De Blasio: "We have a democracy problem in this country"

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio backed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on voting rights, encouraging her Republican opponents to engage her ideas to expand access to the polls.

During a speech last week, Clinton criticized several Republican governors by name for seeking to depress turnout among young and minority voters as she called for a sweeping expansion of early voting rules and automatic voter registration at age 18. One of those governors, Chris Christie of New Jersey, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday that Clinton "doesn't know what she's talking about."

"I think what Governor Christie is saying distracts from the core point of the dialogue we have to have," de Blasio said in a separate interview. "We have a democracy problem in this country. We have declining voter turnout. Secretary Clinton put forward a notion we need a national strategy to energize voting again, to get people involved. Obviously, to address the many efforts made by Republicans to repress voter involvement. And I think Governor Christie should speak to the proposal rather than just attacking her personally."

Host John Dickerson asked de Blasio whether Clinton's message was undermined by the fact that New York City which has Democratic leadership, also has very restrictive voting rules. De Blasio said that wasn't the case.

"I think she's saying the right thing because she's talking about a national vision," he said. "But I don't think New York City and New York state are doing well enough either. Our elections are governed by state law and for a long time I've believed we need to make a fundamental series of reforms. Let's face it, a lot of the people in the political class have tried to discourage voter involvement and a lot of incumbents prefer a very small electorate."

De Blasio is one of the Democrats who is pushing his party's presidential candidates to stake out progressive positions on several national issues. The 13-point progressive plan he unveiled recently calls for an increase in the minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour nationally, paid sick leave and families, and increasing taxes on the wealthy, among other things.

He won't say whether there is one candidate who best exemplifies these issues.

"Each of the candidates is beginning to address these issues. I'm waiting to hear a fuller vision from each on how we'll actually tackle income inequality," de Blasio said.

He said it's cynical for pollsters to argue that many people think the term "income inequality" means their taxes will go up. He pointed to a recent CBS News poll in which two-thirds of Americans said that money and wealth should be distributed more evenly in the United States.

"I think what's happening is some of the inside-the-Beltway thinking is they don't like the sound of that word but in fact it gets to the heart of the matter," he said. "Right now, our economic system is not serving a huge percentage of our people. We should be blunt about it. We should be blunt about the fact that we have the greatest income disparity since before the Great Depression."

Addressing the ongoing terror threats that New York City faces, de Blasio said the authorities are "constantly vigilant" with over 1,000 New York City Police Department officers focusing on anti-terror activities and a partnership with the FBI.

"We know that's the reality that we're going to be in that constant state of vigilance for a long time," he said. "Our job is to see the warning signs early, particularly that involves either radicalization or mental health problems, and intervene early. And I think more and more we're figuring out how to do that well."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.