De Blasio Hosts Reporters Roundtable at City Hall

Mayor Bill de Blasio chatting with City Hall reporters this afternoon. (Photo: Rob Bennett for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio)

Mayor Bill de Blasio chatting with City Hall reporters this afternoon. (Photo: Rob Bennett/NYC Mayor’s Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio sat down with reporters around a roundtable this afternoon at City Hall in a rare break from formal press conference to tout a state budget he described as a “real lift-off moment” for his new administration.

Mr. de Blasio appears to be shaking up his press strategy, arranging meetings today with the city’s television, radio and print reporters and hosting a press party at Gracie Mansion at the end of the week on the heels of sinking poll numbers, which some have blamed on his rocky relationship with the press.

But Mr. de Blasio–who said he was disappointed that reporters chose to remain indoors instead of chatting outside–insisted the meeting was sparked by his win in the state budget on universal pre-K–which he hailed as a “transcendental moment” in city history.

“I was hoping you would ask me questions when we took the selfie, but nobody wanted to. So I thought I should bring you here in a formal setting,” he said with a laugh, referring to a photograph he’d taken with reporters last month. “No, I just–look, there’s a lot to talk about and it’s a watershed moment that will really change the lives of people on the ground.”

“It’s a transcendental moment, we think, for our school system,” he added, “so, you know, I just want to affirm to everyone that this is what we are going to get done and how serious it is and how important it is, and that we have a very intense, elaborate approach to get it done.”

Dressed in a shirt and red striped tie, sitting realxed in a columned room on the second floor of City Hall, Mr. de Blasio reflected on his experience negotiating with Albany. While he didn’t get the tax hike on the wealthy he had pushed for, he did emerge with $300 million in funding for his signature effort to provide city kids with universal pre-K.

“Well, we feel good about the scorecard. We feel good about what happened here. And so I think the first question is: What would we do the same and what would we do more of?” he said when asked what he had learned. “With more time to prepare” next year, he said “we’re going to do much more at the grass-roots going into next year. Because I think we won this at the grass-roots, I really do.”

“So much of the discussion revolves around personalities and certain key figures and the inside baseball of Albany. But really what moved this was the popular support. And so we will work from that assumption going forward,” he said. “The core of the agenda got achieved. And it got achieved in three months. So, I couldn’t be more pleased about that.”

Mr. de Blasio was less clear, however, when asked whether he might continue to pursue his so-called “soy latte” tax hike on the city’s highest-income earners to fund another proposal down the line to fight inequality. Pressed by the Observer, Mr. de Blasio again declined to completely close the door to the tax.

“I think the agenda that I’m working on is the agenda I’m working on,” he said. “We’re working off a platform from the campaign that is very full, very rich. A lot of pieces to work on. I never rule out anything. But I think the bottom line is right now we’re focused on pursuing the agenda we have.”

And if Albany does not come through with the necessary money for pre-K over the next five years?

“I think it’s simple,” he replied. “We expect and believe that the issue is now resolved. But we also–I have a good friend who uses the phrase, says, ‘I was born at night, but I wasn’t born last night.’ So we are going to go up each year and make sure that the commitment from Albany continues. I have every reason to believe it will. And in that case, the mission is completed. If that changes at any point, all options are on the table, meaning we would look at anything and everything that would get us the revenue we need.”

“Once we get started in September,” Mr. de Blasio said, “we are not turning back.”