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Chirlane McCray: Too Close for Comfort?
September 26, 2016
In what appears to be a first for the NYPD, a police commissioner was introduced at his swearing-in ceremony at Police Plaza by the mayor’s wife.
And a wife whom many in the police department distrust.
“I have come to know and admire” James O’Neill, said Chirlane McCray, referring to the new commissioner as “Jimmy,” before hugging and kissing him. She then cited “neighborhood policing,” a program O’Neill has initiated, through which, she said, residents would know local cops by name. McCray also spoke of “diversity,” which in the NYPD implies the inclusion of more females and minorities.
Her introduction of O’Neill before Mayor Bill de Blasio formally swore him in last week suggests McCray may have influence over police matters. That would upset many in the NYPD who remain wary of the mayor, his allies, his policies, and his wife.
Rumors persist that McCray opposed William Bratton as commissioner, favoring instead a black commissioner. Philip Banks, the department’s highest-ranking black officer, resigned unexpectedly in late 2014, claiming Bratton had curtailed his authority. McCray was quoted by an anonymous source in the New York Post as telling the mayor of Bratton, “I told you we couldn’t trust him.”
Already there are rumblings at Police Plaza that McCray had a hand in O’Neill’s first round of promotions. Police sources say that, together with O’Neill’s selection of another Irishman, Terence Monahan, as chief of patrol, he also appointed the first black female borough commander, Juanita Holmes, and the first female chief of personnel, Diana Pizzuti.
Two other black female chiefs, Assistant Chief Kim Royster and Deputy Chief Kristel Johnson, were reportedly considered for promotions but were passed over because they have been in their current positions for only a year. Royster was the officer de Blasio telephoned to effect the release of a political supporter who’d been arrested and held in jail for two outstanding warrants. Johnson had headed the scandal-ridden 113th Precinct in Queens before becoming deputy chief.
The timing of Pizzuti’s appointment is unusual because she remains vulnerable for having accepted expensive meals paid for by ex-Queens Library head Thomas Galante while she served as commander of Queens Borough North. The city’s Conflicts of Interest Board says she and two other chiefs violated a provision of the city charter barring public servants from receiving gifts over $50. The board is seeking a whopping fine of more than $25,000 for each of the three.
Captains Endowment Association President Roy Richter, who is negotiating to reduce the fines, says Pizzuti and the other two chiefs were not looking for free meals but were furthering the interests of the department at functions planned by Galante, who is accused of using library funds to pay for personal expenses. [UPDATE: Late Monday morning, after this article appeared, the Conflicts of Interest Board released the terms of settlement, reducing the fines to $1,500.]
O’Neill later explained that in promoting Pizzuti to Chief of Personnel, he had considered “the totality” of her career.
Asked whether McCray had played a role in the promotions, her spokesman, Freddi Goldstein, emailed: “Commissioner O’Neill has a long history of celebrating women and diversity, which he demonstrated once again in his first appointments.”
What action, if any, will the department take against Richard Haste, who has decided to risk a department trial for his role in the shooting death of Ramarley Graham?
According to the department’s new interpretation of state law 50-a, the NYPD is prohibited from informing the public about any of these disciplinary decisions, although it had done so since the aftermath of the Knapp Commission more than 40 years ago.
Commissioner James O’Neill, Mayor de Bill Blasio and NYC first lady Chirlane McCray can bray all they want about “diversity” and “neighborhood policing.” But until they figure a way out of the no-transparency hole they have dug for themselves following the department’s novel interpretation of 50-a by its smarty-pants legal counsel Larry Byrne, who can take them seriously?
According to the Daily Beast, Kelly criticized Mayor de Blasio at a speech at the Yale Club last week over his initial remarks that the Chelsea bombing did not appear to be terrorism. Kelly also criticized the mayor’s assertion last Monday that investigators were looking for no individual other than Ahmad Khan Rahami in the Chelsea explosion.
In addition, Kelly described as “dumb” former commissioner Bratton’s decision in 2014 to disband the Demographics Unit that Kelly had created to study the locations of Muslim groups within the city. Kelly himself had reduced the size of the Demographics unit from 14 officers to two, one of whom was on was modified assignment.
Kelly cited the continued need for the unit, explaining that the Chechen Boston Marathon bombers had considered driving to New York after their bombing and that, had they done so, the unit might have helped locate them because it identified places where Chechen communities exist.
Kelly deserves credit and gratitude from all New Yorkers for creating a first-class Intelligence Division after 9/11. But the Chelsea bombing revealed that, without Kelly, there was a seamlessness between the different law agencies — most notably the NYPD and the FBI — as they worked together and pooled their resources, which was not always the case under Kelly.
That the head of the FBI’s New York office was permitted to take the lead at a news conference at Police Plaza the Monday after the bombing would not have occurred under Kelly.