NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Bill de Blasio held a news availability Friday afternoon at City Hall, without a specific topic or agenda.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, the mayor patiently answered a blizzard of questions at the marathon news conference – where he even waived off attempts by his press secretary to end it.
Kramer reported the mayor was making a conscious effort to show his willingness to answer questions on topics that were not pre-approved, but whether it was a permanent new policy was unclear.
“I know you know this. I have a job to do,” de Blasio said. “Much more important than giving the answers to the questions is actually doing the work.”
De Blasio answered what Kramer said was a record 27 off-topic questions. Press secretary Karen Hinton attempted to end the event after 17 questions, but the mayor insisted on going on.
“I’m going to wave off Karen Hinton here for a few minutes here,” de Blasio said. “Yes, it’s happening, Karen.”
But on the touchy topic of taking on-topic questions only, the mayor still prefers that format, Kramer reported.
“I think there’s going to be times where we just believe that makes more sense. If you’re going to have 15 or 20 questions on very valid, you know, big policy area, we think that’s what we should be focused on,” de Blasio said.
Kramer: “You cite statistics that life is improving in the city. What people tell us and what polls tell us is that the opposite is true about crime and homelessness. I want to know what you say to constituents… who have written to us about this — about the disparity?”
De Blasio: “There’s 8.5 mill people in this city and I think each one of them has a different opinion, and I’m not going to ever say because a few people say one thing, that is the final word. And I don’t think polls are ever the final word.”
The mayor said he believes the city is safe, and said homelessness is a problem that will require new strategies to work. But he did not say what those strategies would be, Kramer reported.
Kramer: “On our social media pages and our Facebook pages, we are really inundated with people asking these questions, so do you think that there’s a disparity between the New York that you see and the New York that some other people see?”
De Blasio: “No, I do not think that. I’ve been living here since 1979. I saw the bad old days, and I would urge you all to be very straightforward in the way you interpret this to people. If you were here in those times; if you saw what Times Square looked like; if you saw what the subways looked like with the graffiti and no air conditioning and everything else; if you saw and knew the people who were leaving the city and never to come back; companies leaving, it is night and day.”
De Blasio also told Kramer his administration would not tolerate homeless encampments in the city.
And though the mayor took all comers Friday – on topics from quality of life to the homeless and police contracts, he seemed also to unveil a new strategy of town halls and radio shows.
“We have a job to be out to the people with a message, in many cases, unfiltered,” de Blasio said.
The mayor’s comments follow a CBS2 report on residents who said homeless people were camping out with their belongings near a SoHo park.
De Blasio announced he would hold the media availability after CBS2’s Kramer challenged his policy of not answering off-topic questions during his regular public appearances.
At a public bill signing on Wednesday, Hinton told Kramer talking to the mayor was verboten and that they would not be taking questions.
At the event, de Blasio left the room as Kramer asked the mayor a question about homelessness in the city and transparency.
De Blasio campaigned on a pledge to be the most transparent mayor ever, but these days, the mayor only takes questions on topics that have been pre-approved about once a week, Kramer reported.
Kramer first went toe-to-toe on the issue with Hinton, who vehemently defended the practice.
Kramer: “He vowed to be the most transparent mayor in the history of life.”
Hinton: “He is being transparent.”
Kramer: “When he takes questions once a week.”
Hinton: “The definition of transparent is not when a reporter decides he or she wants to ask a question, the mayor must stop and answer that question. That does not equal transparency.”
When Kramer was told de Blasio would hold an availability Thursday in Puerto Rico, where he participated in a rally on the island nation’s health care needs, she flew to San Juan to continue to demand answers.
De Blasio had agreed to answer questions both on- and off-topic, and loosened his tongue – at least for one day, Kramer reported.
Kramer: “Mr. Mayor, some New Yorkers say you spend way too much time focused on issues outside New York City; you should be focusing on homeless and crime. Why are you here?”
De Blasio: “We’re focused every day on fighting crime. That’s why crime is down. That’s why gun arrests are up. That’s why we had the safest October in over 20 years in New York City’s history. I think it’s absolutely appropriate to be here.”
The mayor said the federal government needs to pay more for health care in Puerto Rico, and he said what happens there affects some 700,000 people in New York City.
Kramer: “So do you think New Yorkers are wrong to criticize you?”
De Blasio: “It’s never wrong to criticize. It’s never wrong to question. But the bottom line is this matters to one in 10 New Yorkers.”
But many New Yorkers have said that the mayor is not dealing adequately with local problems, and that he avoids tough questions from the press.
In Puerto Rico on Thursday, Kramer also asked de Blasio about his policy at news conferences.
Kramer: “Do you plan to take more off-topic questions, Mr. Mayor?”
De Blasio: “We have a vision that we think is the right vision – we do press conferences throughout the week. There’s going to be regular opportunities for off-topic questions. Obviously, we’re going to focus on on-topic questions too. There’s going to be many opportunities for journalists to talk to me about a number of things.”
When Kramer asked how often he will take off-topic questions, the mayor walked away.
The 300-plus member New York Press Club is chiming in on the controversy and demanding de Blasio have a truly transparent administration.
“When Bill de Blasio was elected mayor of New York, he promised transparency within his administration,” the group’s president, Steve Scott, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, that transparency has been clouded by opaqueness. For generations, mayors of New York have been open to questions on all subjects. The 300+ members New York Press Club object to Mayor de Blasio’s current policy, and ask that the Mayor reverse it in the interests of having an open — and truly transparent — administration.”