How voices were raised for Timoney
April 5, 1996
In the recent shakeup at One Police Plaza, tensions between Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and many in the Police Department run deep.
Many, it seems, believed Giuliani would demote First Deputy Commissioner John Timoney to captain after the popular police official made remarks critical of the mayor and his newly designated police commissioner, Howard Safir.
Top Police Department and union officials were so convinced Giuliani would retaliate against Timoney that Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Lou Matarazzo cautioned the mayor about unspecified trouble if he went ahead and demoted Timoney, police sources said.
Timoney, who was passed over for the commissioner's job after William Bratton announced his resignation late last month, was ordered out of Police Plaza by Giuliani after Timoney called Safir a "lightweight" and suggested that Giuliani needed psychiatric help. Timoney actually had put in his retirement shortly before Giuliani asked him to leave.
Since Matarazzo and the mayor no longer speak, what some term a "warning" was passed from Matarazzo to Giuliani through Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari. Although the mayor denied to Molinari that he ever contemplated demoting Timoney and repeated his denial publicly, many in the department still don't believe him.
Such a demotion would have cost Timoney approximately $19,000 a year in his pension. The first deputy's salary is $129,500, and that of a captain, $92,500. Pensions are calculated at one-half an officer's last year's salary, which means that Timoney's annual pension would have dropped from about $65,000 to $46,000.
The day after Timoney's critical remarks appeared in the Daily News, police officials say they learned that attorneys in the corporation counsel's office were examining the legality of a demotion for Timoney, and had concluded that although such a demotion had never been done before, the mayor could legally demote him and slash his income.
Then, something extraordinary happened.
So popular is Timoney within the department that Matarazzo and the heads of the other police unions warned of trouble if Giuliani demoted Timoney, police sources said.
Speaking for all those unions, Matarazzo expressed himself to Giuliani through Molinari, who has become an unofficial intermediary between the two since their longtime relationship went south two months ago when Giuliani threatened to implement one-man patrol cars.
"There was a great concern among all the police unions," said Molinari. "They reached out to contact me last Friday. I was on the road. It took them some time to get me that evening, and I reached the mayor somewhere around 11 that night."
Exactly what warning Matarazzo expressed through Molinari is unclear. A former top police official says Matarazzo threatened a 20,000-man march on City Hall. Another says he told Molinari that "the dogs would lie down," which, translated, apparently means a work slowdown.
Through a spokesman, Matarazzo denied making what could be construed as threats.
"Matarazzo says that he and the leaders of the other police unions expressed to Molinari their concerns about what they had heard about what . . . [City Hall] was thinking of doing to Timoney," said the spokesman, who asked not to be identified.
Or as Bill Kelly, head of the Captain's Endowment Association, put it, "There was an expression by Louie that we would like to see the commissioner [Timoney] retire with honor. You know, we'd heard alot of stuff. We were concerned that maybe someone was going to think about retribution."
Asked why the unions were going out on a limb for Timoney, a boss, a PBA spokesman said, "They think of Timoney as a cop."
Molinari said that the mayor "quickly reassured me there was no attempt on his part to demote Timoney, that that was just an unfounded rumor. I called back the PBA people that it was just a rumor and not going to happen and that was that."
"I don't believe I had anything to do with turning it around. I think the mayor is telling the truth. He didn't hesitate or anything when I asked him. I don't know where it all came from," said Molinari.
Giuliani press secretary Colleen Roche did not return a telephone call seeking comment from the mayor.
Email Leonard Levitt at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 1996 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.