Up Close: Restoring NYC subway safety, Biden's COVID plan

In this episode of Up Close, ridership on the New York City subway is still way down from a year ago, but the number of passengers is slowly increasing as crime continues to rise.

Video Transcript

- This is "Eyewitness News Upclose with Bill Ritter."

BILL RITTER: 600 more New York cops now patrolling the New York subways, this after a spree of violence that included stabbings this month that left two people dead and two others wounded. But that's not enough protection says the woman in charge of New York City Transit, Interim President Sarah Feinberg, who says she wants 1,000 more cops on top of all that.

Worries about crime on top of worries about the pandemic. We talk to Ms. Feinberg straight ahead. Also this morning, racial inequities, the past, the current, and the future. We talked to historian and Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway, the first African-American president of the State University of New Jersey, a college by the way named for a former slaveowner and built by slaves.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to "Upclose." I'm Bill Ritter. So when's the last time you rode the New York subway? No question, more people are now saying this week, or yesterday. Ridership still however way down from a year ago, but it is increasing.

And it's happening at a time when crime is also increasing. Why is that happening, and how to stop it? If we want to emerge from this pandemic and get back to work, back to New York City, this is a big deal, a big issue. Joining us to talk about that and more the Interim President of New York Transit, Sarah Feinberg.

And it's safe to say, Ms. Feinberg, you have had like all of us quite a year. But I think maybe none like yours. Safe to say?

SARAH FEINBERG: That's the way it feels. Great to be with you again.

BILL RITTER: It is. And let me just say off the top, and I was going to ask you this later, but I think I'll bring it up now since I just said interim president, you don't feel like an interim president. Is this your call, or is someone else is up above still calling you interim president?

SARAH FEINBERG: You know, I am still the interim president. And that makes sense for right now. I've got a lot on my plate so I'm not spending a lot of time worrying about my title.

BILL RITTER: OK, so I won't either then, I guess. But it's hard to call you Interim President Feinberg, but we'll muddle through.

SARAH FEINBERG: Just call me Sarah.

BILL RITTER: All right, Sarah. We have a lot of issues that we want to deal with, because there's no question. You look at your stats, and you put them out every day. You know, it was about two or three weeks ago, 80% down, and now it's in the high 60s. And in fact, the weekend before this it was in the low 60s. So people were using the subway. There's no question ridership is increasing.

SARAH FEINBERG: No question. We're coming back. I mean, look-- it's slow but steady. And we're getting there. The last couple of days aren't particularly reflective of, obviously, because of the snow. But we're absolutely-- we're absolutely making progress toward.

We're about 32%, 33% of ridership now on the subways, and still about 50% of ridership on buses. So we're getting there.

BILL RITTER: I want to get into the crime in a second. But I do want to dig deeper into the weeds about the numbers. There are people who are hesitant-- you know this, that are worried still about riding the subways. There are companies who say to workers try not to take the subways quite yet until we have everyone vaccinated. Do you understand that? You disagree with it? How are you handling it?

SARAH FEINBERG: I both understand it and I disagree with it. Look, I think we were actually-- we had transit and all of transit across the country, and really probably across the globe, were really ill-served by some of the early coverage of the pandemic. I don't think it was intentional, but inevitably as reporting moved forward on the pandemic, the b-roll, you know, the shots that were always shown were crowded subway cars, crowded airplanes, people standing in lines.

And so I think, you know, and look, the science coming out was get social distance, avoid being close to others. And so I think people started thinking the last place I want to be is in a crowded subway car. Well, fast forward a year.

There's now been study after study that shows that look, the subway system, the transit system not just in New York, but really everywhere, is really not a place that's vectoring the virus. Doesn't mean we shouldn't be doing everything we can to keep the system safe to remind people to wear masks, to do everything we can to make sure that the transit system isn't a place where anyone is going to get COVID. But look, I think that's still very much on people's minds, and it's our job to remind them, and to show them how safe it is.

BILL RITTER: It could be those public announcements by some news anchors in New York saying wear your mask, just putting that out there. Perhaps.

SARAH FEINBERG: You're totally right. I think you're right.

BILL RITTER: Onto the more serious question about crime. I think you've been shocked. Everyone's been shocked, the figure I saw was crime in the subways up 26%. It's just shocking.

What do you attribute it to? We're going to want to get into what the different strategies for dealing with this is. I know you want more cops, we'll get to that in a second. But why do you think this is happening?

SARAH FEINBERG: Look, it's hard to say. And to your point on that data, you know, some crimes are up 26%, others are down. And so the numbers are a little bit all over the place. Look, inevitably, I think there used to be-- we used to move pre-pandemic more than nine million people on an average weekday. We're still moving millions of people, about three million people a day.

But that's a lot different than nine million people. And so when there are less people in the system, I think that we both notice quality of life issues and crime issues more. And they just feel a lot closer to home. So I think that's part of our problem right now.

BILL RITTER: So you were calling now for 1,000 more cops. The police department gave you like 600 I think 40 is the exact number, or something like that. So there's upwards of 3,000. You want 4,000 cops patrolling, and you're fighting hard for it. And so far you're not getting anywhere with the NYPD and the mayor.

SARAH FEINBERG: Well look, we started actually calling for additional cops the system more than a year ago. The governor called for and the MTA board approved additional police officers, MTA police officers. We started hiring those when our finances fell off a cliff.

We froze that hiring for a while. We've now restarted it. At the same time, we've been asking for additional resources from the city, more NYPD police officers. But really, a lot of mental health assistance. A lot of the folks that we're seeing in the system are in desperate need of an intervention, of medical help, of medical assistance.

And so we need those resources, too. Look, I'm not a law enforcement expert. I'm not a policing expert. I'm happy to work with Commissioner Shea, And chief O'Riley at the Transit bureau about what number is right. But on top of what they've said they're going to add to the system, the 640 that you mentioned, and if you add in the 1,000 that we've called for, that really even just gets us close to the number of officers that were in the system back when transit first merged with NYPD.

I want to take you-- I want to take you back decades and have to do all this history. But the reality is, is a couple of decades ago when we were policing the system ourselves, that's about how many officers we had. So at least in this moment of time, we'd like to get back close to that number.

BILL RITTER: But you may have to handle it just with 3,000. Don't forget, the is under some budget restraints, too, and down billions of dollars shortfall from their budgets. So it may not have a great outcome. Can you do it with 3,100 as you have now?

SARAH FEINBERG: Look, we've got our MTA police officers in the system. I'll take whatever I can get from NYPD. And we've also got our own security forces in the system. So look, the system is what it is. The size that it is, and has the number of people in it. So we're going to do what we need to do with the resources we have.

But obviously what I'm focused on is I want the ridership to feel safe. You know, it's not just important that they be safe. They've got to feel safe. They've got to feel confident when they're in the system. That's what's going to bring ridership back. That's what's going to bring the city back. That's what I'm focused on.

BILL RITTER: You are already doing something that you didn't do before that is closing the subways for less amount of time. The subways have really have never been closed with this amount of time ever, and all of a sudden now it's going from 4 hours, because you wanted to clean them very well. And by the way, I've been on it.

Looks cleaner than it's ever been ever. But now it's going to be two hours a day overnight, because restaurants are open, businesses are open. And you're trying to encourage people to take the subway more hours. Is that going to hurt cleaning possibilities?

SARAH FEINBERG: Yeah, look. The city is starting to come back. So inevitably, we want to start returning to the system we've always been to be that 24/7 system. As you said, right now we're closed one to five. Starting on Monday morning, that goes two to four. We'll only be closed from two to four.

We are cleaning 24/7. So we're not only cleaning during those overnight hours. It's just during those overnight hours when there are no customers in the system, we're really efficient. We're able to get into those cars. We don't have to clean around people. We don't have to skip cars because there are folks using the car, sleeping in the car.

So being closed for a few hours, night will be a challenge. But I think that we'll still be able to get done what we need to get done.

BILL RITTER: OK, I want to just ask you a personal question about what's happening on the job and how you're doing this. The person you replaced, you're the interim president, the person you replaced who was the permanent president, Andy Byford, left people say because you didn't like the battles, the political battles between the two most powerful politicians in this state.

And heaven knows, if they got along together, they might be able to do great things together. But they don't get along, and you've navigated it appears to me, or at least made fewer waves than Mr. Byford was able to do. How are you doing that? Is it a battle and you have 30 seconds to answer a really complicated question.

SARAH FEINBERG: It's not a battle. Look, for me I'm just putting my head down and getting the job done. This is-- this is funny. On the best day, a really hard job that's very challenging, we got a lot going on. Throw in a global pandemic, throw in ridership falling off a cliff, throw in disinfecting and cleaning the subway system multiple times a day, and I've got a lot on my plate. So I try not to get into big political battles. I put my head down and I do my job, and I figure it'll work out.

BILL RITTER: Probably the smartest thing to do. You know, not everyone may agree with you, but we're all rooting for you, because it's in our safety. Thank you, Sarah Feinberg, good luck to you. Keep in touch.

When we come back an "Upclose," he's the president of Rutgers University. Less than a year on the job, but aware both of the enormous task ahead and his place in history, as the university's first African-American president we're going to talk to Jonathan Holloway about racial injustice, where we are now, and where we go from here.

Welcome back to "Upclose," our next guest is a historian who as it turns out has made his share of history on his own in higher education. And last year, the latest history making event for Jonathan Holloway when he was named president of Rutgers University in New Jersey. He was the first African-American to hold that job.

As it happens, Rutgers named after a man who owned slaves way back when, a reality that these days sparks questions, like should the name of the university be changed? Slaves, by the way, also built Rutgers. Dr. Holloway has also just written a new book. It's called "The Cause Of Freedom," a concise history of African-Americans. And Rutgers president hollaway joins us this morning. Good to see you and meet you for the first time since you've had this job.

JONATHAN HOLLOWAY: Nice to see you as well. I wish it were in person, of course.

BILL RITTER: I wish it were. But you know, we don't do those things anymore. Would you like to be called Mr. President, doctor, Jonathan, Jon?

JONATHAN HOLLOWAY: I used to go by Jonathan, actually.

BILL RITTER: OK, Jonathan. So I'm going to start with this. In your first year as president, you were named in January of 2020, you didn't take over till July of 2020, which if I'm right we were right in the middle of a pandemic. We sort of still are. How has this been? How different has it been for you as an educator? What are the challenges and what is fall look like for Rutgers?

JONATHAN HOLLOWAY: Well, I'll start with fall. We are very optimistic and planning to reopen Rutgers fully in the fall. It's a lot of things we have to do between now and then, but we're confident we're going to get there. It's been strange, though, to start during this virus.

When I was announced on January 21, many of us thought the virus was something in China only, not knowing it was already in the United States. By the time we hit spring, it was clear that the presidency was about to take over, was fundamentally different than I anticipated. But truly, no regrets.

We've been warmly welcomed here, and I'm still eager to discover Rutgers and New Jersey. Because of the virus, I largely am at home, although I'm in the office for this interview. And largely, in the little bubble, frankly, like so many other New Jerseyans.

BILL RITTER: You haven't met the students, really. You haven't met the teachers, really. You haven't met the staff, really, haven't met all the workers that take care of that university. And so you're going to really start in fall, meeting people, which is kind of unusual for a college president.

JONATHAN HOLLOWAY: It's extremely unusual. In the New Brunswick campus, where my office is located, there are 55,000 students, undergrad, grad, and professional. I have literally never seen more than five in person at a time, and I've only met four of them in terms of a face to face interactions.

It's extremely strange. This is a bustling, bustling, campus that is largely a ghost town. And that goes for the faculty and staff as well. The faculty I happen to know, are those who work in my field as historians, or African-Americanists. But that's not since I joined the Rutgers community.

So in many ways, I look at this as year 0, as I'm getting acquainted with the place in the abstract. And then next year will be year one, in terms of experiencing Rutgers.

BILL RITTER: Start all over again. Let's move into some of the subjects which you are expert in, as a historian. And correct me if I'm wrong, but your whole life, and I know you don't want to be identified like that, but I guess you have to be, and you are proud of that, the first African-American to be at fill in the blank of the job every step along the way in your educational career.

You've been the first, and so that has responsibility, and weight. And I don't know if you get tired of it, of being described like that. But I do want to talk about some of the issues that you have written about recently, and with your new book "The Cause Of Freedom: A Concise History Of African-Americans" and talk about that, if you're willing to go into that, if you want to.


BILL RITTER: Because it is Black History Month, I think it's apropos. And I also think the country-- and let's start off with this, the country is in a place right now where because of what happened last spring and summer, in the middle of a pandemic when people lost their jobs, demonstrations in the streets and more importantly, how it connected to what's happening in corporate America, and in neighborhoods around America, we are talking about race like maybe never before. Is it a one and done deal? Is it here to stay? What's your take on all of this?


- Worry I worry that it's a one and done deal. It's too early to say, but I will say that the events from the spring and summer of last year, I've never seen anything like it in my lifetime. Now let me be clear, the precipitating events of violence against Black bodies, that is not new. It's just been experienced and narrated in entirely new ways.

And I'm certain that that new narration is because of the virus, that so many people were displaced, so many people are out of work, that some people were inconvenienced. And I think there is a new level of empathy about folks who are regularly inconvenienced. And I think that's part of why we had this incredibly-- well, the largest social movement in the United States history.

The thing is, though, now what do we do? We have all the reasons to pay greater attention to this so we don't have further violence, further destruction, but will we? When things return to whatever our new normal will be, will we remember the lessons that this past year has taught us?

I don't know. I certainly hope for the best, but given the history of this country, I am concerned that people will go back to their comfortable spaces and move on.

BILL RITTER: You wrote earlier this month in the "New York Times," apropos of what you just said, you said it's the time for us to have better understandings of African-Americans and the role they played in building this country. But it's also a time that dares us to think about the limitations of white nationalism.

So you went right there and compared those two things. We saw that January 6. We saw what happens when whites, angry whites, tried to take over this-- over the Congress. I don't know if they tried to take over the government, but they did try to do serious damage. The president was impeached for it. And so, you tried to connect those two. And there are two different tracks there.

JONATHAN HOLLOWAY: Well, they are but they aren't, actually. I mean, they are different tracks in terms of how we often think about these things. But I really do believe that the kinds of strange logics that was driving insurrectionists to charge into the Capitol, part of what got us to that moment was a commitment to not know our history. These people, many of them were convinced they were doing something patriotic, but they were doing something quite the opposite of that. And if they understood better their own history, and that many people from all different kinds of backgrounds forged that history together, I want to believe they would act differently.

BILL RITTER: So two questions, we only have about a minute left. I'm sorry to put-- we could talk for an hour on this. A lot of people, critics of all these, all the demonstrations in Washington say it had been Black people, or Brown people, or Muslims protesting, they would have been shot and killed by Capitol Hill Police. Do you agree with that?

JONATHAN HOLLOWAY: Shot and killed, I don't I'm not going to prognosticate about that. But there's no doubt that they would have been prevented from coming into the Capitol. It would have been much more violent than it certainly was. That I'm convinced of. The history of this country suggests as much.

BILL RITTER: OK, the next question is if jobs come back, if the pandemic, recession starts to wane, which could take a while to do, but when jobs come back, will see some of the things that this country is not talking about, about racial inequality, will that go by the wayside? Or is it going to be seeped into corporate America and on the job discussions?

JONATHAN HOLLOWAY: I think it's going to be-- there's going to be a long tail to this moment. And I think it's going to be there because we don't know exactly what return to work is going to look like, post-pandemic. And because of the way social media has activated in the best and worst ways, consciousness, people are paying much more attention. So I think corporations, at minimum, will be mindful of the bottom line and what's at risk if they return to business.

BILL RITTER: Fascinating talking with you, Mr. President. Mr President of Rutgers. And again, the book is called "The Cause Of Freedom." Jonathan Holloway, president of Rutgers University. Sir, good luck, and I wish you would come back on "Upclose" again. I

JONATHAN HOLLOWAY: Look forward to that. Thank you so much.

BILL RITTER: Good. Thank you, Jonathan. Still to come on this edition about "Upclose," the coronavirus pandemic can be ended only by one thing, vaccines. And with delays in vaccines like we're seeing, that means ending the pandemic is delayed. We won't deal with the medical implications, just the political ones. Coming up, our political team is next, but they also talk about New York Governor Cuomo and the biggest controversy of his political career.

Welcome back to "Upclose." On last week's "Upclose," Dr. Jen Ashton of ABC News said without hesitation that we shouldn't get too excited about the vaccines for COVID-19 because we're already behind schedule, that Americans should have been inoculated during spring, not in midsummer as they are now predicting. This is how President Biden takes this because it's his pandemic, and his recession.

No, he didn't cause them, and he's been in office just a month. But he's got to solve them. The stakes are huge and involve hundreds of millions of lives and so many trillions of dollars. To discuss this and more, ABC News political director Rick Klein, and political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.

Rick, let me start with you. Next week is in the weeds part of this thing. And Congress is going to take up the Biden COVID relief bill. How important is this to him and to the country?

RICK KLEIN: Well, it's critical for both. It's critical for his political prospects. It's critical for the country's prospects. And Vice President Biden when he was a candidate, and now President Biden, recognized this campaign was about solving the pandemic. And this is going to be a major test, because it pits his goal of trying to go big on the pandemic against, potentially, his goal of trying to unite the country.

It's very unlikely that Republicans go along with this package, but he is barreling ahead for the big play, anyway. $1.9 trillion, resisting efforts to downgrade his ask. Because as he says, the urgency couldn't be any bigger, and the only danger, he says, is being too small and the response.

BILL RITTER: Hank, you know, in 2009, when President Obama took over, he wanted to play nice with the Republicans and try to make deals, even though he didn't need the votes to do it. Mr. Biden seems not to be ready to do that now.

HANK SHEINKOPF: Well, it's a smart move. Why? Obama didn't benefit from trying to make the deals. In fact, if you look at the voting patterns of the Republicans against Obama, what they did was in the health care issue, they voted against him down the line, even though he had made compromise part of his thinking and part of his behavior. So Biden's right.

BILL RITTER: Let's continue on with this a little bit and let's talk about the Tri-state, and New York in particular. And Rick, I'm going to start with you. Billions of dollars for New York, including for the MTA, for businesses, for restaurants, especially. They didn't expect this when Mr. Trump was president, and they're now expecting it now that Mr. Biden is.

RICK KLEIN: Well, and having Chuck Schumer as the Majority Leader in the Senate had a lot to do with that as well. But yes, there is going to be a lot of money in this bill for people in blue parts of the country that might not have been there under President Trump. This is an undeniable consequence of it.

It may help rally some Republican opposition. But what's fair really is fair, and there are a few areas of the country is hard hit as New York was during this pandemic. And the economy, as you guys well know, is nowhere near where it needs to be. So many people still hurting every day, day in, day out.

BILL RITTER: It continues to repair. And as long as we're in New York, Hank, let me talk to you about the biggest scandal and controversy of his career for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. I don't think it surprises you.

It doesn't surprise a lot of people, certainly doesn't surprise Mayor de Blasio. But does he survive this? Where does this go with the FBI involved?

HANK SHEINKOPF: It depends what the FBI does. And let's be honest about this, his real enemy isn't anybody he's facing but someone called been around too long. And that's what he's facing. And that's what people are using.

He's being attacked from the right and from the left, and he's going to be squeezed. Can he survive this? Time will tell. But it's going to be harder every day as if he attacked-- attacking-- let me put it this way.

Attacking an Asian Assemblyman, not the best thing in the world. Threatening people, not the best thing in the world. Retreating and trying to figure out your next move would be a lot better to do.

BILL RITTER: Rick, I'm going to toss the question about Mr. Cuomo to you, and then have you phase into the question of another national figure, that is Senator Ted Cruz. First on Cuomo.

RICK KLEIN: Yes, I mean, I think through line here is a self-inflicted wound here, because I think if Governor Cuomo had revealed the information that was being asked originally, it would have been kind of a one-day story, maybe you whether the Trump firestorm, but then you're over it, and you move on to the next.

You go to the reality of dealing with the pandemic. And often it is the cover-up not the crime, as we know. And in terms of Senator Cruz, look, this was one of the worst political gaffes I can imagine. To get on that plane and to make yourself into the face of anger at a very moment that your party is trying to defend its position.

What's going on in Texas is awful. Cruz's neighbors quite literally were freezing. To get on that plane was extraordinarily poor judgment, perhaps it speaks well of Senator Cruz that he admitted as much. Almost refreshing these days to have a politician when he's caught like that say yeah, I made a mistake.

It didn't happen very much in the Trump era. So maybe we're back to that. But this was a devastating storyline. And I think bad for Texas Republicans across the board as they try to explain the inexplicable. How the power system failed the people of Texas, it wasn't about let's Green New Deal. That's a spoiler alert there.

BILL RITTER: It wasn't. Noe was it about frozen windmills. Hank, I'm going to leave the last question to you, then. How does this play, or does it play at all into the sort of internecine warfare, sort of search for the soul of the GOP?

HANK SHEINKOPF: GOP has different kinds of problems. Now if they lose Texas, they get even close to losing Texas, they lose an awful lot. Who are they? Well, either Ted Cruz or maybe they're the fellow, that fine fellow Ben Sasse from Nebraska, or who knows who they are. They've got a long ways to go before they figure it out.

BILL RITTER: OK, Hank Sheinkopf, Rick Klein. Thank you once again, gentlemen, for your transparency and insight. And your appearance on "Upclose." We'll see you again next time.


BILL RITTER: That's going to do it for this edition of "Upclose." "Tiempo With Joe Torres" is coming up straight ahead and next. If you missed any of today's programs, no worries. I'm going to post today's segments on my Facebook page sometime tomorrow, maybe even later today.

Thank you all for watching. I'm Bill Ritter, and for all of us here at ABC-TV Channel 7, we wish you health and peace. And let's take care of each other.