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The Bridge Builder

January 5, 2015

Just a couple of months ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, supposedly told him, referring to NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton: “I told you we can’t trust him.”

But since the assassinations of police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu last month, de Blasio has wrapped his arms around Bratton’s neck as a life-preserver.

Since the cops’ assassinations — presumably by a deranged Baltimore black man who cited the police chokehold killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island before killing them — de Blasio won’t go anywhere near police without Bratton at his side.

Whether it’s visiting the families of the slain officers, attending their funerals or presiding at police-related news conferences, Bratton is always with him.

The mayor also had Bratton with him at a recent sit-down with the five police unions, some of whose heads — notably Pat Lynch of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association — have said de Blasio would not be welcome at police funerals.

Make no mistake: This is no love match between the mayor and his police commissioner. Theirs is a marriage of convenience.

Depending on your viewpoint, Bratton has either staked out or been thrust into the position of conciliator between the mayor and the cops.

“Bratton has always been a consensus-building guy in the middle to bring both parties together,” says Lynch’s spokesman, Al O’Leary, who served as Bratton’s spokesman at the Transit Police in the 1990s before Bratton headed the NYPD under Rudy Giuliani.

Even while urging cops not to turn their backs on the mayor at Liu’s funeral yesterday [They did it anyway.] — a move that had been sanctioned, if not encouraged, by Lynch — Bratton sounded conciliatory.

“I issue no mandates, and I make no threats of discipline, but I remind you that when you don the uniform of this department you are bound by the tradition, honor and decency that go with it,” Bratton wrote in a department memo two days before the funeral.

Indeed, Bratton will probably be spending the next few months conducting shuttle diplomacy between the mayor and Lynch, who appears to be leading an unofficial post-assassination work slowdown — a move that, if continued, will gain him nothing but public reproach and opprobrium.

So what now? On police matters, de Blasio is paralyzed. Worse, he doesn’t get it about the police department. In his eulogy for Liu, the mayor spoke of the city’s divisions. Yet again, he didn’t acknowledge he may have contributed to that divide.

Speaking words of support for the police may sound good to some but to much of the department, de Blasio sounds like a hypocrite.

As the mediator between the mayor and the cops, Bratton apparently has freedom that few, if any, police commissioners do: the freedom to publicly knock his boss.

Perhaps to defuse some of the police anger — and even perhaps his own — Bratton has criticized two of de Blasio’s more controversial moves: his public embrace of Al Sharpton at City Hall last summer following Garner’s death, and his allowing demonstrators protesting the non-indictment in the Garner case free rein across the city.

Before demonstrators began protesting, Bratton had announced that the protesters wouldn’t be allowed to take over the city's roadways or the Brooklyn Bridge. Instead, protesters did just that.

The end result: the beating of two police officers on the Brooklyn Bridge by seven protesters, a beating initially described by de Blasio’s press office as an “alleged” attack.

“It’s quite obvious that the targeting of these two police officers was a direct spin-off of the issues of these demonstrations,” Bratton said recently on the “Today” show.

When asked by host Matt Lauer if the mayor has lost the “trust and confidence of the police force,” some of whom literally turned their backs on de Blasio at funeral services for both slain officers, Bratton said, “I think he’s lost it with some officers.”

Turning their backs on the mayor, Bratton said, was “reflective of the anger of some of them.”

Those were telling remarks from a police commissioner about his boss on national television. Had Bratton done that under Giuliani, he’d have been fired.

Nonetheless, his criticisms were “classic” Bratton, said a supporter who is involved in police affairs in the city. “He’s not angling for anything. He can’t help himself.”

Perhaps he’ll end up on the cover of Time magazine in 2015 as he did in 1996, which led Giuliani to fire him.

Who knows? Maybe Time will credit him, not de Blasio, for healing the rift between Police Plaza and City Hall — or at least keeping it from widening.

If that occurs, de Blasio won’t be able to do a thing about it.

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Copyright © 2015 Leonard Levitt