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Not really a Million Dollar Baby

From a May 8th WNBC interview:

GABE PRESSMAN: Now Mr. Ferrer told an audience at a fund-raiser the other day, "I grew up"--I'm quoting him--"on Fox Street in the South Bronx, played stickball on a tough street, and that's where I learned how to fight. It wasn't about picking the fights you could win; it was about you getting in the fights that meant something." Do you consider yourself a fighter?

Ms. FIELDS: Oh, absolutely. I've always been a fighter. I've always had to fight on many different levels. And I'm a good fighter; I'm a tough fighter. And...

PRESSMAN: Physically or...

Ms. FIELDS: I've had to fight physically.

PRESSMAN: ...figuratively?

Ms. FIELDS: I've had to fight physically...


Ms. FIELDS: ...sometimes, much younger, you know, as a kid. I don't fight now. But we used to do...

PRESSMAN: What sort of fights did you have as a kid?

Ms. FIELDS: Well, it was usually about turf kinds of things, you know, whose side of the street did this group belong to, and you don't cross this side. Sometimes about boys, too, you know.

For the entire Gabe Pressman interview, go here - or click below.

Interview: C. Virginia Fields, Borough President Of Manhattan, Discusses Her Position On Issues And Her Campaign For Democratic Nomination For Mayor Of New York City
POSTED: 4:52 pm EDT May 6, 2005

NEW YORK -- GABE PRESSMAN, host: Will she become the first black woman elected mayor of New York? That's C. Virginia Fields' hope. And in recent weeks, her poll numbers have gone up. She's angry about the apparent neglect of warnings on security at ground zero and the stalling of that project. And after the bombing, near the British Consulate on the East Side, can Manhattan's buildings be protected? The borough president of Manhattan is one of four contenders for the Democratic nomination for mayor, including Fernando Ferrer, who, according to a recent Marist Poll, still leads the pack, though Fields is now a close second. Lagging behind, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Among the major issues: Mayor Bloomberg's determined campaign to build a West Side stadium, which he claims will bring jobs and the Olympics to New York; Fernando Ferrer's statement that the shooting of Amadou Diallo was, as a jury found, not a crime.

Announcer: From Studio 6B in Rockefeller Center, this is a presentation from News Channel 4, Gabe Pressman's NEWS FORUM. Now your host, senior correspondent Gabe Pressman.

PRESSMAN: And Virginia Fields is our guest on NEWS FORUM today.

Good morning and welcome, Ms. Fields.

Ms. C. VIRGINIA FIELDS (Borough President, Manhattan; Democratic Candidate for Mayor of New York City): Good morning, Gabe.

PRESSMAN: Security concerns, it was disclosed this week, will delay the building of the new office building known as the Freedom Tower. The governor and the mayor both agree that they want to make sure that it's safe. How do you feel about this decision to delay this building that seems so close to realization?

Ms. FIELDS: Well, I certainly do agree that safety and security must be paramount in the development of all of our buildings. And when we look at the Freedom Tower, that particular area where we had the terrorist attack and created the situation--or where the situation was, rather, created and that we now have to address it, security should have been obviously a part of the overall planning. My concern is at the end of the process, to now say that the delay is due to security concerns, I find that mind-boggling because...

PRESSMAN: What do you think they've been doing all this time?

Ms. FIELDS: Well, that is the question that I and every citizen perhaps is now asking, and that is during this period where we were told that the police commissioner and other security experts were a part of the planning throughout, that if they were making specific recommendations, the questions are: Why were they not listened to? Why were they not incorporated into the overall planning? And why weren't these issues raised before the announcement of the final plan? I think it really represents, in my mind, colossal failure. And I think that it is just absolutely unacceptable...

PRESSMAN: Do you think they goofed?

Ms. FIELDS: ...that all of this time...

PRESSMAN: The governor and the mayor goofed?

Ms. FIELDS: I think that the governor and the mayor, because they have total control of this planning process, did not communicate, did not follow up in terms of making sure that issues of security were, in fact, a part of the overall plan, especially...

PRESSMAN: How would you characterize that?

Ms. FIELDS: Colossal failure. That's how I characterize that. It was failure on the part of those who were in charge of the planning process, and that is the governor and that is the mayor.

PRESSMAN: The other day, Commissioner Kelly--I was there--he expressed his feelings about this when he said this.

Commissioner RAY KELLY (New York City Police Department): ...occurring in the plans for the Freedom Tower. We've been engaged in discussions on security since November of 2003...

Unidentified Man: Commissioner, the real question is: Have they been slow to respond to the concerns that you've raised?

Commissioner KELLY: Well, I'm not going to characterize their response. All I can tell you is I believe the police department is doing a job, has been doing a job in focusing on security concerns and will continue to do that.

PRESSMAN: Well, the city administration informed us that they were aware of Kelly's reservations, but nobody did anything, did they?

Ms. FIELDS: That is what I'm saying. Basic...

PRESSMAN: So isn't that incredible?

Ms. FIELDS: That is absolutely mind-boggling, it's incredible and it represents the fact that the communication and the leadership that should have been going on clearly was not happening. If the commissioner's saying he's been a part of this process since 2003 and specific recommendations were made and they were not incorporated into the plan prior to the big announcement last year now, `The Freedom Tower's ready, etc., and it is now finalized,' that represents a disrespect, I think, for his position, for his input around critical issues of security. And now we are at the end of a process, being told that the delay might very well be for an additional year for some...

PRESSMAN: Or more.

Ms. FIELDS: ...or more, for something that a great deal of time, money, effort and emotions.


Ms. FIELDS: I mean, thinking about the emotional impact on the families and so forth, so that this is major, I think, in terms of the failure of those who had responsibility.

PRESSMAN: What do you think that emotional impact will be on the families?

Ms. FIELDS: Well, one can never, you know, determine that, but the fact that they had been engaged and involved with this and now perhaps having to go through a process again, one can only imagine the impact that that has.

PRESSMAN: So it's a colossal foul-up, failure, as you said, and what would the--what's the remedy now?

Ms. FIELDS: Well, I think at this point steps must be taken immediately to replace the president--because you know that he also resigned--of the LMDC, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. And it needs to be someone who is independent, someone who has a track record in this kind of public-private...


Ms. FIELDS: ...development and can fast-track this, and make sure that all of the relevant components are engaged.

PRESSMAN: You think a deal was made between the governor and the mayor early on, with the mayor having control of the West Side of Manhattan for the future Jets Stadium...

Ms. FIELDS: I do believe that. I do believe that.

PRESSMAN: ...and the governor have control of Lower Manhattan?

Ms. FIELDS: I do, because that is exactly how it has proceeded. The governor has been in total control, basically, of Lower Manhattan in terms of the appointment of the president, making key decisions. And the mayor has focused on the West Side of Manhattan.

PRESSMAN: Are you saying, in a sense, that there was a political conspiracy here to enable the mayor to build the Jets Stadium while the governor had control of what was happening downtown?

Ms. FIELDS: I do not call it a political conspiracy, but what I do say is, based just on the actions, the mayor's focus has been on the building of a stadium on the West Side of Manhattan, and that has consumed a considerable amount of his time and focus. And now when we look at where we are on the Freedom Tower, the fact that we are possibly facing a year or more delay because of security being the major problem here, the coordination, the leadership, the communication that I think one would expect between the mayor and the governor clearly was not there, and it did not happen.

PRESSMAN: And you were not included in the process.


PRESSMAN: And Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker, wasn't; Councilman Alan Gerson wasn't.

Ms. FIELDS: We were not a part of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and that was my criticism at the very beginning, when this development corporation was formed to not include elected people locally and boroughwide representing the district and the city, I think, was a major mistake, because our focus is on what happens on a daily day-to-day basis in matters such as that.

PRESSMAN: What about the West...

Ms. FIELDS: And I think it was a failure.

PRESSMAN: What about the West Side stadium? Are you still against it, or do you feel that the mayor has some merit in what he says about getting the Olympics and the West Side stadium being vital for that and for creating thousands of jobs?

Ms. FIELDS: As I said, I support the Olympics coming to New York City. I do not support a stadium on the West Side of Manhattan, Gabe. It's the wrong location. And of course, we have had a lot of discussions and you've heard about desire to move it to Queens. Building a stadium in Queens will also create jobs, but more importantly, it begins to build strong economic development sites and locations in other areas outside of Manhattan. Building the expansion of the Javits Center, building residential, more residential on the West Side, which is what my plan calls for on the West Side of Manhattan, with relevant commercial hotels and so forth. We're still creating jobs. And we're also--by building housing, we will be generating property tax. So that's revenue. So it is about jobs either way we go, but the West Side is the wrong location.

PRESSMAN: I want to talk to you about the recent Marist Poll which showed that you had gained a great deal, and about Fernando Ferrer, who's still in first place, although you've gained on him, and about who the fighter is, Ferrer or Fields, after this.


PRESSMAN: And we're back here with Virginia Fields, a contender for the Democratic nomination for mayor.

The recent Marist Poll, Ms. Fields, showed that you have 30 percent of registered Democratic voters to Fernando Ferrer's 34 percent, an increase of 9 points for you. What do you attribute that to?

Ms. FIELDS: Well, I think it is directly attributed to the fact that I am now campaigning broadly throughout the city, going out into all of the boroughs, the different neighborhoods, talking with people about my background, my accomplishments, my vision for the city.

PRESSMAN: What about the Diallo case? Mr. Ferrer, who was here just last week, sitting where you are, did his statement about that, that it wasn't a crime, which I think echoed what the jury found in the actual trial when they acquitted the four officers--Was the Diallo situation what undid his long lead over you?

Ms. FIELDS: You know, I don't know if that attributed to it. Obviously, people have strong opinions, as evidenced by the polls. But I do believe that my increase based on responses that I received when I'm out campaigning, talking about the issues that affect people's daily lives. People are looking for a mayor who will make the priorities of health care, for example. I've been talking about that all week. This is, as you probably know, the conclusion of Cover the Uninsured Week, a national issue. And we've been talking about that. With 1.8 million uninsured residents here in New York City, we can do more. And we've talked about using, for example, the tobacco settlement funds instead of continuing to use it as a part of the general operating fund of the city's budget, use that to really do what it was intended to. So when I talk about these issues throughout all of the city, I think that is what is attributing to the...

PRESSMAN: Should the Diallo case be an issue?

Ms. FIELDS: Individuals will make up their minds about that because it affects people in so many different ways. But I think that, as I said, as I'm moving throughout...

PRESSMAN: But what about this individual, you? Do you think Diallo should be an issue?

Ms. FIELDS: It will probably be for many.

PRESSMAN: Not for you?

Ms. FIELDS: In terms of how I vote? I'm voting for Virginia Fields. I wasn't going to be voting for Freddy Ferrer in the first place, so...

PRESSMAN: Now Mr. Ferrer told an audience at a fund-raiser the other day, "I grew up"--I'm quoting him--"on Fox Street in the South Bronx, played stickball on a tough street, and that's where I learned how to fight. It wasn't about picking the fights you could win; it was about you getting in the fights that meant something." Do you consider yourself a fighter?

Ms. FIELDS: Oh, absolutely. I've always been a fighter. I've always had to fight on many different levels. And I'm a good fighter; I'm a tough fighter. And...

PRESSMAN: Physically or...

Ms. FIELDS: I've had to fight physically.

PRESSMAN: ...figuratively?

Ms. FIELDS: I've had to fight physically...


Ms. FIELDS: ...sometimes, much younger, you know, as a kid. I don't fight now. But we used to do...

PRESSMAN: What sort of fights did you have as a kid?

Ms. FIELDS: Well, it was usually about turf kinds of things, you know, whose side of the street did this group belong to, and you don't cross this side. Sometimes about boys, too, you know.

PRESSMAN: Where was that?

Ms. FIELDS: When I grew--as I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. But in terms of being a fighter, I've had to knock down barriers all of my life. Having grown up in the South, as we talked about the last time I was on the show, I grew up--I was born and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. And fighting down barriers, fighting against civil rights, civil liberties that were denied people of color, `colored people,' as we were called. All of that helped to shape my vision, my view and my perspective.

PRESSMAN: At 17 you marched with Martin Luther King.

Ms. FIELDS: At 17 I marched with Dr. King, was in jail for six days. And by the way, that was also the time when he wrote the letter from the Birmingham jail. So those are really difficult times. So knowing how to fight, how to challenge and how to win has been a part of many of my battles and my activities, so I'm well-prepared.

PRESSMAN: You've said that education should be a major issue; so has Mr. Ferrer and the other two Democrats who are running, Congressman Weiner and Speaker Gifford Miller. But hasn't the mayor done a lot by centralizing education and by making it the highest priority for his administration?

Ms. FIELDS: My priorities in education would definitely be very different from the mayor. First of all, I would be more inclusive of educators. I think that's where we have seen. What we are seeing now is the fact that principals do not have the kind of decision-making in schools that they are in control of in terms of managing what happens in that school on a daily basis.

PRESSMAN: Who's in control?

Ms. FIELDS: The Department of Education, the chancellor and others at that particular level as opposed to engaging the school community. Your principals, your teachers, input and participation from parents and, to some extent, students, especially as relates to issues of safety. I think that students should be a part of comprehensive safety discipline plans. Who are better--and in a better position, rather, to work with their peers than other students?

PRESSMAN: You think that the educational system under the mayor, this mayor, is a dictatorship?

Ms. FIELDS: I think that it has certainly cut off a lot of the voices that should be included, some of those I mentioned as well as other elected officials.

PRESSMAN: Too authoritarian?

Ms. FIELDS: Too authoritarian, and decisions made at the very top and handed down as opposed to included. And as a result, I think that we have missed valuable time in making reforms. I would certainly focus more on investing early on in our children, pre-K. Let's do early assessments. Let's make sure that the interventions are provided so that as the children move through first, second, third and they get to the third grade and take the standardized test, we would not have to spend so much prep time on just how to take tests.

PRESSMAN: How would you characterize the system now? What's it doing?

Ms. FIELDS: Very controlling, very--it is not inclusive in terms of educators, in terms of the school community. The voices that should be heard, principals making the kind of decisions in the schools as it relates to methodologies, with curriculum, as it relates to comprehensive plans for safety and the involvement of parents. Parents have not been included to the extent that they should also be encouraged. And these are, I think, important as it relates to relationships building, too, in the schools.

PRESSMAN: Now rent control. Tenants should be very happy, the mayor said the other day, that the rent guidelines board is mulling increases of 2 to 4.5 percent on one-year leases. Said the mayor, `The range that they put out is lower than I think what a lot of people expect.' In other words, they're allowing less of an increase than some people expected. If you're a tenant, you should be very happy about that. What's your reaction to that?

Ms. FIELDS: I thought that it was rather an insensitive statement given the fact that many of these people aren't even able to keep up with the rent that they now have to pay. With the increased costs in fares for our subways, for our buses, increased costs in terms of food prices and other responsibilities and the fact that their salaries are not going up, I thought that that was a rather insensitive statement, quite frankly. And it does not give consideration to the many hard-working people out here who are really trying to make ends meet and simply are not able to make that 2 percent or even 1 percent. If salaries and other income perhaps was more in keeping with these increases, but that, I thought was rather insensitive. And I certainly would not have made that statement.

PRESSMAN: Do you think that the mayor doesn't relate to paying rent?

Ms. FIELDS: I don't know if he has to pay rent but we also have a place, Gracie Mansion, where he could have been living free, you know, of rent, and I know he would not have had to pay rent there. And as mayor I will...

PRESSMAN: What about...

Ms. FIELDS: ...live in Gracie Mansion, by the way.

PRESSMAN: So you'll go back to the...

Ms. FIELDS: Yes. I would definitely go back to the people.

PRESSMAN: ...old hangout.

Ms. FIELDS: That's the house of the people and I will live in it.

PRESSMAN: Affordable housing--Are we making any progress?

Ms. FIELDS: Affordable housing, major issue. We're at a time now when one out of five of New Yorkers are paying 50 percent or more of their income for rent, and that does not include other expenses that they have. We have to turn the corner.

PRESSMAN: Let's talk about some other issues after this message.


PRESSMAN: Back here with Virginia Fields, candidate for the Democratic nomination for mayor. Ms. Fields, do you think that you're significantly different, as the issues you've discussed just now, from the other candidates, the other three?

Ms. FIELDS: Well, my position ...(unintelligible).

PRESSMAN: Democratic candidates, I meant. Yeah. Yeah.

Ms. FIELDS: My position, again, on these issues have basically evolved from my experience and my work. And I am very passionate about doing the necessary things that will improve in each one of those areas, and I know some of the areas we've talked about where I have talked about this, for instance, is jobs. For example, we still have a major number of people in this city in different communities that are not working, and I have said I would create a deputy mayor's position--full employment. And that person would work to consolidate all of the relevant entities, private as well as public, in order to help put people back to work. So I think the--while we're all concerned with probably the same issues, how we address them and our response to them, I think, you will find differences there.

PRESSMAN: In his budget message, the mayor made it clear that jobs are--number of jobs are increasing, that tourists are more attracted to the city, that there's a very upbeat picture of New York right now. Do you agree with that?

Ms. FIELDS: Try telling that to the hundreds of people every day who are looking and calling the various offices, people trying to find work, at every level, high school dropout, people who have masters degrees, or no degree, and simply have not been able to find work.

PRESSMAN: And you think as mayor you could do something about that?

Ms. FIELDS: We would certainly focus on it very differently so that we can put people back to work at--in every area that we have control whether it's tourism, hotels, the health-care system...

PRESSMAN: Do you think your approach will be far different than...

Ms. FIELDS: It would be far...

PRESSMAN: ...Mr. Ferrer's?

Ms. FIELDS: It would be far different, I think, than all of the candidates, including the mayor. And my approach to housing and issues such as the rent we were just talking about, I would certainly be in touch with the concerns of those tenants and I think the statement certainly shows that the mayor's out of touch.

PRESSMAN: There's a tradition in the Democratic Party of having bruising primaries, beating each other up and then being victimized very often in the general election by the other party. Now do you--you signed a non-aggression pact, so to speak, with Freddy Ferrer. Are you going to keep observing that?

Ms. FIELDS: My concern again relates--that relates to all of the candidates. There is no need to personally attack any of the candidates, Freddy Ferrer and the other two candidates, not at all. We will talk about differences just as we talked about them a few minutes ago. Where differences exist in terms of our approach, our focus on the priorities that I certainly care about: affordable housing, health care, jobs, education. We will make the change.

PRESSMAN: Would you support the winner if it's not you?

Ms. FIELDS: I am very hopeful that it will be me, but I will support the winner of the Democratic Party, because we need to take back the power of this position, the mayority here in the city of New York.

PRESSMAN: It's not like in the old days when you were a little girl and there was a gang on one side of the street and you were on the other.

Ms. FIELDS: No, not at all. And they weren't gangs. They were just friendly rival groups.

PRESSMAN: Thank you very much, C. Virginia Fields, for joining us this morning. I'm Gabe Pressman. Have a good day.