In an interview with the Brooklyn Eagle staff on Wednesday, mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner frankly acknowledged the impact his recent “sexting” scandal has had on his campaign. However, he insisted it’s “in the rear-view mirror” and spent most of his time discussing his campaign issues – which most of the major media have ignored.
Many people remember his years in Congress mainly for his very vocal advocacy of “Medicare for All.” Those who supported his position will be interested to know that he wants the city to sponsor a city-administered single-payer plan for city employees, retirees and uninsured immigrant workers. This plan, he says, could also be offered as part of the Affordable Care Act’s “health exchanges.”
Rare among Democrats, he feels that Obamacare, although “better than the status quo,” doesn’t go far enough. “The employee-based model of insurance is a mistake. It’s taking tax dollars and giving them to private insurers,” he told the Eagle.
While some states such as Massachusetts and Vermont have administered single-payer health plans and have had problems, Weiner said that “they don’t have the healthcare infrastructure that we do – the number of hospitals, the number of doctors.”
In the current healthcare system, he said, hospitals welcome “big-ticket” procedures like liver transplants because they bring in big reimbursements, but are often lax in providing day-to-day care. “Services like preventative and emergency-room care are a big loss for hospitals,” he said, arguing why the system has to be changed.
Asked about the current fight to save Long Island College Hospital and rival candidate Bill de Blasio’s very visible presence at rallies, Weiner basically called de Blasio a Johnny-come-lately. While he welcomed de Blasio’s efforts, Weiner called them “too little, too late.”
Throughout the past decade, Weiner said, he opposed he opposed the Berger Commission’s recommendations to close hospitals. “During the Bloomberg Administration, we closed 12 or 13 hospitals in the city,” he said, “and I stood in front of every one of them, trying to keep them open. This was a mistake made by Governors Spitzer, Patterson and Cuomo – they should not have closed hospitals. We’ve been too passive as a city.”
As for de Blasio’s plan to save healthcare by forming a Brooklyn Hospital Authority, Weiner said he had formulated plans to form a similar agency. “He borrowed that from my health care plan,” he claimed.
Weiner said he firmly represents the interests of the middle class in New York City. While he applauds the expansion of startups in Brooklyn’s Tech Triangle and elsewhere, “The tech explosion is only a few thousand jobs,” he said. “Look, the median income in New York City is $44,000, and hundreds of thousands of meals are served in soup kitchens. While I want this to be a tech city and a wired city, we’re hemorrhaging middle class jobs.”
Weiner said he plans to focus on improving the climate for small businesses in the outer boroughs and supports the creation of Business Improvement Districts. He added, “We can’t just rezone every square inch for housing and wonder why there’s no room for middle-class jobs.”
Asked about the city’s recent selling off of public properties like libraries and schools to private real estate interests, Weiner said that he was “open to the idea of leveraging air rights over city-owned properties to get virtuous outcomes. To take aging libraries or senior centers and build affordable housing above it – the outcomes are what I care about. If the community can keep resources and we get benefits affordably, I’m all for it.”
Noting that he is “a pro-development Democrat,” Weiner said that he had “generally supported” the development of Atlantic Yards. He feels, however, that “affordable housing and public benefits should go in at the beginning. The housing promised hasn’t come to fruition.”
Weiner attacked his rivals as being part of the “political class – we have a councilwoman, a comptroller, a former comptroller....” He is the only candidate, he says, who has not been part of the city administration. “The old way of politics – seeking union and political club endorsements, being photographed with supporters – has to come to an end,” he says. Still, he says he would welcome them as part of a future Weiner administration.
In other city issues, Weiner said he opposes having an inspector general overseeing the Police Department. While he opposes totally eliminating stop-and-frisk, he believes the widespread use of the practice as a preventive measure is counter-productive and leads to mistrust between citizens and the police. “Police themselves don’t like it,” he said.
He welcomes a vigorous adversarial relationship with the City Council – even though he, as mayor, might be on the receiving end of it. “I take great joy in the ‘mixing it up’ part of politics,” he said, adding that politics should be “a full-contact sport. I look forward to an open and confrontational relationship.
“The City Council,” he said, “has been fairly feckless body up to now. They’re supposed to be a check and balance to the mayor.” When they voted to give Mayor Bloomberg a third term, it was “a low point in the city’s history.” No one who voted for that “should be allowed to continue in public life,” he said, in a dig at Christine Quinn.
Weiner said he admires the way Mayor Rudy Giuliani engaged in the community boards’ “raucous meetings. There’s been a tonal difference with Bloomberg,” he said. “I intend to have a more joyful administration; it will be more fun.”
On the topic of education, Weiner said he was “fine with having an advisory board for the Department of Education,” similar to Bloomberg’s Panel for Educational Policy (PEP). He feels, however, there has been “a general contempt for parents and teachers in the conversation. That’s not the function of the PEP, it’s the function of the mayor and chancellor. We need to change how we engage parents.”
One way to increase the influence of parents would be to end funding for parent coordinators, he said. “If they’re paid by the city, they’re not a truly independent voice. They neutralize the influence of parents.” He also wants to get the state out of the educational policy business. “It’s anachronistic. The mayor should be in control.”
Asked about how he would deal with local Republicans, who are particularly strong in Bay Ridge, Weiner answered, “Remember, I was in a district that went only 55 percent for Obama, so I’m used to dealing with them. I hope some of them will support me as mayor. I think single-payer healthcare is basically a conservative position – it saves costs.”
About his “sexting” scandal, Weiner frankly said, “I think there are people who will look at my past, and decide they can’t vote for me. I accept that. But there are other people who will want to vote for me based on the issues. I didn’t hurt anybody -- not the taxpayers, not the citizens. The only person I hurt is my wife.”
He hopes that voters will see him as “someone independent of the power elite. I’ve demonstrated I can stand up to powerful people. I have tried not to be a hypocrite. I haven’t demanded that people resign when they get into things.
“I am a candidate you know a lot about – maybe more than you want to know. There’s enormous pressure – every word I’m saying is monitored, people are following us. But here I am. I’m running for mayor because I have better ideas than the other guys. I’ll leave the decision to you.”
On the subject of other candidates calling for him to resign from the race, he questioned, “What are they afraid of? Are they afraid of some of my issues? Are they afraid that I’ll win?”