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Politics & Government

Why New York Mayor De Blasio Backs Clinton Over Sanders


Let's talk about a couple key numbers on this Tuesday morning - 95 and 291. There are 95 Republican delegates at stake in today's presidential primary in New York. More about the fight for those delegates later in the show.


On the Democratic side, 247 delegates will be awarded based on the results of today's primary. The other 44 superdelegates can support whoever they want at the Democratic convention. Most of them are already lining up behind Hillary Clinton, of course, the former New York senator. We're going to hear now from one of the state's most prominent Democrats, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. He's not a superdelegate, but he has endorsed Hillary Clinton.

Welcome to the program.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you so much, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So, you know, I want to start with a little background. You've had a long relationship with Hillary Clinton. You were her campaign manager when she first ran for senator of New York. You campaigned for her in 2008. But you're also a progressive Democrat. Were you tempted at all to go with Bernie Sanders in this Democratic primary?

DE BLASIO: Well, I said from the beginning I thought Hillary was extraordinarily qualified to be president. I wanted to see a clear vision for addressing income inequality. And as her campaign progressed, she put together a fantastic platform. It's very aggressive on the issues that we need to address - higher minimum wage, better benefits for working people, pre-K and paid family leave, paid sick leave - the kinds of things American families need - and on top of that, a firm commitment to taxing the wealthy at a higher level. Those are the things I was looking for. I had no doubt that Hillary was one of the most capable people who would ever be president of the United States. So I have a lot of respect for Bernie. I think he's raised very important issues in a very effective manner. But I think Hillary Clinton is the person who can actually make the changes.

MONTAGNE: Well, one issue that Bernie Sanders repeats is the idea of breaking up the big banks - is the idea that the financial industry is - at its center, has a lot of, as he would put it, fraud and greed. Would you or other politicians find it - the idea of breaking up the big banks - something you would hesitate to do, especially in a city like New York City with 160,000 people employed in the financial industry?

DE BLASIO: I think the question's a little different, if I may. First of all, we can't allow Wall Street to do what they did to us a decade ago. That's a given. And that is not only about strengthening the current laws, like Dodd-Frank and protecting those laws. There's clearly additional measures we have to take to get at the shadow banking sector and a lot of the realities of today that are not like what we faced 10 years ago. And those kind of fundamental reforms are something that Wall Street should buy into, not resist. So I'm happy - as, you know, the mayor of the city that has Wall Street in it - I'm happy to say those reforms are necessary.

MONTAGNE: But is that a legitimate argument - to talk about actually breaking up the big banks because that is certainly not something that Hillary Clinton has pushed?

DE BLASIO: Well, again, I don't think it's as simple as that - is part of the problem. I think what Bernie is saying, in effect, is that we should still have the Glass-Steagall Act. And I think that's true. It should not have been repealed.

MONTAGNE: OK, and Glass-Steagall, just for those who don't know - that is the law that was removed some years ago under Bill Clinton that would have limited the sorts of activity that banks could do.

DE BLASIO: That is exactly right. And again, I think we would have been better served keeping it in place. But what we need to do is take the energy of this year and mobilize the American people at the end of this election to actually achieve those things. I would rarely say anything nice about Donald Trump, and I have a huge critique of him, but even he has noted that some of the tax laws and other laws are skewed in favor of the wealthy. The real issue this election to me is not just who ends up in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue but how it may be the beginning of a bigger populist movement to push for these kinds of changes.

MONTAGNE: Well, one of Hillary Clinton's vulnerabilities that Bernie Sanders has taken very good advantage of is that Hillary Clinton is dependent on big donors. And for example, there was a big donor dinner this last weekend, hosted by George Clooney - cochairs ponying up more than $300,000. I mean, how bad is that for Hillary Clinton?

DE BLASIO: The reality of people collecting donations so they can get their message out, whether it's donations for a candidate, or as she was doing in California, also for the Democratic Party and for House and Senate candidates so she can have a Congress she can work with - well, those are the rules of the game today. We should change those rules. I believe it. Hillary believes it. Bernie believes it. We should get big money out of politics. I actually think the American people are ready for a very, very different approach to campaign finance where we put severe limits on what individual donors can do. But until that is achieved, candidates have to play by the rules as they are. But the good news is, you know, even within the current rules, things are changing. And I give Bernie Sanders credit for that - showing how much can be achieved through low-dollar donations. That's a brand-new reality. I don't think anyone has seen it happen - well, we know factually it's never happened on this level before.

MONTAGNE: Well, let me ask you about a misstep (laughter) which I'm sure brought a lot of unwelcome attention to you. It's a skit you performed with Hillary Clinton at a kind of roast between media and politicians. And the question of your endorsement and how tardy it was - how late it was - came up. And you joked about CP time - that's the idea that people of color are late a lot. Now your own family, as everyone knows, is racially blended. Your wife is African-American. Did it not occur to you that people would take offense to the use of that term?

DE BLASIO: Well, Renee, again, this was in the context of a show that was all satire. I think if you looked at every joke from that show, including the vast majority of the show was performed by the media here in New York, you would have found lots and lots of things that you might raise concerns about. But in the context of satire and roasts, you know, people act differently, obviously. But I thought it was in no way, shape or form insensitive. It was certainly not meant to offend. You know, my wife was talking about this a few days ago on TV. And she had seen the script. She wasn't offended by it at all. One of the actors happened to be African-American in the script. He wasn't offended by it. I just think in the context of satire, it was setting up the joke that what it stood for was cautious politician time. So it was a subversive twisting of the language. So I just don't buy into this notion that, you know, this is something to feel bad about.

MONTAGNE: What if a Republican politician had made that joke?

DE BLASIO: I just - I'm not buying the premise that there's anything wrong with, in the context of a satire - you look at the whole thing. And just look at the whole thing. It was a satire. It was a joke on me. It was certainly not meant to offend anyone. That's all I have to say.

MONTAGNE: All right, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking to us from city hall. Thank you very much.

DE BLASIO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.