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Mayor Mike: Messing With The Times at His Peril

May 6, 2013

Years ago, an old Jewish defense attorney offered a cynical lesson in criminal procedure.“When you got nothing,” he said, “cry anti-Semitism.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently tried out his own version of this.

With the NYPD’s signature Stop and Frisk policy crumbling before his eyes, Bloomberg appeared last week before the department’s top brass at Police Plaza and cried, “The New York Times.”

Mayor Mike was obviously feeling bereft. As a class-action lawsuit plays out in federal court, former allies are questioning the effectiveness — to say nothing of the constitutionality — of Stop and Frisk, which Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly maintain has reduced the number of guns on the streets and led to the city’s record-low crime rates.

So Bloomberg took a drastic step.

Unlike his predecessor Rudy Giuliani, who micromanaged the NYPD from City Hall, Bloomberg, for perhaps the first time in his 12-year mayoralty, took center stage from Kelly, and personally made a major police pronouncement.

Sounding just like Rudy, he spoke in apocalyptic terms, playing on New Yorkers’ two primal fears: street crime and terrorism.

"The NYPD is under attack," said the mayor. "Stop playing politics with public safety. Look at what's happened in Boston. Remember what happened here on 9/11.”

Then he lit into The Times.

Specifically, he accused the paper of publishing an editorial attacking Stop and Frisk — which, since Kelly’s return as police commissioner in 2002, has resulted in five million stops of mostly black and Hispanic young men, most of whom committed no crime — while pointing out that The Times had ignored the murder of a black teenager four days earlier.

“There was not a mention of his murder in … our paper of record, The New York Times. 'All the news that's fit to print' did not include the murder of 17-year-old Alphonzo Bryant,” said Bloomberg, misstating the teenager’s first name, which is Alphonza . “Do you think that, if a white 17-year-old prep student from Manhattan had been murdered, the Times would have ignored it? Me neither."

Although Bloomberg owns a media empire, he’s not very media savvy.

If he were, he’d know better than to mess like this with The Times. You do that at your peril.

Especially since, after years of pastry-puff coverage of Kelly, The Times has taken a hard corrective turn.

So how did the Times react to Bloomberg’s Police Plaza cry?

Two days later, it published a letter from Norman Siegel and Ira Glasser, former heads of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which Bloomberg had also attacked at Police Plaza.

“During Mr. Bloomberg’s 11-plus years in office,” the letter began, “the New York Police Department has engaged in millions of frisks but has turned up a tiny number of guns. In 2011, of the 380,000 frisks conducted, the police found 780 guns, a hit rate of less than one-quarter of 1 percent. And this same, vanishingly small rate of success has been true for many years.”

The letter concluded:“The mayor undermines his other work to reduce gun violence when he engages in such demagogy and pretends against all the evidence that his stop-and-frisk program has something to do with reducing such violence.“

The next day, The Times did run a story on Alphonza Bryant.

But it only mentioned his murder in passing. Rather, the story was about Stop and Frisk. It cited an essay by Bryant’s mother, published in the Daily News the day before, which described how earlier this year her son had been stopped, frisked and cursed at by police.

The Times headlined the story: “Grieving Mother Tells of Her Son’s Unpleasant Police Stop.”

Then, last Saturday, The Times let loose on Bloomberg in an editorial.

“Mayor Bloomberg trotted out shopworn, discredited arguments this week while defending the constitutionally suspect police program under which hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers have been detained and questioned on the streets every year,” it began.

“Mr. Bloomberg’s suggestion that the program has been responsible for historic drops in crime is also implausible. Crime has declined all over the country, including in places that have not used New York’s aggressively invasive techniques. Besides, if crime rates and street stops had a strong correlation, the murder rate would have gone up in 2012, when stops declined by about 20 percent. In fact, the murder rate fell in 2012 to an all-time low. “

Pretty harsh stuff. But then,The Times has only itself to blame for Bloomberg’s still being mayor.

Remember back in 2008 when Bloomberg was casting about for something to do with the rest of his life after just about everyone rejected him as a possible presidential and vice presidential candidate?

Instead, he decided his best option might be to continue as mayor for a third term.

To gather support for overturning the city’s recently passed two-term limit law — which, when he first ran for mayor in 2001, he had supported as someone who stood above politics — Bloomberg shopped himself around to the owners of city’s three daily newspapers.

The News’s Mortimer Zuckerman and the Post’s Mr. Rupert Murdoch — who continue to support Stop and Frisk as well as the NYPD’s pervasive spying on Muslims to prevent terrorism — were only too happy to oblige him.

To the surprise of many, so was Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher whose family owns The Times.

With their backing, Bloomberg accomplished something not even Giuliani, at the height of his popularity after 9/11, was able to when he sought to extend his term as mayor for three months. Bloomberg pulled off another full term.

Just think. What might have happened if The Times had not gone along with Bloomberg in 2008?

Just think how happy everyone could have been.

Bloomberg could have left office as a man above politics.

Kelly could have left office as perhaps the greatest police commissioner the history of New York City.

Under a new administration, Stop and Frisk would have probably been cut back to constitutional levels.

And Bloomberg would not be sounding like Rudy Giuliani.

Edited by Donald Forst

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Copyright © 2013 Leonard Levitt