Q&A with Kathryn Wylde
BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Kathryn Wylde, what is the Partnership for New York City?
KATHRYN WYLDE, PRESIDENT & CEO, PARTNERSHIP FOR NEW YORK CITY: Well, it’s the city’s business leadership organization. It’s a group that was put together at the end of the ’70s after the city’s fiscal crisis when we almost went bankrupt. David Rockefeller led that effort, and he turned to other business leaders and said, ”We almost lost New York. We weren’t paying attention to the needs of the city, and I want to organize business not to be a chamber of commerce worried about its own interests; I want to organize business to be really committed to caring about a great world city and keeping New York that way.”
LAMB: How big an organization is it?
WYLDE: In terms of size, we’re about 50 employees, but we have about 300 members who represent the top CEOs of the international and national companies based in New York metropolitan region.
LAMB: I know this is hard with 300, but the big names?
WYLDE: The big names? Well, our Co-Chairs right now are Ken Chenault of American Express, Terry Lundgren’s the CEO of Macy’s. Our immediate past Co-Chairs were Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation. And our Executive Committee includes most of the names that you would know that lead the finance, media and fashion retail industries of New York.
LAMB: I have a quote that you uttered back in 2009. You said, ”It’s not an easy time to defend the rich.”
WYLDE: I guess it never is. Right now we’ve got the threat of a millionaire’s tax coming over us, and once again, it is it’s one of those things where we have to think about our society in complex ways. Being part of the global economy is really the key to what brought our city and America and the world’s great cities back into economic health.
If you recall in the ’60s and ’70s, we were writing off urban America and saying you know it’s the cities are on fire, the cities are have no hope. And then in New York, Wall Street came along and Wall Street discovered and helped build a global economy, providing capital to the economies of the world. And with Wall Street’s reemergence, New York City was really pulled into the global economy, became America’s gateway to that economy, and has really prospered ever since. So, New York has done well by the rich, as has America.
LAMB: How big is this place?
WYLDE: Eight-point-two million people in terms of our population, which is about a million greater than we were two decades ago.
LAMB: Why you know if you have 8 million people, you’re bigger than a lot of states here. Why do people want to live in this very dense area?
WYLDE: Well, I think that people, one, like to live in a place that is dynamic, that’s moving, that’s showing leadership, and New York has long attracted people from around the world top talent from around the world to come here. For people like myself, I came here from Wisconsin. They say in New York, ”New York is made up of people who didn’t fit in where they grew up.” So, it’s a it’s a diverse community. I know that that’s what I fell in love with when I first came here. It was after my freshman year in college, and I just found it to be so diverse, so exciting, meeting new people, learning new things every day, and I think that’s what draws people here still.
LAMB: Where did you grow up in Wisconsin?
LAMB: Did you go to U of W?
WYLDE: Summer school, but at the time, the University of Wisconsin was kind of being blown up. It was a little tortured. I was raised as a townie, so I went to so, I would have liked to go to the University of Wisconsin, but my parents thought I would be better off at school at I went to a college called St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.
LAMB: So, what’s the difference of living in Madison and living in New York?
WYLDE: Well, I often refer to the Midwest generally as being kind of homogenized as compared to New York. So, I think that it is truly the diversity and the pace of New York that make it different. The density you know where I grew up, you were in single family houses and you couldn’t hear what was going on with the neighbors next door.
When I first moved to an apartment in New York, I was living in somebody’s basement, and you could hear every fight, you heard I heard the wife tell the husband she was pregnant in the kitchen at the top of the stairs. I mean you couldn’t miss a thing. So, New York is kind of fun that way.
LAMB: How did you get involved in this organization and how long ago?
WYLDE: I got involved in the Partnership when it was first launched by David Rockefeller. He was someone that was very committed to keeping New York City a place that was accessible to the middle class. And he the first project he wanted to undertake was to rebuild the city’s neighborhoods that had burned down, that had deteriorated, where there had been white flight, middle-class flight out of the city, and he wanted to recreate the city’s neighborhoods, he wanted to provide home ownership opportunities for people that were living in low-income public housing, and he really wanted to rebuild the neighborhoods of the city.
And it was a time when the city had no money, the city was really had just come out of near-bankruptcy, really didn’t have any budget to finance anything, but they had a lot of vacant land, a lot of unused old urban renewal areas, property that had been lost in the city for taxes when people owners abandoned. And so, the city had that resource, and what Rockefeller did was say, ”We’ll get the banks to provide the capital if the city gives the land and gives some tax abatement, and we’ll get private sector builders to go in and build really create the first public/private partnership for affordable housing.”
And I wrote the proposal for that program, I actually was introduced to Mr. Rockefeller by two quite famous labor leaders Harry Van Arsdale, who was the head of the city’s Central Labor Council and the Electrical Workers’ Union, and Peter Brennan, who had been President Nixon’s Labor Secretary and was the head of the construction trades.
And they had a partnership with the Rockefellers, worked very closely with them on pro-construction, pro-development efforts. And they introduced me to Mr. Rockefeller and I wrote a paper for them on what the program might look like, and they said, ”The person ” these were real good labor guys. They said, ”The person that writes the paper makes the presentation.”
So, I was 20-something and went in and made the presentation, and they said, ”Fine.” And now Mr. Rockefeller said, ”And now we’ll hire you to do it.” So, I went to work there having worked for about a decade in non-profit housing and community development in Brooklyn and then briefly at a bank, and then went in and set up a program working in partnership with the city and ultimately with the state and federal governments as well, with most of the major banks and created a home-building industry in the city that rebuilt neighborhoods.
LAMB: How successful were you and how friendly is it to the middle class now to come here?
WYLDE: Well, too successful. We were when we started in the early ’80s, there wasn’t a place in the city where you could sell a home or rent an apartment for what it cost to build it. So, there was a very, very weak market, and we had to go in and create markets. Within 15 years, there wasn’t a place a neighborhood in the city where you couldn’t sell a home or rent an apartment for significantly more than it cost to build it. The market came back.
Part of that was the successful efforts by the city to get a hold of the crime problem during the ’80s and ’90s, but by the end of the ’90s, the neighborhoods of New York City were actually a victim of their own success. Suddenly they were becoming unaffordable even in the remote regions of the five boroughs. So, we were very successful in restoring a market, bringing a middle class back, and of course the challenge today is, ”How do we keep housing affordable in the city so that people can continue to live here?”
LAMB: You mentioned boroughs. Correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve got some numbers that show that 2.5 million people live in Brooklyn, 2.3 live in Queens, 1.6 live in Manhattan, and then there are 500,000 live in Staten Island, and in the Bronx, I think it’s somewhere around 1.3 or something million. May be off a little bit, but for someone who’s never been here, what is New York City? What are the five boroughs? How does that all work together and that makes up your 8 million people?
WYLDE: Well, the concentration of the New York City economy and particularly our connection to the global economy is Manhattan basically Manhattan south of 65th Street. So, it’s a very concentrated, dense economic environment that is generates a regional gross product gross domestic product for the region of about a trillion dollars a year. So, it’s a big economy. If we were a country, we would be number 11 in the world in terms of the size of our economy. So, that’s the economic region.
The local economy is spread across the five boroughs with small business and retail and hospitals and colleges, and so our job base is spread across five boroughs which were originally different communities, some different cities that came together and that makes up New York City. Primarily, though, the heavy economic lift is in Manhattan and then the boroughs provide housing and community local employment retail, neighborhood shopping, et cetera.
LAMB: How does one become a member of Partnership for New York City?
WYLDE: It’s by invitation. The membership our membership is really the chief executives of companies that are headquartered and/or have a substantial presence in New York City and people self-select in they have to really Mr. Rockefeller’s principle and many of the engagement and involvement was that you have to be engaged. You don’t just send a check.
And so, our interest is in attracting top business leaders who are really committed to the city personally and want to spend their time and get involved with the issues that affect the city. And that’s become much easier in the last 10 years because one of our partnership members, Mike Bloomberg, became Mayor Bloomberg in at the end of 2001 and he has attracted really everybody who’s serious about international business and understands the importance of the city.
I think what David Rockefeller saw, which in my mind he was one of the first to articulate, was that a global economy, international business depends on a great world city that has a deep and diverse talent pool, that has an excellent transportation system and is connected to the world, that has an excellent communication system. And David Rockefeller saw that and wanted to commit, and knew that it was in business’ self-interest to build a great city.
And of course Mike Bloomberg is kind of the ultimate example of somebody’s who’s a great international business person who now is also demonstrated great leadership of New York City and has brought all sorts of all sorts of interests, has been a magnet for attracting business interest and commitments to the city. Philanthropic commitments, leadership commitments, engagements with the city’s institutions, with its arts and culture, with its education, public education as well as university education. We’ve got flourishing research and development activities and technology activities going on.
Somebody Glenn Hutchins, who’s a noted tech venture capitalist or private equity firm, did the analysis and said that the JPMorgan Chase has more IT professionals than Microsoft. I mean it said people don’t think of New York City as a tech center, but I think that Mayor Bloomberg has helped attract and articulate that in fact we are at the forefront of the next-generation economy. We’re not just a center of big banks and investment. We are much more and very much increasingly an R&D and technology center.
LAMB: There’s another world you’re involved in and I suspect that most of us don’t really understand, and it’s called the New York Fed. How did you become a member of that board? Were there nine members?
WYLDE: There are the Federal Reserve Bank has regional banks, and in this case for the New York State, New Jersey, part of Fairfield, Connecticut and Puerto Rico, the New York Fed is the bank. It’s run by a president named Bill Dudley, and he originally approached me about becoming one of three public members.
There are nine members of that board three from banking, three from general industry, and three representing the public. Formally we’re the three public members are appointed by the board in Washington. The others are elected by the banking members that own the central bank. So, we so, I got involved almost two years ago now and was both honored because it’s a very important institution, but also have enjoyed what I’ve been able to learn about sort of how the how the overall economy works, how the New York Fed takes the lead on many aspects on the Open Markets Committee and the aspects of monetary policy.
And, of course, then we had the financial crisis, and so the New York Fed had a really an took an unprecedented role in helping restructure the country’s financing system and now, going forward, the regulatory system under the Dodd-Frank legislation. So, it’s been an amazing time to be part of the institution.
LAMB: So, explain the national Federal Reserve Board is government appointed by the President of the United States, approved by the United States Senate. The New York Fed is an independent, private bank, but yet there is this
WYLDE: No, it’s part of the Central Bank. There are regional banks across the country that are part of the Central Banking system.
LAMB: But why do we always hear they’re private?
WYLDE: But the boards well, because the members of the they’re owned by the shareholders are actually the banks. So, you’re right it’s private in that sense. But the but it functions as the arm of the Central Bank of the public bank.
LAMB: So, as you sit on how often do you meet?
WYLDE: We meet once a month with the exception of July and August, and then we have phone calls in between conference phone calls.
LAMB: What kind of things are you asked to vote on?
WYLDE: Well, most of the most of the actions are advisory in nature. The board is really providing input to the President and the staff of the bank in terms of our understanding of what’s happening in the local economy and the regional in the regional economy. So, most of the most of the work is advisory and we vote on the election of the president of the bank, which is probably our most important job, and we vote on the recommendations with regard to monetary policy and what’s going to happen with interest rates. But that’s based on the expertise and the expert advice of the president and his staff.
LAMB: What kind of things do you feel strongly about as a board member and they all know that Kathryn Wylde is going to do this?
WYLDE: I would say my main contribution is trying to help the Fed be more accessible to the average person, to help people understand what it does and how important it is. The fact that the New York Fed is the banker to the central banks of the world, the gold in our basement at the New York Fed is not American gold for the most part. You can go down there and see the names of every country in the world that have their gold stashed there because they trust that institution. And I think that for a long time, the American public, and we saw this play out a lot during the discussion over Dodd-Frank where there was a really a misunderstanding over both the role of the Fed and its important.
So, I think that my main job is to try and push as much communication as possible, as much information is possible about what we’re doing. The Fed has done an excellent job of helping America recover from the financial crisis. I think they haven’t gotten as much credit as they deserve, so I’d like to see people really understand how important that role was and how successful it’s been in quickly stabilizing the country and promoting economic recovery and growth.
LAMB: Do you have members of your board that are also members of the Fed the Fed Bank here in New York. Jamie Dimon one, and I think there are some others.
WYLDE: Jim Tisch is another yes.
LAMB: And how did they how did those two men get on that board?
WYLDE: The bankers put Jamie Dimon and the industry representatives, which is Jim Tisch, were elected by the bank’s shareholders.
LAMB: And who owns the bank’s shares?
LAMB: All right, if this were certain radio shows in the United States here, you would be accused of being, as you know, a part of a cabal. The Federal Reserve is run by bankers who control the world and on and on and on. What do you say to that?
WYLDE: I say that in this country we’ve been fortunate to have a system where there’s an interplay between government and public institutions and private sector expertise, and the structure of the Fed is set up so that our public bank that’s responsible for our monetary policy and for guiding our economy has this network of relationships with the financial community and the industry community to feed in constantly updated information about what’s going on.
And then, there are some members of those boards of the regional banks across the country like myself and the immediate past chairman of our board is a man named Dennis Hughes who was a labor leader here President of the State AFL-CIO. So, some members are on the board to provide input on what’s going on in communities, what’s going on in the public and private sector, what’s happening with in the labor community.
And that’s the genius of what’s made this a great economic power is that we haven’t had government sitting over by itself trying to run things, we haven’t had a central bank that was all-knowing. We’ve had a central bank that took the input from industry, from banking, from the industrial sectors of our economy, and it’s served us pretty well for very many years. And I think under the restructuring and the and the new initiatives that are going forward now post-financial crisis under Dodd-Frank, I think it’s going to serve even better.
LAMB: How does the public benefit from Dodd-Frank as it relates to the Federal Reserve Bank?
WYLDE: Well, number one, they didn’t screw anything up too badly. Number two, there’s going to be a consumer protection function that will be that’s being put in place now that there will be more opportunities for banking institutions to interface on issues that directly effect consumers so that hopefully we can avoid the kind of problems we got into with subprime mortgages and predatory lending and some of those things, that we’ll have an earlier warning system on those. So, I think that’s going to be a plus.
I think that we end we will end up seeing that our big, important, international banking institutions survive, but that they are regulated in a way that there’s more transparency, you can see what’s going on, that incentive compensation is more related to reality, that things like that.
LAMB: Not to pick on one man, but why should we watch a Jamie Dimon run is it the biggest financial institution in town JPMorgan Chase?
WYLDE: Probably right. You are close.
and then serve on the board of the Fed, setting rates and stuff like that? I mean isn’t that a conflict?
WYLDE: Well, again, the board does not set rates. What the board does is gives recommendations based it tells what’s going on in the economy. And who has a better vantage point on the economy than Jamie Dimon from where he sits with all the consumers that bank with him, all the businesses that bank with him? He has and is able to provide great real-time information on what’s happening in a major portions of our economy. And that’s complemented by the other members, as I said from the public, from organized labor, from industry, who give their own perspective, and a big part of what we do is share those points of view, and the other bank boards from around the country are doing the same thing.
Importantly, the board includes one big banker. Right now, that’s Mr. Dimon. And they’re all term-limited, so they serve a seven or eight-year term. The there’s also a small bank representative, and we’ve got banker Charlie Wait from upstate Adirondack region of New York. And there’s also a midsize bank, and in this case right now that is represented by Richard Carrion, who is the CEO of Banco Popular. So, there’s a variety of opinions coming from upstate, from big international bank, from Puerto Rico, as well as from people from industry.
Emily Rafferty just joined the board. She’s the President of the Metropolitan Museum of New York. Brings a great perspective on what’s happening with the tourism sector and in the culture side of the economy. And we share those perspectives, and then that becomes information that the bank officers, the president of the bank, use when they’re thinking about both their economic projections and their judgments on what’s going to happen with the interest rates.
LAMB: What kind of things do you vote on that would change people’s lives?
WYLDE: At the board level, I would say we do not vote on anything that would change people’s lives directly because those decisions are made by professionals. Our role is advisory. As long as we put and supported great professionals being in there, I don’t know if you remember during Dodd-Frank, there was one recommendation that the President of the United States should appoint the Presidents of the regional Federal Reserve Banks.
We very much many of us very much thought that that was a huge mistake, that it would politicize the Fed which has these regional banks have really been very professional, particularly in New York very highly respected as being non-political. That’s why we can be the banker to the central banks of the world because they don’t see this as sort of a Washington political operation. They see it as a highly professional, high-integrity operation, and we have to keep it that way.
LAMB: But if things are not going the way you want them to go, where does your vote change things? In other words, what is the power of the advisory board? You must have some power.
WYLDE: Well, as I say, we appoint the president.
LAMB: Can you rescind that at any time?
WYLDE: I suppose we could make that recommendation.
LAMB: Do you need certain number of people voting out of the nine for any issue? Is it just a five four? Have you ever had a dispute?
WYLDE: Yes, it would be a majority if we have a dispute. We haven’t. When if the board is really there in a to represent the broader community, industry, financial community to really provide input to the bank, and that’s why I say it’s a great example of a truly American institution where it’s not the government thinking it knows everything. It’s the government looking to a variety of community and private sector interests that are smart on various areas of the economy to come in and give their opinions before the government makes its monetary policy. And our role is to help with that advice.
LAMB: How many people work for this Fed here in New York?
WYLDE: Twenty-five-hundred probably.
LAMB: And do they get a government check or a bank check?
WYLDE: A bank check
LAMB: And what
from the from the Fed, a bank check.
LAMB: In other words, from Washington.
LAMB: So, they are U.S.-government-employed.
LAMB: What is left after the recent financial crisis that hasn’t been righted in your opinion?
WYLDE: Well, the regulations associated and the and the specifics of how various financial instruments are going to be treated and regulated is still under negotiation. The treatment of how bankruptcy proceedings will affect the rights of creditors is still up in the air. There are just many areas of Dodd-Frank that were left for studies, commissions, further review that haven’t happened.
Everybody’s in New York, we have two-third of the two-thirds of the biggest hedge-funds are here in the New York metropolitan region, and they’re all wondering how are the systemic risk definitions going to affect them. How are the tax decisions going to affect them? So, there’s a whole range of uncertainty about what it’s what the rollout of the regulations will actually do.
And that’s I think that’s had a role in retarding investment and job creation in the economy. You’ve got many financial people standing on the side. I think it’s had a role in making credit slow to come back for small business and home buyers. There was a discussion in just the last couple months about whether about banks and their capitalization requirements. And if you didn’t have 20 percent down to buy a home, the banks will have to treat you as higher risk capital if you can’t put up that amount of cash equity.
And having worked much of my career to rebuild urban neighborhoods and to try and bring here in New York the house of preference for communities much of the city are a two or three-family home where it’s an owner with two or three rental units, and nothing is more secure than the income in New York City, nothing’s more secure than the income from rental rental apartments. That’s always demand.
But under this requirement, if you’ve got a two-family home that is you want to purchase that’ll probably cost $300,000, $400,000, $500,000, you would have to have 20 percent cash. You might have to put up $100,000. Most working families, middle-class families don’t have that kind of cash. And it’s going to change very profoundly if that those requirements go through and we have no lower down payment mortgages because we’re kind of overreacting to fears of what happened in the subprime scandals, I think mistakenly. But it’s a big threat to home ownership and to our urban neighborhoods.
LAMB: When will that 20 percent figure be finalized?
WYLDE: Well, they’re talking about it now. They’re they’ve promulgated some draft rules.
LAMB: Who decides?
WYLDE: It’ll be well, there are there are a combination of decisions, but it’s the combination of regulators. It’s the Fed, it’s the FDIC controller, it’s of their commission that will decide together, and of course it’s part and parcel of the decision about what they’re going to do about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well, because that’s been a critical source of mortgage financing. Our country without Fannie Mae where are we going to get 30-year mortgages from? Very unclear. So, there’s a lot that’s happening that’s not resolved yet, but it’s a big challenge to how we functioned as a country for a number of years.
LAMB: I want to come back to the government part, but I want to ask you about the 13 cats and 10 dogs, or are there more now? And that life that you live outside of New York City.
WYLDE: Well, what you’re referring to, Brian, is I have a home and a husband and a menagerie in Puerto Rico the northwest corner of Puerto Rico which I visit on a regular basis. But we have many dogs and cats have adopted us over the years have shown up hungry and we try and find homes for them and when there isn’t another home for them, then it ends up being ours. But in Puerto Rico, that’s OK because the weather’s great and they can be in and out and it works out fine.
LAMB: When did you meet your husband?
WYLDE: The early 1970’s.
LAMB: When did you get married?
WYLDE: That’s a good question. 2002.
LAMB: And why the bifurcated living situation him in Puerto Rico and you here?
WYLDE: He’s Puerto Rican, born there. Spent some time in New York but really wanted to go back. And I’m very committed to my work here, very engaged in it. And so we worked things out.
LAMB: How often do you go to Puerto Rico?
WYLDE: Every month. JetBlue flies to Aguadilla, which is near where we are from Kennedy, so it’s a it’s a 3 hours and 15 minutes and Jet Blue is New York’s hometown airline as you probably know, so that goes very well. No problem.
LAMB: How did Puerto Rican responsibility for the Fed get under the New York Fed? How was who placed it under there? It’s really out of sync with everything else.
WYLDE: Well, not really because it’s the same region for HUD, it’s the same region for EPA, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, HUD. Puerto Rico is part of the New York region in all those, so I think it’s our sixth borough.
LAMB: There are a lot of Puerto Ricans who live here.
WYLDE: Yes, there are.
LAMB: But it seems to me I read somewhere that there are 800 different languages spoken in New York City.
WYLDE: I would I would think so, yes
LAMB: What does that do to a city like this?
WYLDE: Oh, it means that everybody can come here and feel at home. There’s always somebody that speaks your language.
LAMB: It’s the largest single African American community in the United States, the largest single Jewish community in the United States, and there what? something like a quarter of the South Asians in the United States live here.
WYLDE: Would be. That should be right, yes.
LAMB: What if you were to go let’s take it in threes. If you were to go visit your mayor in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg, today and he said, ”Kathryn Wylde, what can I do for you?” What’s the number one thing you’d ask him for?
WYLDE: That’s a good question. Well, a few years ago, I would have said serve a third term, but he’s doing that with our support.
I guess it is to what I would ask the mayor is how we can help him finish off the work he started with school reform, with sustainability, with making this a green community, and with making us a center of research and technology if the economy as I described. The mayor is undertaking some very large, game-changing initiatives for New York City. And it’s hard to get it done. Takes time and you know it’s turning a battleship when you bring major change to a city like New York, and he’s done that in a number of ways.
And so I think it’s I don’t think there’s anything that I would ask him for besides how can we keep this going, how can we keep progress going, how can we engage more people in support of these efforts over the long term because his term is up in less than two years now and we want to keep many of the good things he got started going.
LAMB: Did you think he should have run for President?
WYLDE: No, I liked having him as mayor.
LAMB: There a third, roughly, of the taxis, or 3,000-plus taxis in New York, are hybrids. Is that something that the city government encourages and they get a tax benefit for doing that?
WYLDE: They have tried to encourage it. They’ve even tried to mandate it. But in fact have not been some of that that was litigated, actually, by the taxi drivers who didn’t want to be mandated. So, it is encouraged, it’s supported, but I don’t think there’s a tax break.
LAMB: If you went to see the governor, Governor Cuomo Andrew Cuomo in Albany and he said same thing, ”What can I do for you? What do you want changed?” What would you tell him?
WYLDE: Well, in the case of Governor Cuomo, I would say keep up the good work. Governor Cuomo campaigned on a program of reform budget reform, ethics reform, bringing economic investment, making New York State a stronger economy, building jobs, and he has been amazing in going forward, taking on really rough challenges that in other states like my home state of Wisconsin have blown up into armed camps, in New York, the governor has been working collaboratively with all sectors of the community really trying to bring everybody in.
And we are seeing real coordination communication, people trying to work together rather than standing at the barricades and taking each other on. So, I think Governor Cuomo’s doing an amazing job, and he’s in the home stretch. He’s got our fiscal year-end April 1, and I think it’s possible that he is going to work out with the legislature and with the various stakeholders from labor, from business, from the community.
I think he may work something out where we actually have a real positive change where everybody’s participating, even though New York State is one of the dozen states with the worst fiscal situation. We have a $10 billion deficit, we have the highest Medicaid costs in the country, we have the highest education costs in the country, and so we’ve got a real and we have the highest taxes in the country lest I forget to say that.
So, he’s got a huge challenge that he inherited, but he has said from the beginning, ”I’m going to work with everybody, I’m going to listen to everybody, I’m going to bring people to the table, and he said, ”In the healthcare arena, I’m we’ve got to figure out how to get our healthcare costs down,” and he called everybody to the table, worked for six weeks with a consortium of interests from all sectors experts on health, people from business, people from labor.
They came out with a plan that met his budget requirements to cut the budget by almost $2.5 billion for in the health Medicaid area that everybody agreed to. Well, not everybody, but the taskforce was very strong and recommended to the Governor. And he said, ”That’s my program. I’m going to go with you.” So, it’s totally different from leaders who have or governors who have gone in and said, ”It’s my way or the highway.”
LAMB: You had the largest number of visitors last year in New York City 47 million in its history, but if you come here to this city, it’s horrendously expensive in certain areas. You can also go to the outer area and it’s not. How do you keep this up and how much farther can it go and over the years, anybody that’s come here, it’s dipped way down after 9/11, dipped after the financial crisis in the way of cost, but you can spend used to be able to spend close to 20 percent of a hotel bill on taxes.
WYLDE: Yes, actually Mayor Giuliani brought the hotel room taxes down and was able to demonstrate that he was earning more revenues with lower taxes because people came back and started patronizing the city and we got lots of new hotel rooms built. So, that was a good lesson in how high taxes do not always yield good revenues. The tourism industry Mayor Bloomberg’s goal is we’re going to hit 50 million.
We have some handicaps. We have high costs. We also have terribly congested airports. And we are responsible for two-thirds of the air traffic delays in the country come out of our three big airports in the New York metropolitan region Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark. So, that’s really the limit. Now, right now there’s an experiment going on with the FAA and JetBlue to see if we can put in new equipment, go away from our 1960’s air traffic control system, upgrade it so we’re a satellite control system away from radar up to satellite and be able to greatly expand the number of flights and the get rid of the delays, move air traffic in and out. So, that’s a very big deal for the future of our tourism industry because time is money.
As in terms of affordability, I was talking to somebody at a party Friday night who was telling me she retired and she’s now got a guest house in Harlem where she’s loaded with tourists from around the world, and I think there’s a lot of entrepreneurial activity in the neighborhoods of the city. If you want to stay in the Midtown Hotel in Manhattan, it’s going to be expensive, but if you’re willing to venture out to the boroughs, there are plenty of affordable opportunities around New York and also a great introduction to some of our ethnic neighborhoods, foods.
We’ve got my neighborhood is a good example out in Bay Ridge Brooklyn near the Verrazano Bridge where we’ve got local accommodations, but we’ve also got wonderful restaurants, legacy Italian restaurants and increasingly best Middle Eastern food in the city. So, it’s a good place.
LAMB: Another thing I’ve heard over the years is that a lot of people in business don’t want to come here with their conventions because of the unions and the what would be called featherbedding or people you know required you have to pay just to stand and watch you, in the case of the cable industry, pull cables you know even though you have your own cable pullers.
WYLDE: Well, this is great. You’re giving me an opportunity to talk about everything we’ve fixed in the last two decades because in fact New York had a terrible problem at our convention center in particular with featherbedding and corruption, which under Governor Pataki’s auspices, was really fixed. And I have this from firm authority from all sorts of folks that it’s an entirely different scene.
WYLDE: They came down like a ton of bricks on illegal activities and kickbacks and practices that were had been going on for a very long time and cleaned it up and basically said, ”We have to fix this for the good of our economy,” and got it done. The and we now have, both at the state level and at the city level, we have a convention and tourism bureau called New York City and Company that’s just doing a terrific job of both attracting and marketing, but also keeping an eye on what’s going on here and making sure that, for example, the cabs that bring tourists in from the airport, they used that used to be a real scam where they were overcharging, taking circuitous routes.
That stuff has really been cleaned up. There’s strong enforcement, there’s a lot of attention paid. We have, again, under the Bloomberg administration, tourism industry has really reached a whole different level. We are the number one tourism destination in the country. We surpassed Orlando. And we want to we want to keep it that way.
LAMB: So, you visited the mayor, you visited the governor, now you go to the President or the Congress. And, again, what would you tell them you don’t want as much as what you do want?
WYLDE: Well, in this case, there is a long wish list when we get to Washington. What we would love to see from Washington is immigration reform, something that allows this country to operate on a much more market-driven approach to immigration. We have a very difficult time getting appropriate and timely visas and green cards. We are sending graduates of our great universities that we have trained and prepared to make great discoveries and do great things we’re sending them back to their countries for lack of a green card.
We’re not we’re not as open as we were, and part of that is post-9/11. But in general, we think that our society and our future economic growth depends on a rational immigration policy and also on dealing once and for all with the problem of the people who are here illegally to find a path to citizenship for them and for their kids to be able to get an education. We’ve got 12 - 13 million people that we’ve labeled undocumented and illegal who are here, who have jobs here, who are only here because there is work for them and that their role is important here. So, we’ve got to figure out how to fix that and of course looking forward we want to make sure that we get more control over immigration.
So, it’s a tough battle, but I think that from the standpoint of this country’s future, I think 40 percent of New Yorkers are foreign-born. That is our feeder system, that’s our source of talent, and it is for this country and always has been. So, we think that that’s a big problem that has to be solved.
LAMB: What’s a rational immigration policy?
WYLDE: Rational is one that reflects economic reality, where it’s not emotion, it’s not driven by ideology. It really is practical. The problem of people who are here, it shouldn’t be an emotional amnesty issue. It should be you can’t just throw 13 million people out. We’ve got to figure out a practical solution. We’ve got to figure out a practical solution to borders. We’ve got to make sure to sealing our borders for future illegal immigration so we can this problem just doesn’t totally explode. We’ve got to figure out a way to make sure that skills needs are adopted, and as I say, to keep top talent here and not and not send them packing.
LAMB: If somebody comes to New York City and they’re not legal, what do they have access to? And what I’m getting at is they can they go to school? Do they have access to Medicaid I mean yes, Medicaid and all the social contract things?
WYLDE: Not all. Not all, but definitely they can go they can go to school and they’re and New York City has does not go after them and tries to bring them in. But, no, technically they’re not eligible for technically for Medicaid, but they can go to our public hospitals and get service or to any hospital and get service.
LAMB: You said, first of all, a ”rational” immigration policy, and then you said ”practical” immigration policy.
WYLDE: Well, in my mind, they’re the same thing, no?
LAMB: Well, what I my next question was, ”Give us a specific. Does it really add up to amnesty?”
WYLDE: For people that are
LAMB: Already here?
working, who are already here, who are productive citizens, who have not committed a crime, who are willing to learn English, I would not say I would not call it ”amnesty.” I would call it ”earned citizenship,” but I think that’s the option for those who have who are contributing to our society in a positive way, absolutely.
LAMB: What about if you’re coming here illegally after this whatever is decided, what then would be your remedy?
WYLDE: Well, clearly if you intervene early, it’s a lot easier to deal with on a case-by-case basis, so that will have to be a system for quickly identifying people who are coming here.
LAMB: What if they don’t?
WYLDE: If they don’t, I have to leave that to debate in Congress I guess.
LAMB: Because, as you know, you came from Wisconsin. There are a lot of people outside of this area where there aren’t 40 percent people born in other countries who live there who say, ”We don’t want amnesty. We don’t want to pay for people coming here from other lands that aren’t doing it legally.” And the issue becomes really strong people on both sides.
WYLDE: It does, although I’ve found that people across the country we have a network of business associations around the country and when we talk to our colleagues in Colorado or Minnesota, they all recognize how broken our immigration policy is and that we’ve got to figure out a better way to handle it. If you I was up in Quebec recently visiting with some of their officials, and they have a they Canada has a much more practical approach to immigration than we do where they’re bringing in people who are needed for their economy and they don’t keep them out. They welcome them.
And that’s the way we functioned in the past and I think that based on the needs of our economy and the globalization of the economy, we’ve got to keep doing that. I talk to small businesses that would like to go global. They need somebody who speaks languages, who knows the culture, who can market for them. They can’t get visas to bring them in, they can’t get visas to send them out. It’s very difficult.
Similarly, countries that are looking to invest and create jobs here many of them have a terrible time getting visas to come over. Something like a third of the applications for visas are people coming over from China to invest and create jobs in our country are turned down just not able to get through our immigration process. So, it’s broken in lots of ways. The hot button issue is the amnesty issue, but there are many other parts of the policy that are a huge problem for our economy.
LAMB: So, you’ve been over 30 years with the Partnership for New York City.
WYLDE: I guess so.
LAMB: And that you told us earlier you have about 50 people. What’s what kind of money do you have to raise every year? And I know you’re involved in other associations that have to raise money, too.
WYLDE: Yes. Well, our annual budget is about $12 million a year.
LAMB: And what do you spend that on?
WYLDE: Mostly people.
LAMB: And do you lobby yourself?
WYLDE: I do.
LAMB: Do you have to register as a lobbyist?
WYLDE: I’m a registered well, not in Washington. I’m state and city.
LAMB: What’s the hardest part of your job?
WYLDE: The hardest part? I guess the hardest part is wanting to get more done and having to limit in my job, because I work with people who are well known as top international business leaders and because I’m accessible to people who have needs, who have concerns, who want a job for their kids, I get calls from all sorts of people looking for help, for access to what they perceive as opportunities. And it’s just impossible to respond to all those requests. And so, I guess that’s my biggest I like that least about my job is that I have to say ”no” to people.
LAMB: Go back to that quote I used earlier. ”It’s not an easy time to defend the rich.” Obviously a lot of the people that are on your board are rich. If you were in a closed room and they asked you what advice you have to rich people as they relate to the rest of this country, what advice would you give them?
WYLDE: Well, I guess I really consider David Rockefeller a model. I used to take David Rockefeller out to visit the neighborhoods, see the houses that had been built under the program that he established financed. And I would introduce him to people in the community, people who had bought the homes, local tenants, and there was no one that he couldn’t talk to in a natural, easy way because he didn’t see himself as separated by wealth or fame or his role in society.
So, I guess I think I think that model, and that tends to be the way many of the people that get involved with an organization like ours are, they are really interested in people. They don’t see themselves as separate. They see themselves as part of a community and they’re probably unusually driven by the desire to be successful. A lot of Type A personalities, but they don’t see that as making them any better than anybody else.
And so I think it’s to get out and meet diverse people and make sure they understand that I mean what’s great about America is and I see this in contrast to some of the European societies, we are not a class-driven society. And the people I work with, regardless of their wealth, tend to be very down-to-earth, interested, committed people who care deeply about the issues facing Americans and facing the world. And our but I think we tend to get so busy and into strata, where we’re not out there enough relating.
What I love about my job is, yes, I can have access to some of the wealthiest and most successful people in society, but I also am very much a part of the all aspects of our community and also have the opportunity to be constantly in touch with young people coming up, with low-income people and entrepreneurs who are struggling to make it in New York, and so I’ve got I think that we should all those of us who live in New York have the great advantage of being able to cut through it all and see every sector of our society, and that’s what I think they should do.
LAMB: Kathryn Wylde, President and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for New York City, thank you very much joining us.
WYLDE: Thank you, Brian.