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Garry McCarthy and Newark's Learning Curve

September 25, 2006

Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker may be a Rhodes Scholar but he has something to learn about appointing a police director — esp ecially when he comes from the NYPD. Check behind the man’s resume.

Newark’s city council — which must confirm Booker’s appointee, the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Garry McCarthy — also has something to learn.

Last week, the council approved $157, 369 from a non-profit group to pay the consulting firm of former NYPD commissioner Howard Safir. First, is it coincidence that Safir promoted McCarthy from the mid-level command position of inspector to the exalted title of deputy commissioner?

Second, Safir — whose firm is to aid the Newark police department in a city that is largely black — was the NYPD’s commissioner in 1999 when four white cops fired 41 bullets at the unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo. The shooting provoked month-long demonstrations outside One Police Plaza and left a reservoir of ill-will in the city’s minority communities.

Third, emblematic of his general insensitivity to any police issue other than reducing crime, Safir pleaded a “scheduling conflict” to avoid testifying at a city council hearing about the shooting. Some conflict. The night before the hearing, he was spotted on national television at the Oscars in Hollywood.

McCarthy, too, has something to learn — about knowing when to hold’ em and when to fold ‘em.

No, we’re not suggesting he withdraw as police director, a job for which he still appears to have a fighting chance. Nor are we referring to his arrest in February, 2005, by the Palisades Interstate Parkway police following his actions one can view as either aberrational or illustrative of his character.

Rather it’s what he did after his arrest; his decision to fight the charges rather than walk away as Chief of Department Joe Esposito advised him when McCarthy telephoned Espo after he’d been hand-cuffed and disarmed, for raising hell with the two arresting Palisades officers after one of them issued his daughter Kyla a parking ticket.

Instead of walking away — Take the ticket and get out of there as quickly as you can, wise old Joe told him — McCarthy tried to tough it out.

“Not guilty,” he, Kyla and his wife Regina [who was charged with excessive noise] belted out together in their first appearance at the Palisades Parkway traffic court. He and Regina subsequently appeared in court a half-dozen times, their antics reported in this column in delicious detail.

In finding McCarthy guilty of a minor traffic violation, the judge, Stephen Zaben, cited the fact that McCarthy had been drinking before the incident; noted that if McCarthy believed the cop who had ticketed Kyla to be an imposter as McCarthy claimed in his testimony, McCarthy should have contacted the Palisades Parkway police supervising officer before confronting the cop; stated that McCarthy, rather than the two arresting Palisades cops, had been the aggressor; and criticized Regina for grabbing her husband’s gun back from the two Palisades cops who had confiscated it.

Then, McCarthy insisted on appealing. Last week, Patrick Roma, a New Jersey Appellate Judge, affirmed Zaben’s guilty verdict, adding that McCarthy had “thrown his weight around” and used “extraordinarily poor judgment.”

And in words that may return to haunt him, he was quoted in the Newark Star Ledger — which has already questioned his appointment — saying that that the lesson he had learned about his arrest was “how not to run a police agency” — specifically, “poor candidate screening, an absolute lack of supervision, no discipline and poor policies within that agency.”

Actually, some of those criticisms could apply to the NYPD in McCarthy’s case.

Note that at the time of his arrest, Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne stated that McCarthy’s actions did not rise “to the level of discipline.”

Last week, however, in the best protect-the commissioner’s-image mode, The Vicar Browne told the Daily News that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had put a letter of reprimand in McCarthy’s file, although Browne refused to reveal exactly when Kelly had done this nor exactly for what McCarthy was reprimanded.

The Vicar’s gambit is reminiscent of Safir’s claim in 2000 that he had placed “letters of instruction” in the personnel files of Chiefs Nick Estavillo and Alan Hoehl, following the wolf-pack attacks of women at that year’s Puerto Rican Day parade.

It turned out there is no such thing in the NYPD as a letter of instruction. It was merely a ploy to make people think Safir had done something when he hadn’t.

Mike and Bill. So what, if anything, are we to make of Bill Bratton’s giving a presidential endorsement kiss to Mayor Mike Bloomberg when Bloomberg visited Los Angeles last week? Not only did Bratton say Bloomberg would make a top candidate, he said he’d vote for him.

Can Bratton’s kiss be seen as a dis at undeclared presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani, who fired Bratton in 1996?

Can it be seen as undercutting Bloomberg’s greatest beneficiary in all law enforcement, Ray Kelly? Kelly has still not forgiven Bratton for taking his job as police commissioner in 1994 after Giuliani fired him. Earlier this month, Kelly pulled out of the Manhattan Institute’s national terrorism conference at the Roosevelt Hotel and held his own at One Police Plaza. Though no one has given an official reason for Kelly’s withdrawal, those in the know say Kelly refused to share the limelight with Bratton.

Or can Bratton’s kiss be seen as a sign that he may be open to returning to New York, perhaps to succeed Kelly as police commissioner, perhaps to run against Kelly for mayor?

As Bratton’s former aide de camp, the late Jack Maple, might have said of these speculations: “How scrumptious!”

Boob of the Month Award. To Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin, who in criticizing Venezuelan jefe Hugo Chavez’s personal attacks on President George Bush praised the normally sane Ed Koch for saying that while disagreement with Bush is acceptable, “when you demean the President you are aiding the enemy.”

OK, Mike, explain this: Our President tells us we must invade Iraq because of Saddam’s ties to 9/11. It turns out there are no ties.

Our President then tells us we must invade Iraq because Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. There are no weapons of mass destruction.

After the invasion, our President appears in a military jump suit and issues the statement, “Mission Accomplished.”

So did Bush lie to the American people? Or was he just stupid? How do you ask these questions without demeaning him?

And one more thing. When a journalist agrees that demeaning the president only aids the enemy, he ought to think about going into another business.

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Copyright © 2006 Leonard Levitt