to have some truth-telling about what this entails, what the use of public land is. About what the use of public money is. That’s what people are asking for and as long as you don’t have it there are people for it and people against, but I have a different set of questions. And they relate to use of public land and public money. People need to know it and it needs to be spread on the table. I think there are sincere people of good will on both sides of the table, but before we get there let’s get some answers to some questions and that’s what’s been missing. Recently, Bloomberg received the support of the construction trade unions, but yet the teachers and cops remain without a contract. At the same time, several precincts in Brooklyn such as the 88th are in decrepit condition. How would you propose to work with the teachers and cops? Are you kidding? He [Bloomberg] finally got some religion about a fourth precinct in Staten Island, but he has no plans to put cops there. Look, people aren’t stupid. He closed down six firehouses in this city. One of them, by the way, is a block and a half away from their proposed largest expansion on the Williamsburg/Greenpoint. If you were mayor, would you reopen them? You’re darn right I would. The city is growing and not shrinking. How do you plan to deal with contracts for cops and teachers? You’ve got to understand that delaying cops, firefighters and teachers without contracts for three years is merely a budget ploy. Their bills don’t get delayed for three years and they’re important people to this city. We’re losing cops by the droves to other cities. They get paid more and are treated better. The same thing with the teachers. One of the reasons why I signed on to this Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit is because that’s a way for us to improve teaching and their outlook for the city. We’re going to have to get very serious about our cops and firefighters. We’re losing our best. What specifically are your economic plans for the outer boroughs? Every borough has unique geographic characteristics. There’s enormous opportunity to create the container port industry as well as the cruise industry into a line with each other on the Brooklyn waterfront. There’s a great opportunity with the cross-harbor freight tunnel – to take truck trips off the road and not to export some borough’s problem to another borough, but to do it in a way so it’s a win-win. That’s why I thought the mayor’s sudden about-face on the cross-harbor tunnel was small. Do you think it was pandering to certain constituencies in Queens and Brooklyn? I don’t think anybody could come to a different conclusion about this, but if this means taking truck trips off the road, I don’t think there’s any justification for pulling it and it’s such an important project that can bring jobs and improve the environment on the pretext that well Maspeth has a problem. Or Borough Park? Yes, let’s fix that problem so we add to the economic infrastructure of New York. You see the truck traffic over the Hudson River crossing and it’s choked. If we can get those trucks off the road, and can increase productivity and economic viability of large parts of this city. We got to get serious about it and create jobs while we’re doing it. Connect with the rest of the American marketplace and we’re not even close to doing that and the mayor has tossed away years of planning for what? To score cheap political points. Let’s fix the problem. Let’s make this work and lets bring New York City into the mainstream of the rail freight of this country. Do you still support the stock transfer tax as a way to raise more revenue for the city? A charge that’s one-tenth of the charge that we imposed until 1981? Excuse me. But you’ve been taking a beating on the idea? Look, the editorial boards seem not to like it. The Wall Streeters seem not to like it, but when you talk to parents in this city, real people in this city. They go, ‘yeah, why aren’t we doing that?’ Why did they keep on raising the sales tax and the property tax and the income tax? We’re paying more for parking tickets. So you think Bloomberg is forgetting about the middle- and low-income folks? They aren’t even on the radar screen. Moving to education. Do you agree with third- and fifth-grade testing of students to move onto the next grade? First of all, I think if the data and research is supposed to mean anything, we’re supposed to begin making assessments and interventions much earlier than third and fifth grade. In the summer school for the third grade success academy last summer we spent $32 million to move 1,800 third graders from level one to level two. That’s a cost of $17,000 per kid over a five-week program. For a mayor who likes to pat himself on the back for doing more with less, here’s a classic example of doing less with more. Do you think your comments about cops not being criminally responsible for the shooting death of Amadou Diallo were misunderstood or taken out of context? To the extent that I was acknowledging the verdict of the jury, yes. I went on to say how bad this event was for the city. It was stain on the city. The killing of Amadou Diallo, a completely innocent and unarmed man. This is why I talk about firing those four cops. Which is why I got arrested in a protest, but also I went after the bigger issues. The divisive policies from Giuliani and Safer that gave rise to this. Some say it was an isolated tragedy, but there was noting isolated about this. It has even been articulated by a lot of people, that you can’t have effective policing without confrontation and racial profiling. I never bought that line and I trust at the end of the day people know who I am and always have been. I’m not going to hide behind I was taken out of context. I spoke carelessly and I’ve taken responsibility for that, but people know who I am, know where my heart is and know what I’ve always done in this area. And I’ll stack my record up against anybody for what I’ve done against police brutality and for police reform What separates you from the other Democratic candidates? A record of commitment to issues. Telling people what I think and taking action on them, What got you into public service? I grew up in a time when public service was idealized as a way to positively impact in people’s lives. When John Kennedy ran and won the presidency there was a sense of optimism that we could solve our problems. That’s what public service and politics and government should be about, help. What was the first thing you ran for? State assembly, where I got my brains beat in. What was the first thing you won? State committeeman, district leader, city council and borough president. Finally, do you think that companies and people who contribute to the 2012 Olympic Committee is something like a back-door campaign contribution? Given what we’re beginning to see emerge about the symbiotic relationship between who gives what and who gets to develop what in this city and participate, there is more than a whiff of pay to play here. Closing the Veterans Administration Hospital at 800 Poly Place is out of the question, according to Borough President Marty Markowitz. “Whether the proposed consolidation means closing Manhattan’s facility, or shutting down Brooklyn’s Veterans Hospital – either way it is a reprehensible idea,” Markowitz testified at a Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services local advisory panel in early May. Closure is one of several options that will be considered after consultants Pricewaterhouse-Coopers make recommendations following a series of four advisory meetings, according to Larry Devine, at the Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office of Public Affairs. This was part of a two-year-old nationwide drive to consolidate services and improve efficiency under the CARES program, he said. The process should be complete in the fall. An assessment found that parts of the hospital in Manhattan and Brooklyn were empty or underused. The Manhattan Campus of the VA New York Harbor Health Care System has 1.2 million square feet, of which 36,000 is vacant. The Bay Ridge facility has a total of 969,000 square feet, of which 27,000 is empty, according to a statement issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to Devine, savings from closing obsolete and underused facilities would be used to modernize and improve services. “Any savings that could be achieved by eliminating duplication, saving money on lighting and heating, or paying rent on unused buildings, would be plowed back into the system,” Devine said. “This is not about saving money; it’s an exercise in becoming more efficient, so we can do more with money we have.” But Brooklyn politicians have yet to be convinced. Rep. Vito J. Fossella helped to bus veterans to the May 3 public meeting so they could voice their concerns. The Manhattan and Brooklyn VA hospitals provide vital services to veterans and should be protected, said Fossella’s spokesperson, Craig Donner. “Any time you try to improve efficiency, that is a good thing, but we don’t want to see efficiency improved by reducing services at the hospital, or closing either of the hospitals,” Donner said. The Brooklyn hospital serves some 16,500 veterans in Brooklyn. “The hospital should be strengthened and its services there should be strengthened,” he said. “That is why we are fighting to prevent any consolidation of services that would lead to a loss of services at the Brooklyn VA or closure of either of the hospitals,” Donner said. Closures will hurt veterans who are disabled or frail because they will have to travel further to services, according to Markowitz. “Veterans and their families, who do not generally number among the wealthy, are heavily dependent on mass transportation,” Markowitz said. He also said that closure of a hospital is particularly egregious when soldiers are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and may return injured. “It’s wrong to disrespect anyone, but it is downright outrageous to disrespect American veterans,” Markowitz said.