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Bill Bratton: The Successor Conundrum

August 1, 2016

What’s Mayor Bill de Blasio going to do about a successor to Bill Bratton, now that the NYPD commissioner has reiterated that he plans not to remain beyond 2017? Police sources say he may leave before then.

Twenty years ago under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Bratton issued a similar announcement stunt. During an in-house news conference, he said he would leave for a million-dollar offer in the private sector. Giuliani — who was feuding with him over who deserved credit for the city’s dramatic crime declines — fired him first.

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialIn repeating his intent to leave last week, Bratton mentioned Chief of Department James O’Neill as a possible successor.

O’Neill, who is smart, dedicated and friendly with the mayor, may be the safe — and even the best — choice. But in our city of full-throttled racial grievance, there are other considerations. While de Blasio has graciously said Bratton can keep the job as long as he wants it, the mayor has options about a successor.

Mayor Ed Koch put it bluntly three decades ago when he was regularly booed at black churches and then selected Ben Ward as the city’s first African American NYPD commissioner, passing over the department’s dependable white Chief of Department Patrick J. Murphy. All things being equal, Koch said, he appointed Ward because he was black.

Today, with a tidal wave of anti-police sentiment sweeping the nation, de Blasio’s progressive supporters care little for Bratton. His signature broken-windows policy, which 20 years ago was heralded as a game-changer against crime, is now viewed as having led to thousands of young black men sent to prison.

Bratton also has been critical of Black Lives Matter, which the mayor and his wife, Chirlane McCray, have praised.

What better way to appeal to his base and assert his own independence than for the mayor to bypass O’Neill and appoint a person of color — say, First Deputy Ben Tucker who, although a figurehead, is black?

There’s also the outside option. First among equals would be Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who seems to have it all — black, respected and judging from his demeanor after the assassination of five Dallas police officers, sensitive both to the police and the black community. Whether Brown would want to come to NYC is a different matter.

But appointing someone outside the department has proven perilous. 

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittUnder Giuliani, Bratton had recommended that his then-first deputy, John Timoney, succeed him as commissioner. Instead, Giuliani appointed his chum, Howard Safir, who had been fire commissioner. Giuliani told Timoney he could remain as first deputy but when Timoney then called Safir a “lightweight,” Giuliani forced him out of the department.

Safir was seen as Giuliani’s water boy. For example, after the fatal police shooting of Amadou Diallo in the Bronx, Safir accepted Giuliani’s bull-headed refusal to conduct an internal investigation into the shooting.

A decade before Koch, Mayor John V. Lindsay, who didn’t trust the NYPD’s leadership, appointed Howard Leary of Philadelphia. When the Knapp Corruption scandal broke, he was forced to resign.

Mayor David Dinkins’s appointment of Lee Brown of Houston was even worse. Under him, leadership became so bifurcated that in the first days of the Crown Heights riots, no one knew who was in charge.

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD ConfidentialLong after the department’s internal affairs unit failed to nab crooked cop Mike Dowd and his five-man band of drug-dealing Brownsville officers, or spot the systemic drug-dealing by the one-third of the 30th precinct’s midnight tour, Brown was still calling the NYPD’s internal affairs unit the greatest in the country.

On the other hand, Bratton himself was an outsider and he did pretty well.

All this, of course, presupposes that de Blasio will be re-elected. Not by any means a sure thing with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara breathing down his neck.
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Copyright © 2016 Leonard Levitt