MB: The maturity of our society is, you can discuss things like the crime rate in the city, and if you look at the ethnicity of murder victims and murder perpetrators, crime is a minority problem. It is probably tied to economics—I think if you went to West Virginia, you’d find that the ethnicity is white Protestant. Here it is black and Latino. When I go to a black church, or go to a Latino church, they appreciate the fact that you’re going after two societal problems where they are the primary victim: poor schools, high crime. In other days, you couldn’t say that without being accused of being racist. Today, you can talk about it. You do have to be a little bit sensitive. After I got elected, before I took office, somebody had invited me to a dinner of 100 Black Men. I couldn’t go. The guy said, just before I hung up, “We’re gonna have Al Sharpton there.” I stopped and I said, “I tell you what: I can only come for a drink. But you have the cameras and Al Sharpton meet me at the door, have Al show me around, have Al shake my hand on the way out, and I will change my schedule.” That’s exactly what happened. And it ended this animosity between parts of the black community that Al represented and the mayor’s office that had gone on for a long time.
EK: He’s not giving himself enough credit. I know Al Sharpton. The fact is, I had him arrested right outside this room!
NY: Do Democrats still control the city?
EK: This is a Democratic town. But it is not the kind of operation that existed years ago that was directed by a few people. People in the city of New York are Democrats, in the sense that they believe they’re responsible for the welfare of other people who live here. I’m proud of that. I believe that as well.
MB: People say, Giuliani got elected and Bloomberg got elected, therefore [the Democrats are less powerful]. Giuliani got elected because people wanted a change, any change. David Dinkins is a very nice guy, but people were not happy.
EK: Crown Heights.
‘It is easier to govern in difficult times than in flush times.’
MB: Crown Heights. Bloomberg got elected because he spent $75 million and his opponent self-destructed. Maybe a few other things, but basically that was it. That does not mean the next mayor of the city of New York isn’t very likely to come from the Democratic machine, somebody who worked their way up. There’s always a chance for an aberration. But it’s not a good bet. It’s like betting on the lottery as a business strategy instead of going to college.
NY: Another major change in the political dynamic is the power of the unions—weaker locally, but stronger in Albany.
MB: What is different from the olden days—at least what I’ve read about the olden days—is the unions telling their members how to vote. That’s gone, if it ever existed. They don’t pay any attention. The Democratic machine, gone. The place the machine still works is in the legislative offices.
EK: The area that always concerned me was that in Albany, they would impose higher pension costs to be borne by the city out of its own monies. Huge dollars, hundreds of millions.
MB: [Rolling eyes] We negotiate with them, then after the deal, they go up to Albany and get something else!
EK: Right. The way it worked in Albany—and I suspect it still works the same way—the Assembly, which is Democratic, is dominated by the teachers union and District 37. The Senate, which is Republican, is dominated by the teachers union—they’re in both places—
MB: Yup. Yup.
EK: —and by the cops and the firefighters. I remember going up to Albany to fight the pension, and I meet two firefighters. And they liked me, the cops and the firefighters, because I always gave them, in collective bargaining, a fraction more, on the basis that they could lose their lives in protecting people.
MB: “Uniformed services differential” we call it today. We’ve never been able to get rid of it. And now DC 37 wants it, which is why we don’t have a contract with them.
EK: Tell them, when they get a uniform, you’ll consider it!
MB: They’ll take the uniforms—and they’ll want to carry guns, too. [Laughter] I’ll give you an example of the worst thing I think has happened, the most disgraceful thing in the last six and a half years. In April, in the middle of the night, with no notice, no hearings, no publicity, the Republican Senate and the Democratic Assembly passed a law, which the governor signed, which prevents us from using teacher performance in granting tenure. Now, tenure for public-school teachers is about as stupid a concept—these people are not advancing man’s body of knowledge, they have civil-service protection anyways, they don’t need to be able to say stupid things or write stupid things like some college professor does.