HOT SEAT

03.10.14

Bill de Blasio Enters the Lions Den of ‘Morning Joe’

New York’s mayor was pummeled on everything from his plans to evict charter schools to the city’s snowstorms.

Morning Joe’s witty, highly caffeinated brand of repartee has made it a must-watch for the New York to Beltway political and media elite but it has never been mistaken for a lion’s den.

Yet New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio found himself besieged on all sides at the roundtable Monday morning as the hosts questioned him sharply on everything from his plans to tax the rich for universal pre-kindergarten, to his apparent hostility towards charters school, to even the run of snow storms that have hammered Gotham.

De Blasio, making his first appearance on the show, gamely pushed back. His plan to tax the rich, he said, would amount to little more than a small Starbucks soy latte a day for those who make over $500,000. 

“I want to speak in a way the culture of this table can understand,” de Blasio said, a reference to the coffee chain’s sponsorship of the show and its mugs that litter the round table.

De Blasio should have seen the incoming from far away. No sooner had he arrived than host Joe Scarborough said to the mayor, “It has been a rough ride, and I am just going to make it a little rougher”—and then proceeded to ask about de Blasio’s support of the hated (for a New Yorker, anyway) Boston Red Sox.

As for the weather that has gripped the city for months, Scarborough teased the mayor: “I told people that if they elected you this city was going to hell.”

More substantively, de Blasio said that his soy latte tax was necessary even though Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to pay for universal pre-K throughout the state using existing money in the budget.  A tax on New York City residents would, the mayor said, be a guaranteed source of funding, and would be free from “the vagaries of Albany.”

“If you don’t control your own revenue, good luck to you,” de Blasio said, and although he added that he understood the table’s resistance to higher taxes.

“Joe, I have watched your show for a while. I understand your worldview.”

The banter turned even sharper however when the conversation turned to charter schools, a pet project of both Scarborough and his co-hosts, Mika Brzezinski and Willie Geist (economist Jeffrey Sachs was also there, providing ballast for de Blasio.) Last week, de Blasio halted a plan under previous mayor Mike Bloomberg to let several schools share space with existing public schools.

Brzezinski asked de Blasio directly, “Are you against charter schools?” and they showed a clip of de Blasio on the campaign trail, speaking to teachers at the United Federation of Teachers headquarters in which he promised that “It was time for Eva Moskowitz [whose charter schools he wants out] to stop having the run of the place.”

“I have never been against charter schools,” de Blasio protested. “There is so much drama in political life. Let’s get to the facts.”

He pointed out that far more charters were approved than disapproved, even co-locations, and even schools run by Moscowitz.

De Blasio could at times sound like Bloomberg, urging his panelists, and New Yorkers as a whole, for that matter, to understand the bigger picture, rather than focus on a particularly vocal minority. Charters, he said, were important, but a relatively small part of a school district with 1.1 million students, and their fate is far less important than the fate of his pre-K plan.

Bloomberg though was a regular on the show and a favorite of the hosts, a point that de Blasio, who ran for mayor as the anti-Bloomberg, acknowledged.

“We respect [Bloomberg],” Scarborough said at one point. “Because he has $23 billion.”

Brzezinski was withering, however, asking de Blasio outright, “Why are you hostile to charters?” and “What are you going to do to bridge that divide” with Governor Cuomo, punctuating many of her questions with the phrase, “With all due respect,” a clear sign that some tough questioning was to follow.

“It’s all about Eva. It’s all about Eva Moskowitz,” she asked, to which de Blasio tightly smiled and shook his head no.

“It’s not about her guys! Its about fixing our schools overall.”

He conceded that they could have messaged the decision to close the co-locations better, saying at one point, “If you guys are saying we could have done better public relations, God bless ya, you are right.”

The conversation ended with the group making plans to catch a baseball game once spring at last comes—at Boston’s Fenway Park though.

“That is something we can all agree on. Kumbaya,” de Blasio said with relief.