Bill de Blasio Talks Charleston Tragedy, NYPD Reform on Hot 97

The mayor calls the hip-hop radio station for a wide-ranging interview

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks in New York City on January 23rd, 2015. Credit: Alex Wong/Getty

Early this morning, New York's Hot 97 radio station aired a new interview with New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. The fact that the mayor was reaching out to the hip-hop broadcasting giants was revolutionary in itself. Just try to imagine Michael Bloomberg or Rudy Giuliani saying something like "I appreciate my brothers and sisters at Hot 97" (a direct quote from de Blasio). You can't, because neither of them put in even a fraction of the effort the city's current leader has to connect directly with New York's young people and people of color.

Beyond that simple fact, de Blasio's latest Hot 97 appearance – his seventh on the station, according to morning show co-host Peter Rosenberg – was full of reasons to pay attention. At times striking a light-hearted and informal tone, at other times shouldering the heaviest of issues, de Blasio sounded notably more comfortable in this setting than he does in most press conferences. Here are the five most important takeaways from his interview.

He wants to see a strong national response to the Charleston tragedy.

"I understand how much pain people are in," de Blasio said of last week's tragic killing of nine black churchgoers by a white supremacist. "This was an act of domestic terrorism. It was a racist attack. We have to look that in the face." He called for the removal of the Confederate flag from its place at the South Carolina statehouse ("Obviously, that flag has to come down"), but he didn't stop there, citing the need for gun control, improved mental health treatment, and a sustained fight against structural racism in America. "I'm pained, like everyone else, but I also feel resolute," he said. "Those nine people could not die in vain. We've got to get to the work of change."

He did not appreciate it when Russell Simmons called him a bitch.

Last week, the hip-hop magnate went on Hot 97's morning show and called out what he sees as de Blasio's weak stance on police reform in New York. "He's got the police commissioner pushing him around like he’s a bitch," Simmons said. Today, de Blasio clapped back. "I think the facts are clear," he said. "We used to have a huge number of unconstitutional, inappropriate stops, particularly of young men of color. That reality has changed fundamentally for the better."

He's still committed to changing the NYPD's dysfunctional culture.

De Blasio added that his administration is still pushing for more reforms. "This stuff is moving quickly, and it's moving intensely," he said, pointing to a new NYPD training program geared toward de-escalating conflicts and to the planned expansion of body cameras on officers. The mayor also emphasized that low-level marijuana arrests have dropped by "about 65 percent" under his administration – "which means, again, a lot of young people of color in particular are not being saddled with criminal records because they made a small mistake."

He's working on bringing down New York's sky-high rents.

De Blasio praised the New York state legislature's recent efforts to strengthen affordable housing laws. "Look, I keep saying, if you want New York City to continue being New York City…it has to be a city for everyone," he said. "If we don't strengthen rent regulations, we're just going to keep losing affordable housing, and it's going to become more and more of an exclusive place." To avoid that fate, he's proposed a new law that would eliminate tax breaks for companies that build super-expensive condos. "That's crazy," he said. "These luxury condos – there was one last week that sold for $45 million dollars for a single condo. There's no way in hell they should get a tax break!"

Last but not least: Dante de Blasio is keeping his Afro.

The mayor's son, whose charismatic appearance in a 2013 TV ad helped get his dad elected, has no plans to mess with his signature look as he prepares to start college this fall. "I want to categorically deny that Dante will ever cut his hair," de Blasio said. "Dante is very proud of his hair. It is his statement to the world." On that note, the mayor added, "I want to channel LeBron when he went to the Heat: Dante is taking his hair and his talents to Yale University."