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The Real De Blasio?

October 17, 2016

Who is the real Mayor Bill de Blasio? Is he the shambling, ever-smiling, well-meaning mayor who hasn’t yet learned to tie his shoelaces so that he stumbles from crisis to crisis? Or is he a shrewd and cynical politician who believes he can bedazzle ignorant New Yorkers with rhetoric?

Take his last week’s press release, hailing “transparency,” and pledging to amend Section 50-a of New York’s Civil Rights Law to make disciplinary information about police officers subject to disclosure.

The release went on for pages and pages, and included statements of support from Police Commissioner James O’Neill; mayoral counsel Anthony Carter; CCRB chair Maya Wiley; Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams; five state assemblymen; a state senator; three city councilmen; two reverends; the president of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association and even the Rev. Al Sharpton, who stated: “50-a has represented the denial of justice for forty years in New York State. Mayor de Blasio’s core principles of reform bring the law into the 21st century by posting critical disciplinary information about uniformed officers online.”

There was only one problem — which, needless to say, did not appear in the mayor’s press release: that the de Blasio administration created the problem.

It began with a lawsuit involving perhaps the most racially pernicious issue of his mayoralty — the still unresolved “chokehold” death of Eric Garner in Staten Island in 2014 by police officer Daniel Pantaleo. When Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Alice Schlesinger ruled the CCRB must produce the number of Pantaleo’s substantiated complaints and its specific disciplinary recommendations, the de Blasio administration appealed her decision. So much for transparency.

Meanwhile, a month or two ago, the NYPD’s well-respected Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters Larry Byrne had a eureka moment. He claimed to have discovered that the NYPD, which for the past four decades had released the disciplinary records of cops through its personnel orders, was actually prohibited from doing so because of Section 50-a. For the past four decades, he maintained, the NYPD had misinterpreted the law.

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialFormer police commissioner Bill Bratton could have overruled Byrne, saying his interpretation was incorrect, and continued to release the personnel orders. Instead, he went along with Byrne.

Mayor de Blasio could have overruled Bratton and ordered the department to continue to release the personnel orders. Instead, he went along with Bratton.

Jimmy O’Neill, who in his few weeks as police commissioner has shown himself as sensitive to minority concerns, could also have overruled Byrne. But O’Neill has also shown himself as intelligent enough not to attempt to overrule his boss, the mayor.

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittIt was left to one of the city’s small reform groups, “Communities United for Police Reform,” to call the mayor out.

The de Blasio press release, the group stated in its own press release, “fails to address the fundamental fact that this administration is responsible for creating new problems of reduced transparency, not the state law.

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD Confidential“It has taken a more conservative approach to 50-a than any prior administration, and proactively taken steps within that conservative frame to conceal information despite being under no legal threat.

“While we … believe state law needs to be changed, there is also strong agreement — backed by law and history — that this administration has misused 50-a to shroud information from the public.”

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Copyright © 2016 Leonard Levitt