Up Close: US gun violence, NYC mayoral race & more

In this episode of Up Close, Bill Ritter and his guests discuss the recent mass shootings, the race for NYC mayor and Biden's announcement that he will run for re-election.

Video Transcript

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- This is Eyewitness News Up Close with Bill Ritter.

BILL RITTER: Boulder-- the latest venue of a gun massacre. The insanity of guns playing out once again in Colorado, joining a haunting list that includes Columbine and Aurora, also in Colorado. But also, Parkland in Florida, Sandy Hook in Connecticut, and Atlanta, and, well, fill in the blank. There are so many. Once again, calls for tougher gun laws. Will it be different this time? We have talked about that before. This morning, we talked to US Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who says he hopes this time, it'll be different. And we continue our interviews with the leading candidates to be the next mayor of New York City. This morning we talked to Kathryn Garcia, the former New York City sanitation commissioner now running for New York's top job.

And good morning, everyone. Welcome to Up Close. I'm Bill Ritter. More than nine years ago, a troubled teenager armed with four semiautomatic weapons-- all of them bought by his mother-- walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and in a matter of moments, massacred 20 young children and six adults. The outcry, the heartache from the horrific crime led to demands for tougher laws on assault weapons and more background checks. This was the time things would change-- or so we thought. So we hope. In the past two weeks, two more mass killings, less than a week apart. Last Monday, a gunman with an assault weapon walked into a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado and killed 10 people. Six days earlier, another gunman walked into three spas in the Atlanta area and killed eight people, including six Asian-American women. Debate sparked once again over what to do about gun violence in this country. Joining us this morning is US Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. And Senator, welcome once again to Up Close.

- Thank you so much for having me, Bill. I'm delighted to be back with you.

BILL RITTER: We talked to you after Sandy Hook. We talked to you after Parkland. You have been an outspoken advocate of more gun control. And you thought this time would be different, each of the other times. Any reason to hope this time it will be different?

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: There's a lot of reason to hope this time will be different. In part because of the series of tragedies that you've just described. Most recently, in Boulder and in Atlanta. Stunning, savage, heartbreaking.

BILL RITTER: Yeah.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: But terribly and tragically unsurprising. Inaction has made these tragedies fully predictable. And now what we have that's different is activists and advocates at the grassroots propelling a political movement that has actually succeeded in electing members of Congress who are pro measures to stop gun violence. We now have majorities in the House and Senate, a president who is clearly and passionately committed to stopping gun violence, and that grassroots movement with the survivors. And I speak to them constantly about what they've suffered and what they are doing to further erode the power of the gun lobby. And it is imploding. The NRA has declared bankruptcy financially, but it also is morally bankrupt. And I think we are potentially at the dawn of a new era.

BILL RITTER: You say that, but-- and yes, the NRA is bankrupt, and New York certainly has taken action against the NRA. But the week before this happened in Boulder, Colorado, Boulder had outlawed these kinds of assault weapons. It was overturned by a judge, cheered by the NRA, and this young man who is the accused killer was able to buy that assault weapon because an NRA movement tried to stop it and get it overturned. And all of a sudden, Boulder didn't have a ban on assault weapons. They were able to buy an assault weapon. And the background check turned up nothing about this young man's apparently mental disability or episodes, at least.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: We don't have solid or full evidence about what his motives or, possibly, his mental illness may have been, but we know for sure, as you said, that the NRA succeeded in overturning a local ordinance. Many states have statewide ordinances. But your point is absolutely well taken, Bill, that no state is protected, even with the strongest laws. Because we in Connecticut have strong laws, but they're really no better than the weakest laws because there is an iron pipeline. Guns have no respect for state borders.

BILL RITTER: I should say that you were the attorney general of Connecticut when Sandy Hook happened, and so you were intimately involved in that when you were a Senator just for less than two years, Sandy Hook happened. And so I know this is a near and dear and heartbreaking event in your life and your career. You talked about the majority in the House and the Senate, but the House has got a majority, but the Senate is tied. And it's a majority only because the woman you toured Connecticut with to talk about the COVID vaccine-- and the COVID benefit package, I want to talk about in a second-- Kamala Harris, the vice president, she's the tiebreaker. You need more than 50 votes to do something like gun control, don't you not? Do you not?

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: We need more than 50 votes right now with the filibuster, true. The Senate is evenly split. But the country is not. The country's overwhelmingly in favor of gun violence prevention. There is a bipartisan majority-- even Republicans, gun owners, NRA members-- a majority are in favor of common sense measures like background checks, or emergency risk warrants that separate people from guns when they say they're going to kill someone, including themselves. And these types of common sense measures-- safe storage laws-- I think could command 51 votes. And maybe we can get to 60.

BILL RITTER: OK. If the filibuster gets overturned, and if you can convince some of these other senators, then I think the cheer you hear in the background is the majority of Americans who want some more kind of gun control. The mantra being, of course, why have assault weapons that are legal when their only civilian purpose is to hunt humans. And that's really, I think, a big argument here.

Let's move on to what you also toured Connecticut with-- on Friday-- with the vice president. You tried to sell the package and the benefits package. How is that doing? A lot of people still don't have their $1,400 a month. You know that's a slow process. But what about the money that's going to cities, and states, and to businesses that have been so hard hit? How long is it going to take before we get things up and running? We know the vaccines are starting to roll here in the inoculation process.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for that question, Bill. Because it's very important that people understand. Number one-- they should be receiving stimulus payments. If they don't, they should contact the IRS or their senator's office. Number two-- you're absolutely right. $400 billion going to state and local governments so they can keep their police, and firefighters, and emergency responders on payroll. But also help dispense the vaccine. They have unforeseen costs that could cause tax increases. This money will help them avoid that burden on taxpayers. And third-- as we tour today with the vice president, there is the Child Tax Credit, which will vastly expand the credit that goes to people who have children under 18, with about half the kids now in poverty, out of poverty. It is a historic step-- comparable to Social Security, which lifted 90% of the seniors in poverty out of poverty.

We also went to a child care facility because child care is so important so parents can go back to work feeling that their kids are safe and secure in child care. And our industry here in Connecticut-- I suspect New York and New Jersey, as well-- has been absolutely devastated. These child care workers have been hard hit. And then there is so much more that will help people like unemployment insurance, nutrition assistance, rental aid. All of it designed to put shots in people's arms-- more vaccines and more delivery of them-- put kids back to school safely, and put money in people's pockets so we can put America back to work. Revive the economy in a way that will get us past this economic crisis.

BILL RITTER: In the last minute we're talking about it, let's talk briefly about how to do that. How do you get those jobs back? Are we talking about kind of a New Deal approach to a workforce, where you have infrastructure as government jobs and hiring people that have lost their jobs in industries that sometimes-- businesses that are not going to reopen?

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: What we need now as a next step is a massive infrastructure program. And I'm talking not only about roads, bridges, rail-- think about rail for a moment. In our part of the country, where we need more tracks, more train cars, and the Gateway project-- the tunnel under the Hudson-- but also, very importantly, human capital. Tuition-free community college, more technological investment. That's our future, Bill. Jobs that come from advancing technology as well as infrastructure. Good jobs with health care. And I think the next Build Back Better proposal will have a lot of that.

BILL RITTER: If I can get you to answer this next question in 30 seconds, maybe 25, that'd be great. Senator, our president, President Biden, said at his news conference, his first one that he wants Republicans to come along with him. He wants there to be no more division, but if the Republicans won't do it, they're going to do it alone. You now have 20 seconds. Can you say whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, and how do you remedy that?

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Good thing to see bipartisanship. We're going to try as best we can, but we cannot wait to put people back to work. There's an urgency here. We need to seize this moment.

BILL RITTER: Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Thank you once again for being on Up Close and making the case. And appreciate you coming on.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Honored to be with you. Thanks, Bill.

BILL RITTER: Thank you, Senator. Coming up on Up Close, the largest, most diverse group of people ever running for the mayor of New York. Among them, that woman right there. Former New York sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia. What would you do as mayor if elected? We have a revealing conversation next on Up Close.

Welcome back to Up Close. It's not hyperbolic to say the 110th mayor of New York-- whoever she or he is who gets elected in November-- will face perhaps more challenges than any other incoming mayor in the history of this city, and that includes 9/11. There's so many people out of work. So many people have left the city, so many businesses shut down, so many who can't afford their rent, or their mortgage, or to feed their families. So many are homeless. A pandemic full of problems and a recession that will take some time to recover from. So many people want this job. One of them is Kathryn Garcia, and she joins us now. Former commissioner, nice to see you again.

KATHRYN GARCIA: Nice to see you.

BILL RITTER: So tell us, tell the viewers why you want to be mayor of New York.

KATHRYN GARCIA: New York City is facing overlapping crises, and it's going to require strong leadership, and strong management, and really understanding how government works to deliver for New York City. And that's what I do. And I love this city. I want it to come back strong. And so that is why I put my hat in the ring.

BILL RITTER: So you're a native of New York. You've been here a long time. You've worked a lot of different angles of the city, in terms of public service. You were commissioner of the Sanitation Department. The mayor, Mayor de Blasio, during his eight years here, seven years, called on you to run NYCHA temporarily. You also were the Food Czar for people who had food insecurity during the height of the pandemic. But you've never been elected to office-- not that you're alone in this country, or in this city. What would you say to critics who might say you don't have any electoral experience?

KATHRYN GARCIA: Well I'm fast gaining electoral experience. But what I would say is that is not what we need right now. I have been a public servant and not a politician, and that does make all the difference. New York City residents are looking for somebody who can get the job done, who's not about a press release without a plan.

BILL RITTER: So what does that mean. Let's get into the weeds a little bit of this? What does that mean in terms of getting jobs back? Getting the 4% of New Yorkers who, according to all the polls and surveys, have left New York and they haven't come back yet. What's going to happen with them? They're taking away their 4.2% income tax for the city and it's put the city in something of a hole. How do you get housing prices back? How do you get affordable housing there? What do you do with all the homeless? The list, as you know, is endless.

KATHRYN GARCIA: The list, as you know, is endless, but it is also overlapping. We have to reopen our economy and do the things that we know differentiate New York City from any other city in this country. And that means leaning hard into our art, our culture, our restaurants. I mean I like to say that there are 8.6 million food snobs in the city of New York. It's what drives people to want to live here, and then that is also what drives tourism, which also supports an enormous amount of our tax base and our employment.

BILL RITTER: So how do you get those restaurants to open once they've shut?

KATHRYN GARCIA: Oh, so I mean, I have put out a three-point plan around how we do that in COVID. And obviously, just without saying, we have to get people vaccinated. We have to make sure it's safe. But we are getting people vaccinated now. And we are starting to have a large percentage of folks who have received the vaccine.

The way that we get this done is we have a tremendous amount of open space. We have to go even bigger than we are going right now, in terms of open restaurants, open culture. But we also need to really fundamentally look at what we do to small businesses in terms of the bureaucracy. We just have to stop the bureaucratic nonsense. And I understand where it is. You know, there are eight agencies you've got to talk to before you can sell a bowl of soup. I mean, it's crazy. And I have proposed a one city permit to make it super easy for people who are reopening their restaurants, or expanding their restaurants, or a new entrepreneur who wants to open a restaurant in the city of New York.

But I've also said we need to rediscover NYC. That we need to-- before we get tourism back from around the country and around the world-- we need to be our own tourists. We've done this before, after 9/11. Stepped up, gone to shows to make sure we were showing solidarity with those people who worked there. And it's not just the actors-- it's also the stagehands, and the ushers. There's a whole ecosystem around it.

And then we need to ensure that we are providing microloans for small businesses, and using crowdsourcing platforms to leverage public dollars to make it so that they can go further.

BILL RITTER: So you're saying use more public dollars. Because it's going to be, Ms. Garcia, you know it's going to be months before we're fully opened again. Broadway may open, maybe in September, that's what they're hoping for. So that's a long time. You know, this is almost the beginning of April.

KATHRYN GARCIA: Yes. No and I have said that smart investments in these industries drives the reopening of the rest of the industries. It brings people back to the city. It makes it so you want to go back to your office. Because you're going to go back to your office? There's no place to get lunch. It makes it so that tourism wants to come back. This is why we live here, is because it's exciting and dynamic. So we need to make sure we are bringing back those industries that make it exciting and dynamic.

BILL RITTER: What do you say to the New Yorkers who have left? The 4%, which you know is a couple hundred thousand people, 400,000 people. What do you say to them?

KATHRYN GARCIA: We would welcome you back. We would like you to be back and part of the most dynamic city in the world. Which you know already, as you've lived here.

BILL RITTER: You know, it seems to me that-- and I'd like you to talk about it. I want to get in a little bit of the weeds about your tenure with the current administration. It seems to me that he came into office arguing that we have a tale of two cities-- the haves and the have nots-- and we have to tighten that gap. And then the truth is-- in part because of the pandemic and the recession it sparked-- we have a bigger gap. A bigger tale of two cities than we had before. The haves and the have nots, that gap has widened. How do you inch that gap back together? How do you think the mayor did in all that? You left in something of a quiet protest over what the cuts were at your Sanitation Department. How do you grade the mayor, if you can do that?

KATHRYN GARCIA: Certainly. No, I fundamentally believe that the entire city needs to come together and not have a conversation about the tale of two cities. That we have big problems we need to solve, and that we need to do that as one people. But the way that we think about what we are doing to support those who have really suffered. You know, what are we doing about education? When you think about growing up in New York and having where you grow up be the destiny that you should have, we have to break that cycle. And I have put forward that if you go to CUNY or to one of our trade schools, that we are intentional about finding you your good first job. Whether or not that's in the public sector, the private sector, or the nonprofit sector. I believe that everyone has to be at the table. Because how you overcome this is you need to make sure that there is good employment, and that there is an ability to begin to acquire wealth for people who have not enjoyed that to date.

BILL RITTER: Just from my approach, just as an old country reporter, it seemed to me that what Michael Bloomberg did was take his friends with money, and just the people he knew who had money, who were very liberal, who wanted to donate to the city, and get them to donate to the city. Mayor de Blasio has not tended to do that. He didn't really hang out with anyone, as friends, who had a lot of money. He sort of disdained that kind of thing. I don't think he went to Lincoln Center. He didn't do those kinds of activities that Bloomberg did. Now obviously, they're different. He's very wealthy, one of them. The other is not. But there are a lot of liberals who have a lot of money in this city who want to help the city. And they weren't approached in the current administration.

KATHRYN GARCIA: No. And this is where I said, we need to embrace all of us. And so I like going to Lincoln Center, but I'm usually in the fourth tier, not the orchestra.

BILL RITTER: That's all right. It's beautiful there.

KATHRYN GARCIA: I don't hang out with the super wealthy, but just because you like the ballet does not mean you're an elitist. You can like things. And we want to make sure there's joy in everyone's life, and that we're supporting art and culture in all of our neighborhoods. And all of that diversity going forward. People want to come to the table. We need to help each other. And we need to be creative. Do you know, like, is someone in fashion able to do something promotional for an organization that is working on connecting youth to jobs? I don't know, but I think there's so much talent here. We need to find that out.

BILL RITTER: Kathryn Garcia. A longtime public servant in the city of New York, now trying to become the 110th mayor. Good luck to you. Thank you for coming on Up Close and making your case.

KATHRYN GARCIA: Absolutely.

BILL RITTER: All right.

KATHRYN GARCIA: Thank you much.

BILL RITTER: Thank you, Kathryn. By the way, we're trying to get all the major candidates on Up Close over the next two months. Coming up next, the president tells Republicans, let's take this road to recovery together. And if not, we're going to do it alone. Can that work? Our political team joins us next.

Welcome back to Up Close. Let's get right to our political team. ABC News political director Rick Klein and political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. Gentlemen, we've got an hour's worth of topics and we've just got four minutes to do it in. But so let me start with the press conference because I think it was sort of an indicator of what's in store, and what's the strategy in the head of President Joseph Biden. Rick, your takeaway on that? And what does it mean that he's basically telling Republicans, look, we've got a lot to do. We'd like you to work with us, but if not, we're going to work on our own.

RICK KLEIN: Yeah. The invitation is out there, but he needs Republicans to come to him on his terms. Right now, we are on a collision course between the Biden agenda and the filibuster. Clearly, Republicans aren't about to have that epiphany and come over. And Joe Biden isn't really doing that much to try to entice them. His line that stuck out to me, Bill, was that he said that, I don't have bipartisan cooperation in Congress, but I do in the country. Looking at polling that suggests that Republicans are supportive of his policies, particularly around COVID. That is the hand that he is playing right now. And when he says he's going to take one thing at a time and try to chip away at the big agenda, he is not at this moment expecting that Republicans come around. And I think the only way through all of this is going to be a big old battle to abolish the filibuster.

BILL RITTER: Hank, when Rick talks about the Republicans, he's talking about it like they're one unified party. And clearly, they are not. If you watch a cable news station at night, which I will not identify, they make it sound like this is the worst president the history of the United States. And a lot of the Republicans, as we know and you've talked about, Hank, you know, they're not interested in being Trumpers forever. They want to move on in a different stream, and they're just don't have the bandwidth to do that yet.

HANK SHEINKOPF: Well the danger here is that they're playing with fire. What does that mean? Look, they go against the Biden agenda, they do it publicly. At some point, if the Biden numbers continue to hold up, we're going to see more Democrats in the United States Senate and in the United States House of Representatives, which is a situation they don't want. So at some point, they're going to figure out a way to get on. And the way to get on-- and Biden give that gave them the opportunity-- is infrastructure. Because that's a no loser. Why? Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.

BILL RITTER: Interesting. Rick, I want to switch over and do a little pivot to the real issue that's going to divide this country up by party. And I think that's voting rights, and it's already happening. Many, many states are trying to change the rules. On Thursday night, we saw in Georgia, a state Democratic legislator arrested for knocking on the door of the governor when he was signing a very controversial "voting rights," quote unquote, bill. You saw it. What's the status of all this?

RICK KLEIN: Well, you have a situation where the Congress is controlled by Democrats who are moving in one direction and feel very strongly about it. And you've got a number of battleground states that are turning more toward purple, or maybe even blue, that are trying to cling to power. And you've got Democrats trying to fight back at it. But they are outnumbered still in a state like Georgia, and they lost this battle around voting rights. Now that doesn't mean they lose the broader war. That's where some of the national bills, including a so-called HR1, comes into play.

And to get back to that conversation about the filibuster, there are not 60 votes for that. Republicans feel like it is a federal takeover of elections. Democrats think it's fundamental for them. We hear people like Barack Obama saying the filibuster should go away when it comes to voting rights. This is where Joe Biden and Senate Democrats are going to have to decide-- is this worth going all in on? Because there's no question that there are major efforts underway to limit access to voting, to make it harder to vote in a number of states. And Democrats feel like that is just not acceptable.

BILL RITTER: Hank, you're going to have the last word on this. We have 30 seconds--

HANK SHEINKOPF: When I worked in the South, it was always the government sent money and the federal government sent troops. Troops mean Voting Rights Act. By the way, this is a revolt by the South and other places saying, government, get out of our business. And what it's covering up? Is race issues.

BILL RITTER: And the last time we saw this, Hank, was in the Civil Rights movement in the early 60s, when people went down South, and worked, and protested. And some of them got killed for the right to vote.

HANK SHEINKOPF: That's true.

BILL RITTER: OK.

HANK SHEINKOPF: Entirely true.

BILL RITTER: Hank Sheinkopf, Rick Klein. Thank you, gentlemen, once again for being on this edition of Up Close. We thank you. We'll see you next time.

RICK KLEIN: Thanks, Bill.

BILL RITTER: Take care. And by the way, Rick, good luck with your child's little league games this season, which started. We're all rooting for them. That'll do it for this edition of Up Close. Tiempo with Joe Torres is coming up next. If you missed any of today's programs, no worries. My producer, Zahir Sachedina, is making sure that I post the edition and all the segments on my Facebook page. That'll happen tomorrow. Thank you all for watching. I'm Bill Ritter. And for all of us here at channel 7, we wish you health and peace. And let's take care of each other.

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