For generations, Geraldo Rivera has been one of the most recognizable television journalists and talk show hosts in America. The host of the show Geraldo at Large and a regular contributor to the Fox News Channel, recently Rivera’s radio program on WABC shifted to a locally focused format centering on the New York area.
City & State Editor Morgan Pehme spoke with the Peabody-award winning journalist about Bill de Blasio, the rise of Latino political power, the DREAM Act, and the run for mayor of New York City that Rivera himself once contemplated.
The following is the edited transcript of the above video interview that appeared in the Feb. 10 print edition of City & State. The above video contains several more exchanges, and longer, more in-depth answers to some of the questions below.
City & State: You are back doing a locally focused radio show at WABC. How are you enjoying covering New York City and New York State politics again?
Geraldo Rivera: This is where I cut my bones: WABC. I started here on Labor Day, the first week of September, 1970. I enjoy it! It’s dynamic. New York is the star of the show, and I think there is a huge appetite for New York news, not just in the tri-state area, but all around the world.
C&S: What are the stories and the dynamics that are of interest to you right now in New York politics?
GR: I started [in] Brooklyn Law School, New York County District Attorney’s office, legal services attorney at 116th Street and 8th Avenue. I’ve seen the entire arc of civility in New York City, starting in a period where the graffiti artists and the squeegee men and the dope addicts took a town that was wonderful and were a cancer that really dragged it down. So what happened? Dinkins started it when he had Bratton, and then you bring in Giuliani and Giuliani Time and all that, and stop-and-frisk begins, then Bloomberg takes it. You have 20 years of a kind of very aggressive policing in this city. Civility returns, the city gets a real gleam again, it attracts people from all around the world again. I am extremely concerned as we shift now from a Republican generation to Bill de Blasio—God bless him—a progressive liberal, easing stop-and-frisk. I’m watching like a hawk to make sure that we don’t start going back to those bad old days.
C&S: You have written a great deal about Hispanics in the United States. It has been said about the most recent city election that it marked a rise in the Latino community’s power in New York, particularly with the election of Melissa Mark-Viverito as Council Speaker. Do you that that observation is accurate?
GR: The Latino community is huge, vast and growing exponentially, but if you go to my old haunt—I was discovered at 111th Street and Lexington Avenue—when I was working as a lawyer for the Young Lords, up there Puerto Ricans were the only Latinos, but now Puerto Ricans are in the minority. There’s Mexicans owning the shops. Dominicans are a huge force now, particularly in Washington Heights, which has experienced a gigantic, incredible Renaissance because of the energy and the entrepreneurial spirit of the Dominicans on the far Upper West Side. So you’ve got various interests. I’m curious to see how it works out. The Central Americans, the Mexicans, the Dominicans, and the old standbys, the Puerto Ricans, because I’m watching a lot of Puerto Ricans leaves the city for the suburbs, and that will be a fascinating dynamic to see how the Latino community sorts itself out. But I guarantee you, you will have a more bilingual city—there’s no doubt about that—you’re going to have a power shift. I think that African American politicians are going to see a slight diminution in their power. Latinos will be ascendant. That’s all a function of demographics; it’s just the natural evolution.
C&S: One of the top priorities for Latino legislators in New York State is the passage of the DREAM Act. Are you in support of that effort?
GR: I go way beyond the DREAM Act. I believe in immigrant vigor. I believe [we have] an immigration system that was fundamentally flawed in terms of its construct in the 19th Century, in terms of the relationship between the United States and Latin America. The people who were here are part of an ebb and flow of humanity that has been happening for generations. This crackdown on immigrants that happens periodically—it happened following World War I, it happened following World War II—it has a malignancy to it that I do not like. Most of the immigrants who are here without documentation are hardworking, otherwise law-abiding people. Their children who they brought here very young should certainly be the first priority. Let’s give them a path to citizenship immediately, but I want their families also to be included.
C&S: Do you think we will see substantive immigration reform under the Obama administration?
GR: Yeah. If we don’t see it nationally, we’ll see it locally, state by state. The President now is hobbled. I don’t know what the President is going to be able to do that the Republicans don’t want to do. But as a Republican, let me say, without a doubt, without debate, if the GOP leaders insist on this harsh, draconian, anti-immigrant policy then you will never have another Republican in the White House. Period. You must understand that the country has changed demographically in a very fundamental way. You have to embrace the future. If you’re a member of the Republican Party, you have to help this hobbled, weakened president out, [and] make [immigration reform] the one thing you guys can do together.
C&S: You contemplated running for the vacant U.S. Senate seat last year in New Jersey. Do you regret not having jumped into the fray, and do you think you’ll ever be a candidate?
GR: In 2000, when I was a New York resident the last time, I wanted to run for mayor, and I went so far as to poll. And I polled about the same as a guy from Boston named Michael Bloomberg, but I heard he was going to spend $50 million. I could raise around $5 million. That’s why I didn’t run for mayor in 2000. It’s the same thing [with the race] against Cory Booker, who was the darling of the liberal media, who was everywhere. There was a steep climb, and I knew I had to raise a lot of money and spend most of my personal wealth on it, and then I heard that [Steve] Lonegan, the mayor of Bogota, was going to have $5 million from the Koch brothers [and] Tea Party support. And I said even getting the nomination is going to be too bloody and then even if I did get it how would I ever afford to run against Cory Booker? So the answer to your question is no, I do not regret not running. I’m glad I didn’t. I think I can do more, especially here [at WABC]. We have hundreds of thousands of people listening at any given minute. Let’s see if we can affect city and state and regional politics from this perch.
Tags: Bill Bratton, Bill De Blasio, Chris Christie, Cory Booker, Donald Trump, Dream Act, Geraldo at Large, Geraldo Rivera, Michael Bloomberg, Morgan Pehme, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Lonegan, stop and frisk, WABC