Bill Clinton on Congestion Pricing: 'Let's Get It On'


“Today is a happy day for me,” said Bill Clinton after lunchtime this afternoon at the Hilton in midtown. He was speaking to clients and brokers for the commercial brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield.

The reason he’s happy is because tonight he’ll be joining Michael Bloomberg in a joint effort to convince major cities all around the world to become a little bit greener.

Mr. Clinton praised Mayor Bloomberg’s greening plan for the city and discussed its most charged component, the $8 fee that it could cost to drive into midtown during rush hours.

“Now, all of the publicity was over the congestion fee,” he said. “Well, what I thought today when I was trying to get here, it’s OK with me if it’s $80 per car, send me the bill, let’s get it on.”

The crowd laughed very loudly. And with all that out of the way, he turned serious.

“Congestion is not the most important thing about the Mayor’s plan,” he said. “The most important thing about the Mayor’s plan is you.

“What you can do is drive the most massive broad-based economic recovery New York has since the 1960’s or maybe since the challenges during World War II,” he continued.

He was referring to greening buildings, which he described as a “win-win” for tenants and utility companies like Con Ed. He said every building in the city needs to go green, all 950,000 of them.

“Today we’re going to announce a program to try to provide a rapid transformation with buildings, starting with public buildings,” he began.

That would include the 40 cities that show up to tonight’s program.

“We’re going to green every roof; we’ll use solar power where it makes sense; we’re going to make all the windows energy-efficient windows; we’ll get rid of incandescent lighting – all this stuff that Cushman & Wakefield by and large has already done.”

The former President and would-be First Gentleman wore a black power suit this afternoon with a navy blue tie. He looked exhausted, often rubbing his eyes and making his pregnant pauses a little bit wider than normal. When he fielded questions from Cushman & Wakefield C.E.O. Bruce Mosler, he often sighed before answers.

His speech stayed in line with normal Clinton talking points, like the problems with healthcare, the economic divide around the world and childhood obesity.

The event was cast as a real estate event, though there weren’t many non-Cushman & Wakefield people present. Kent Swig was there, so were representatives from Tishman Speyer and Vornado, but a table set up in the front reserved for names like Macklowe, Roth and Rudin remained empty.

Nonetheless, Mr. Clinton took a stab at a little analysis of the Manhattan office market. Describing himself as a “Manhattan renter” – with offices for his foundation in Harlem and on Sixth Avenue – he described the market in the city as being “particularly well positioned” to reap the benefits from the global economy.

“We are here at the vortex of so much that is going well in the modern world that is exciting and good,” he said.

Even with those positive words, he offered brokers and real estate executives a careful warning before he finished his speech.

“You can afford to be here in this wonderful place and eat this wonderful meal and think how next year’s market is going to be better than this year’s,” he said. “But it is not sustainable. In order for it to be sustainable we have to deal with the income gap, the healthcare crisis and the climate change opportunity.”


Bill Clinton on Congestion Pricing: 'Let's Get It On'