Bill de Blasio, the NYC public advocate, announced his candidacy for mayor earlier this year. Previously, he served as a City Council member, representing the 39th district in Brooklyn. Local 802’s political director K.C. Boyle recently sat down with de Blasio and talked about live music, the importance of music education, and how to revitalize the labor movement.
K.C. Boyle: Local 802 has waged a much-publicized campaign to save live music in venues across NYC. Why is it important for audiences to hear live music?
Bill de Blasio: For me, there has always been no comparison between recorded music and live music. At an event with live music, audiences get a sense of the genius it takes to be a musician. It also connects us to a tradition that’s been part of human life for millennia. Then there is the part of live music that connects people to ideas and hope and faith. I saw David Byrne perform live in Brooklyn last year and it was an uplifting experience that was far beyond anything I had felt with his recorded music.
K.C. Boyle: What type of music did you grow up listening to? And did you ever play a musical instrument?
Bill de Blasio: I wish I’d played an instrument. I started down the road of guitar a few times and never stuck with it; I wish I had. As a music fan, I had a lot of different musical influences, especially a 1960s influence from my oldest brother, who was 13 years older than me. We listened to Dylan, Sly and the Family Stone, Cream, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. I also listened to Isaac Hayes, and I was very big into Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles. But I also had a whole Italian side, and the Italian side of my family is very into opera. My family referred to opera all the time and would whistle a tune from opera. Then later, I got into reggae. I went to NYU just as Bob Marley reached the very height of his popularity and then we lost him right after that.
K.C. Boyle: The Center for Arts Education released a study last year that showed that the NYC Department of Education is spending less than $2 a year per student on art and music supplies. What does that say about the status of art education in our public school system?
Bill de Blasio: We are the music and cultural capital of the world and we haven’t been acting that way in our public schools. I understand the budget pressure, but I have a proposal that will have a big impact on setting us on a positive course again. The idea is a very rigorous after-school program that will guarantee additional hours after the school day for all middle school kids. We’ll pay for it in part with a tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers for the next five years. This program will also offer homework help and tutoring along with arts and culture and music programs. This will be engaging for middle school students. It will give them motivation, tap into their creativity, and bring out parts of their personalities that will help them do better in school.
K.C. Boyle: In order to keep NYC as the music capital of the world, we need to make sure that artists can afford to live here. What can we do to offer more affordable housing for artists?
Bill de Blasio: I think the first thing we can we do is to develop more affordable housing. Secondly, how can we make sure some of it is available for artists and others in the cultural community? We can bargain harder with the real estate community, using rezoning as a chip. Thirdly, we can do more aggressive advocacy in Washington for affordable housing programs that have worked in the past but have suffered recently, especially during the Tea Party years. I think the next mayor of New York City should fight for that kind of aid more. Affordable housing for artists is crucial to who we are as a city. It helps our diversity, energy and creativity, but it’s also crucial to our economy and we can’t let that slip.
K.C. Boyle: What advice do you have for the labor community in 2013?
Bill de Blasio: Organize. Do not let the anti-labor environment that’s been fostered by the right wing convince us to stop doing what we ought to do. The labor movement has been down many times before. Take some comfort from history: at the end of the l920s, people were bemoaning that the labor movement might have lost all its momentum. And of course that was right before the New Deal and the NLRA. I think what the people can do is tap into their own strength. We really need to strive to make the labor movement more relevant than ever, given the last five years of our economy and given the general income disparity. There are so many economic injustices. The labor movement needs to stay assertive in terms of organizing and stay assertive in terms of political activism. This can make a huge difference. The way to fight negativity is to organize even more.
Local 802 has not formally endorsed any of the candidates for mayor at this time. In future issues of Allegro, we hope to interview other mayoral candidates and political leaders in this space.