Enjoying the attention afforded by frontrunner status, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio faced questions ranging from local to international issues from a large scrum of press and a few voters during a campaign stop on the Upper West Side Monday.
The appearance came just hours before the polls open to decide the Democratic and Republican nominees for mayor, and as a new Quinnipiac poll showed the “tax-the-rich” Democrat leading the pack, with 39 percent. That’s down somewhat from a Sept. 3rd poll that placed him at 43 percent, enough to avoid a runoff.
Betsey Peters-Epstein, a Manhattan resident since 1979, told de Blasio she is worried that crime could return to the same level seen during the administration of the last Democrat, David Dinkins, and asked the candidate how she could be confident that reining in the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policies would not lead to more violence.
“My friend was hit over the head with a bottle,” Peters-Epstein, 61, who serves as a cantor at Temple Sholom of West Essex in New Jersey, said on Monday. “The police said they couldn’t do anything.”
“I don’t think stop and frisk serves us well,” answered de Blasio, who has ardently called for adjustments in police strategy while attacking Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s blank-check support of stop-and-frisk.
“I’m committed to an aggressive approach to policing that is community-focused as well,” said de Blasio, insisting cops work best when neighborhood cooperation is high -– cooperation he says is lost when cops alienate innocent residents by searching them.
He added that new technology such as surveillance cameras and “shot spotter,” a system that traces the origins of gunshots, can make street stops less frequent.
Peters-Epstein also asked about affordable housing in the city and why developers have been able to focus on luxury units without enough accommodation for low-income renters.
De Blasio stressed his strong support for mandatory inclusionary zoning, which would require affordable units as a prerequisite for granting development rights.
“In the Bloomberg years, developers were able to create large developments without giving anything back,” he said.
Peters-Epstein later told reporters she felt the candidate had put on a “shpiel for the cameras,” and that she still had serious concerns about stop and frisk. “If it’s going to be modified, how modified will it be?”
It was one of many exchanges on a wide range of topics as de Blasio greeted voters outside a Fairway supermarket on West 74th Street and Broadway as the long Democratic primary wound into its final hours.
Another resident asked de Blasio how he would work with the powerful state Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, who has tremendous sway over the mayor’s powers and city affairs.
“I have a perfectly good relationship with Shelly and I think I have a good sense of what it takes to work with the legislature,” he replied. “I think Bloomberg probably was tone deaf on a lot of things … you have to be able to communicate clearly if you want to get things done in Albany.”
When another resident of the upper-class neighborhood complained about the number of people who are “on the dole,” de Blasio replied “if someone qualifies for a benefit, there’s no sin in that. Those who don’t deserve the benefits, we have to do a better job weeding them out.”
Following the insistence of Satmar Chasidic leaders, who endorsed de Blasio Sunday night, that he would immediately end the city’s consent decree for mohels performing oral suction at circumcisions, de Blasio was asked by a reporter if that was his intention.
“I’ll keep the form in place until we have a better approach,” de Blasio said at the press conference. “I want to work with community leaders on something we can all agree upon, that will help protect the safety of our children. I think we can do better.”
He said the current “form,” which parents are required to sign, “doesn’t have enough impact. We will [find a way] to respect religious tradition while still protecting children.”
That contradicts the declaration, undisputed by de Blasio at the Williamsburg event, by a chasidic spokesman regarding the consent decree, that “right away it will be eliminated” under a de Blasio administration, as seen in an online video. De Blasio said Monday he did not hear that “exact quote,” though the video shows him near the speaker, who was using a microphone.
De Blasio is backed by the followers of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, who make up one of two conflicting Satmar factions, while William Thompson Jr. is backed by followers of the rabbi’s brother Zalman.
Another reporter asked de Blasio’s opinion about U.S. intervention in Syria’s civil war. While declining to give his own opinion about U.S. airstrikes, he said he had “immense respect” for the president for going to Congress for authorization. “That’s not an easy thing to do,” he said.
Agreeing with the president’s “core instinct” that international laws have been violated, he said there should be a “healthy debate” in Congress on the right course of action.
Most of the encounters on the crowded sidewalk outside the supermarket were with supporters.
Judy Wood, 71, an Upper West Side resident and retired school librarian, sad she was volunteering on de Blasio’s campaign because “he’s the most progressive candidate who can win. I have had it with Bloomberg. And Christine Quinn stole my democracy.”
She was referring to the Council speaker’s support of a third term for city officials. When reminded that de Blasio was also an early supporter of term limit extensions, Wood said “He didn’t vote for it, that was the cutoff for me.”
Wood said her primary issue in the election is “Public schools, making them good excellent for thousands and thousands of kids. And respect for the teachers.”