Mayor Bill de Blasio abruptly ended his Thursday news conference, held to promote his idea for a “mansion tax,” after refusing to answer reporters’ questions about breaking news.
The mayor, who has for more than a year maintained a policy of holding only one media availability a week at which he will take questions on topics that are not of his own choosing, would not answer questions Thursday about the recent racially motivated killing of a black New Yorker, the apprehension of a suspect in bomb threats to Jewish centers and a new court ruling against the city over the mayor’s refusal to release communications between himself and several unpaid outside advisers.
The mayor said those topics were not related to the stated subject of the news conference, a proposed surcharge on sales of homes over $2 million that has little chance of becoming law.
The news conference is the second one he’s held in as many days on the tax, which de Blasio is hoping will be included in this year’s state budget, although there is little indication that it is even part of the negotiations among legislative leaders in Albany.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republicans did not include the proposal in their respective budgets, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has repeatedly described the idea as a nonstarter.
But the mayor wanted to be asked questions exclusively on the tax proposal anyway, and announced an “on-topic only” news conference Thursday morning, a designation the mayor has used since the fall of 2015 to narrow the kinds of questions he will accept at his news conferences.
De Blasio held the availability Thursday afternoon outside in a gated-off area in front of a sandwich chain establishment. The news conference had as its backdrop 432 Park Ave., one of the city’s most expensive residential apartment buildings, where, perhaps unbeknownst to the mayor and his aides, someone had placed a handwritten sign in the third-floor window that read, “De Blasio doesn’t care about the working middle class. Don’t let this speech fool you.”
The mayor, who spoke for less than eight minutes, was at times barely audible over the din of construction noise and cranes in midtown Manhattan.
At one point, a young man walking in front of the sandwich shop interrupted the mayor’s remarks.
“Everyone hates you. Everybody! Even the cops,” the man shouted.
When de Blasio finished speaking, he called on a reporter from The Wall Street Journal, who wanted to ask a question about one of the biggest news events in New York City in recent days, the allegedly racially motivated killing of a black man by a white man who had traveled to New York City, allegedly to attack black people.
“Mr. Mayor, the suspect being charged with killing Timothy Caughman on Monday night told police he came to New York to kill black men,” the reporter began, as she tried to ask de Blasio whether the suspect in that killing was a member of a hate group, and whether the mayor considered the killing an “act of terror.”
De Blasio spoke over her as she continued asking her question.
“Mara, I’m here to talk about this, if you want to ask questions about this,” de Blasio said.
“You don’t think this is the news of the day, Mr. Mayor?” the reporter asked.
“I’m here to answer questions about this. If you want to talk about this, great, if not, we’ll take questions another way, another time.”
“Does anyone want to ask about the mansion tax?” de Blasio asked the group of about 15 reporters.
He then called on someone else — a reporter who asked de Blasio for his response to another piece of breaking news: a judge’s decision against the city in a lawsuit filed by two news organizations seeking communications between the mayor and one of his unpaid outside advisers, which de Blasio has argued should be shielded from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Law.
“Same thing,” de Blasio interrupted as the reporter tried to ask her question.
“Guys, you can ask all you want. Here’s what we’re here to talk about,” de Blasio said, talking over her.
“Are you going to turn over the emails, sir?” the reporter asked.
“Last call about the mansion tax. OK, I’m going to do this again, one more time,” de Blasio said, as the sound of construction equipment threatened to drown him out.
“This is how we set things up, guys. You don’t want to be a part of it, you don’t have to come,” the mayor said to the news corps.
“We’re here to talk about something that would reach 25,000 seniors. Everything else you want to talk about, you’ll get answers to, through our press office. Someone has a question about this, ask it about this. If you don’t, that’s cool,” he said.
The mayor tried again.
“You have a question on this, Willie?” he asked a reporter from The New York Times.
The reporter tried to ask the mayor about another piece of breaking news — the recent apprehension, in Israel, of a Jewish Israeli-American teenager who is a suspect in recent bomb threats made against Jewish organizations and institutions in the United States and elsewhere.
De Blasio wouldn’t answer.
“That’s great, guys. I’m done,” he said.
“Mr. Mayor, what are you afraid of when we ask you questions?” another reporter asked. The mayor had already walked away.
This story has been updated to clarify what was said by the heckler.