“There is a beautiful young lady that would like to meet you,” Andromache called from the hall and in walked Sarah Jessica Parker; I found myself giving her a hug. She had met Bill de Blasio that morning and offered, that if he wanted to become mayor, he needed to get WestView behind him. I was pleased to say we already had an interview set up.
In the interview, when we reached the “we need a hospital right now” section, I started to make a speech, which our gracious Managing Editor Jane Singer cut out. Yet no matter how hard I pressed to hear de Blasio say, “Yes, yes, I will get you a hospital if you get me elected,” he would respond with, “Hospitals are closing all over the city and we need to find out why and come up with a solution for the whole city not just the West Village”
All of which led me to believe that we have a good chance of getting a hospital from a candidate that won’t “promise” to give us one.
BILL DE BLASIO: Okay. Let me go back a step and then I’ll answer the question. The back-a-step is I was deeply involved in 2010 with all of the meetings with the Governor and everyone about St. Vincent’s. I spoke to the Mayor repeatedly about it… And I repeatedly – private and publicly – stated the obvious: It had to be saved. It could be changed, but the basic, you know…I believed in keeping the emergency capacity, I believed in keeping the AIDS clinic, keeping the mental health capacity. There were things that St. Vincent’s did in a way that very few places did. And some of them, you know, they were the pioneers. So, look, we are all victims of the fact that there were years of mismanagement and bigger changes in the world that have shot up, you know health care costs and everything else. But there is no question in my mind, given that it was the only facility on the West Side from the 50s down, given its historic role, that it had to be saved in some meaningful form. The Governor could have done it, the then Health Commissioner could have done it; they chose not to. The Mayor agreed aggressively – aggressively! – I mean, I had the conversations with him, and he told me basically this is… You know, I’m not going to put words in his mouth, but I’ll summarize. It’s kind of a Darwinian dynamic, you know, that some are going to make and some aren’t.
GEORGE CAPSIS: That’s what he said?
DE BLASIO: Again, I’m not quoting, I’m giving a summation. He was supporting the notions of the Berger commission that a lot of hospitals weren’t going to make it and that that was the nature of things. And I argued intensely with him that not only did I disagree with that thesis, but that this particular hospital served so many people, played such a crucial role that it had to be saved in place, and that it is the ROLE of a mayor to save something before you lose it, particularly given what it did for so many people. I think it was a horrible failure of leadership by the Governor, by the Health Commissioner, by the Mayor. Period. Once it happened, the question I’ve had – and I can only tell you what I know because I’m not sure I know all the answers, to say the least – the question I’ve always had is what is the most we can get back. That’s my construct. What is the most we can get back? How can we go farther than what LIJ has proposed? I don’t know – and I’ll be happy to come back with a plan I could propose to you – I don’t know what is the maximum we can achieve and how to economically make it work. I don’t know that answer. I know aspirationally I want a lot more than has been proposed, and I think the loss was a huge mistake and an avoidable mistake. But I don’t know how to get from what’s been proposed here to something bigger and better. I know I want it, I know we need it; I agree with you that the West Side is wildly under-served. But I don’t have the plan yet.
ARTHUR SCHWARTZ: If we had had a building fall down because of Sandy, or an explosion from electrical or something had blown up a building, everybody would have had to go up to the Upper East Side or the Upper West Side.
DE BLASIO: Because listen, here’s what I’m saying. I have to show you the numbers to make it work. If I’m going to make that pledge, I take deadly serious, and it’s a matter of life and death, but I also take deadly serious my obligation to the public. If I say that to you, I better damn well have a plan to actually make it work, structurally, financially, etc. So I very much believe in the need, and I want to do a lot more that what LIJ has proposed. But until I can show you the numbers, I don’t want to play around.
GEORGE: Mt. Sinai was going to take over St. Vincent’s, okay? And they picked up the telephone; this is a true story…
DE BLASIO: That also could have been a… See, that was another outcome that could have worked to everyone’s advantage, and was also squandered by all the players that I mentioned.
GEORGE: They were going to take over. And they picked up the phone and they talked to Mr. Daines. He was the Commissioner at that time.
DE BLASIO: Yes, the Public Enemy Number One in this crisis.
GEORGE: Okay. And they said to them, okay, we’ve decided to take over St. Vincent’s. But we have a very favorable Medicare rate, and if you will continue that rate when we take over St. Vincent’s, we’ll take it over tomorrow!
DE BLASIO: Right, I remember vividly.
GEORGE: And he said “no.” One phone call and it was all over.
DE BLASIO: You had several bites at the apple here to save it. To save enough. That was, and I’m glad you said it, because I remember vividly the fact that such a capable, well endowed, prestigious institution was ready to step in. And again, neither the Governor, nor the Health Commissioner nor Mayor would lift a finger to help them do it. Now that presents the notion that the kind of creative solution that might get us in play for something bigger – because you’re exactly right. Had they made those adjustments then, we would have made the deal then.
GEORGE: The deal is still possible.
DE BLASIO: That’s what I’m saying. If anyone, both I’m talking to you as journalist and talking to you as community activist. The day that people want me to say what I can’t live by or what I don’t know, or make empty promises, you know, I don’t want to deal in that trade. I think you want it either. I think you want exactly what I’m going to do. So what I’m saying to you is having lived it, having seen it that it was a tragedy that it was lost, and knowing that there were different ways to get it done, what I don’t know is now that we’ve lost so much ground, what can we reconstruct back? I can certainly do better than what LIJ is proposing. This is the one thing where I have an article of faith with you. I am certain we can do better than what LIJ has proposed. But I’m going to ask you to understand, that I’m going to take this very seriously and I’m going to work on this hard, as Arthur indicates. I will come back with a specific vision of what I think we can do, where the money comes from, who the partners are, what the City and State have to do to make it work. But until I have that, I’m not going to mince words with you and pretend that I have more than I have.
ARTHUR: …this is an issue in Coney Island…It’s an issue in Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights…Right, and other places in the City. They’re all going through similar things.
DE BLASIO: But Arthur’s point is a sobering one, that this is a citywide phenomenon. And I think St. Vincent’s truly is different than everything else, and I said this during the whole process because of its historic role, because of the fact that such a huge swath of the West Side is uncovered, etc., etc. But whatever I propose, I am going to give you details that are believable. So that’s what I owe you. I owe you to come back…
GEORGE: I want a commitment that we’ve got to replace that hospital. That’s all…Donny Moss. He inundates me with emails on this subject. You’re right on everything. The one thing about the West Village is, it is, as they say, a hotbed of activists.
DE BLASIO: Yes, as it should be.
GEORGE: If you don’t get the West Village, you’re not going to be elected. You will not. If you get the West Village, you could very well be elected. And I believe – Sarah Jessica Parker agrees with me – this is the issue. This is the issue.
DE BLASIO: City has a share of overall Medicaid payments. But the point is, I think your first point rules the day, that the City’s public health investment is through public hospitals and public clinics. Now that being said, I want to answer…
ARTHUR: So there becomes a question whether there should be City money, more City money, or I don’t know my budget that well on this question, that goes into health care than used to, or than is going into it. Healthcare other than City hospitals.
DE BLASIO: Let me answer the first part and then go to the second part. The first part is, George is exactly right. The most promising moment in the trajectory, and I spoke to the head of Sinai during it, was you had a strong, well endowed entity ready to come in and keep the most important parts of St. Vincent’s alive. And they asked for a fair accommodation to do that from the State. You had a Governor who changed his position hourly; you had a Health Commissioner who had very stringent free-marketeer instincts and philosophy, and did not want state intervention to help St. Vincent’s; and you had a Mayor who was positively comfortable with this – and again, I’m putting the words in his mouth – but, effectively, a survival of the fittest, you know, Berger Commission-style world view, who was unwilling to do anything to save St. Vincent’s. And I know this from talking to all of the players involved, repeatedly. And constantly pushing the obvious, which was, there was a fair compromise, a fair solution that could have saved enough of the facility, and would have provided that life and death care you describe.
The answer on what could a Mayor do? It’s abundantly clear. A Mayor could have gotten on the phone to Sinai and said we’re going to do this together. We’re going to find out how to get you what you need from the State, and use the bully pulpit to convince or shame the Governor into action. And there’s no question in my mind that simply the involvement of a Mayor would have done it. We would have saved St. Vincent’s, enough of St. Vincent’s.
GEORGE: I’m asking you to do it before you’re elected.
DE BLASIO: God bless you. And I’m saying we now have a much, much harder dynamic. But that doesn’t mean we can afford to give up on the needs of the West Side of Manhattan or the other places currently also going through their St. Vincent’s dynamic, as we speak.
…in my view, that whether it is money for transportation, or whether it is additional City contributions to private hospitals, I can’t commit in good conscience to anything I think is not supportable…But we’re going to have to find other funding streams, realistically. I think on the healthcare front, at least you can see in the example at Sinai what could have been, that might be the clue of what could be. Can we reconstruct something like that for the future of St. Vincent’s? But it’s going to be a lot of that kind of that kind of approach, not “here’s a check from the City.”
GEORGE: So I asked him [John Catsimatidis]. I said, “I want you to make a matching fund to build a hospital.” And he hesitated. And he said, “Well, I’m a business man. I have to figure out, you know, what’s in it for me.” I said, “You can become Mayor. There’s a lot of money around willing to do it, but it takes one man to say to the Commissioner. You must return a hospital.”
DE BLASIO: Well, I will say it a different way too, picking up on your point. We haven’t exhausted all the options. That I’m certain of. Because of exactly the Sinai…
GEORGE: See, Mt. Sinai tried to call them. I can’t; I’m only a newspaperman.
DE BLASIO: But I’m saying, to amplify your point, Sinai would have been a solution, maybe could be again. The notion of a lot of local folks of means ready to invest is not a minor matter. So maybe therein is the beginning of a solution. What’s so striking to me, and again absolutely agrees with your point is, there’s no live effort trying to do it. And what I’m saying, this generalizes to the point…But I’m saying I have to have a serious, clear, consistent plan of how we’re trying to make sure everyone, everyone does not have that too-long trip to the hospital.
But the notion that you put forward, a candidate has the obligation to show you a pathway, and the will, which has not existed. The whole story of what happened at St. Vincent’s is the folks who could have done something Governor, Mayor, City Council, nobody had the will to change the status quo that was destroying what we had.