De Blasio Talks Policy with City’s Ethnic Media

Photo by Jiwon Choi / Voices of NY

Mayor Bill de Blasio displays a plate he received from his family in Italy. Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Nisha Agarwal and First Lady Chirlane McCray sit to his right while to his left are Garry Pierre-Pierre, executive director of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media and moderator of the roundtable, and Marlene Peralta, reporter at El Diario/La Prensa. (Photo by Jiwon Choi/Voices of NY)

Mayor Bill de Blasio discussed plans and policies that will affect New York’s immigrant communities at a roundtable held specifically for the city’s ethnic media on Thursday. Reporters gathered in City Hall to question de Blasio on a range of topics, from the ethnic makeup of his administration to small business regulation, education and affordable housing.

In their opening remarks, both de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray lauded the city’s ethnic press for helping to bridge the gap between City Hall and New York’s many ethnic and immigrant communities. “There are tens of thousands of people for whom your stories are a lifeline,” McCray said. “We have so much going on here in government. It’s huge, it’s complex. It’s a lot to navigate. You are the key to making sure that people are connected to the programs and services they need.”

To address issues that matter to members of the ethnic media and their readers, reporters submitted questions that were read by Garry Pierre-Pierre, a veteran journalist and executive director of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Questions about diversity in de Blasio’s administration came up multiple times in the conference. When he was elected, de Blasio promised to ensure that his administration “looks like New York City.” Though not all of the positions in his administration have been filled yet, de Blasio said he was proud of the diversity of those selected so far.

“When we look at the announcements we’ve made so far, we feel very good about the start we’ve gotten in terms of creating a diverse leadership for this city government,” said de Blasio. The mayor said he aims to create “intense diversity” in filling deputy and assistant commissioner positions.

The city’s rising cost of living was also a common theme in reporters’ questions at the press event. They asked how the mayor would confront rising rents throughout the city, and how realistic his plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing would be.

De Blasio outlined a variety of measures the city government will take to confront the New York’s climbing rents, including subsidies and allocating public pension funds to the construction of affordable housing units – but he held off on further elaboration.

“I am very sensitive to what all tenants and all working people have gone through in this economy,” he said.

Nisha Agarwal, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, also fielded questions on government plans affecting immigrants. Reporters were curious about forthcoming municipal identification cards for undocumented immigrants.

Photo by Jiwon Choi / Voices of NY

(Photo by Jiwon Choi/Voices of NY)

Agarwal assured that by the end of 2014, the cards would be ready. She said that legislation would be passed first, and the identification cards would follow. She added that anyone interested should wait to hear more from City Hall.

“It’s a complex task. By the end of the year there will be cards,” she said.

Throughout the meeting, de Blasio mentioned new plans, like adding the Muslim holiday Eid to the New York City public school calendar, that were still in unfinished stages. Both de Blasio and Agarwal repeatedly highlighted the importance of the ethnic press in getting the word out for any new changes the government implemented.

“If we want to get any message out, we have to do it in partnership with all of you,” said Agarwal.

Antonia Massa is a student at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter

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