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End of the Line for Walzak
September 16, 2019
So NYPD spokesman Phillip Walzak is resigning.
In his relatively brief 18-month tenure, the former campaign manager, senior adviser and press secretary for Mayor Bill de Blasio was mostly invisible and at best ineffectual. And that's being kind.
Many at the highest levels of the department, which over the past 40 years has prided itself as appearing largely free of politics, viewed him as a political operative for the mayor.
As a result, top department officials often kept him out of the loop. Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea cut him out of information regarding criminal investigations. When, at a recent news conference, Police Commissioner Jim O’Neill announced he was firing Officer Daniel Pantaleo over the “chokehold” death of Eric Garner — the NYPD’s most high-profile case of the past five years — Walzak was on vacation. He did not respond to questions from NYPD Confidential.
Distrusted as Walzak was as a spokesman, his departure is bad news for O’Neill. He doesn’t travel in circles that might familiarize him with a possible successor. That means that, as did Walzak, he or she will probably come from City Hall.
After O’Neill’s Pantaleo debacle — when Chief of Department Terence Monahan promised PBA President Pat Lynch and Pantaleo’s attorney Stuart London that O’Neill would allow Pantaleo to resign, thus saving his pension, only to have O’Neill change his mind and fire him, apparently under pressure from the mayor — another spokesperson from City Hall will further the perception that City Hall, not O’Neill, is running the department.
The question is, who will succeed Walzak? The job must be filled quickly because the NYPD is too important an agency to be without a permanent spokesperson. Talk at Police Plaza is that Devora Kaye, a young Walzak deputy, also from City Hall, will serve in an acting role after he departs later this month. While Kaye is smart and hardworking, she is a thirty-something female with virtually no previous law enforcement experience in a still macho department where few women are in top decision-making positions. She did not return a call.
Of course, being a thirty-something female lacking law enforcement experience is in itself not necessarily a disqualification. Alice McGillion, perhaps the department’s most successful spokesperson of the past 40 years, was also thirty something and lacked law enforcement experience when Mayor Ed Koch selected her as the department’s spokesperson. Over a decade, she served three police commissioners, rising to First Deputy Commissioner, the first and only woman to hold that position.
On the other hand, McGillion came from a police family where a relative had been killed in the line of duty so that she had an understanding and appreciation of what cops face. Kaye’s previous job was as communications director of the Dept. of Education under the controversial chancellor Richard Carranza.
Actually, the NYPD has an in-house candidate who just might be able to resurrect the department’s failing leadership. He is John Miller, currently the Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism, who previously served as the FBI’s primary spokesman, and before that as Bill Bratton’s spokesman during his first run as commissioner under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Miller was so effective in boosting Bratton’s profile at the expense of Giuliani’s that Giuliani ordered his firing. A year later, he fired Bratton.
Whether Miller would consider jumping from Counterterrorism back to a job he already had is problematic. He seems to be thriving while chasing terrorists.
Copyright © 2019 Leonard Levitt