5:12 pm May. 29, 2012
At a press conference about teacher-student sexual contact, Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended his borough taxi plan from Public Advocate Bill de Blasio's attacks, asking, "Who could possibly be against this?"
Earlier today, de Blasio, who is running for mayor in 2013 and frequently champions the cause of the city's taxi medallion owners, announced that he had filed an amicus brief in support of a suit by a wealthy group of taxi-fleet proprietors seeking to annul the city's taxi plan.
Signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in February, the borough taxi plan would empower some 18,000 livery cars to pick up street hails in the outer boroughs and upper Manahttan. Today, by law, they can only respond to prearranged calls. The bill would also allow the city to auction off 2,000 regular, wheelchair-accessible yellow taxi medallions, which would substantially increase the size and accessibility of the current fleet, now numbering about 13,000.
Medallion owners argue the bill undermines the street-hail exclusivity upon which the value of their medallions is based, and further, that by failing to attain City Council approval of the legislation before passing it in Albany, the Bloomberg administration violated the City Charter.
"I don't know why Bill de Blasio wants to stop taxis for three-quarters or more of the people in this city," said Bloomberg, at the press conference at Gracie Mansion. "Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens the Bronx, and anything north of 96th Street basically in Manhattan hasn't had legal taxi service as far as I know, ever. This will give them legal taxi service. Who could possibly be against this? I can understand some people thinking their business might be threatened, although I don't think that's gonna happen. There seems to be an unlimited demand for medallions."
"Why Bill de Blasio would want to get involved and take away something from everybody, I don't know," he continued. "Ask him. I just can't keep up with all the suits."
The suit is one of a number of obstacles the Bloomberg administration will have to overcome in order to sell the medallions and thereby fill a $1 billion hole in its 2013 fiscal year budget.
The mayor made his remarks during a question-and-answer session before a press conference announcing the introduction of a piece of state legislation that would give school superintendents, including the New York City schools chancellor, the ultimate authority in firing teachers found to be engaged in sexual misconduct with students.
Under existing law, independent arbiters chosen jointly by the administration and the teachers union make that decision.
"Since both the city and the U.F.T. have to sign on, they try to do something down the middle that doesn't antagonize either side," said Bloomberg, of the arbitrators.
By way of illustration, the mayor told a story about a teacher who had inappropriately touched a number of female students. Though this was the teacher's second hearing for such behavior, the arbitrator imposed only suspension without pay and a warning. "That is just not acceptable," said the mayor.
Poughkeepsie Republican Stephen Saland is introducing the legislation in the State Senate, and it has the support of the New York State School Boards Association, and the New York State Council of School Superintendents, but the United Federation of Teachers is not on board.
Nor the bill does have a sponsor in the Assembly, where the teachers union has a steadfast ally in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Asked whether he thought the speaker would support the measure, the mayor said, "Shelly Silver's a principled guy. And he understands these are his kids, your kids, my kids."
"Why would this be difficult?" he said later. "Why would you think it would be difficult to get the legislature to stand up and say it's inappropriate for our kids to be subject repeatedly, by the same people, to sexual advancement and touching and other inappropriate behavior?"
In a statement, U.F.T. President Michael Mulgrew said, "This proposed legislation would allow the Chancellor to unilaterally find an employee guilty of sexual misconduct even though an independent hearing officer who has weighed all the evidence has determined otherwise ... Sexual misconduct involving children is a serious issue. Giving the Chancellor—who has previously said that an accusation is not the same thing as a finding of guilt—the power to ignore the evidence and an arbitrator’s decision is not an answer to it."
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