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Is It Time for de Blasio to Be Firm With Police?

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This shouldn’t have been about politics.

Two cops viciously gunned down, by a crazed gunman, looking for any reason to kill.  A tragedy. A time for a family to grieve and a City to support them.  And then, the head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association laid down the biggest of political gauntlets, by explicitly putting the blood of dead police on the hands of Mayor Bill de Blasio, daring him to even utter any protest.

To be clear, PBA President Pat Lynch never liked de Blasio.  Hated his campaign promise to end “stop and frisk.”  Hated the Mayor for daring to suggest that police, like other unions in the city, accept a temporary freeze in pay, to get the City’s finances under control.  But, with a tidal wave of an election, that brought de Blasio into office with a 45 point victory, came a fairly weak bargaining position for Lynch.

Enter the horrific deaths of Officers Liu and Ramos.

It’s impossible to say what Lynch personally felt about the deaths of the officers.  Surely, overwhelming sadness and grief were among his feelings.  But, it is also a fairly good bet than the head of a group that has basically bashed every Mayor, in the cause of squeezing every penny out of them, recognized the opportunity to flip the table on the current Mayor, and regain the upper hand.

By immediately putting the blood of the officers on the Mayor, the situation immediately became political.  The backs turning on the Mayor at the Ramos funeral were stoked by the fiery rhetoric of Pat Lynch, and his list of political grievances that had nothing to do with the deaths of two officers who were sitting in their Brooklyn patrol car.  Yes, the police are grieving, too, but their turned backs give a clear political message to the Mayor, straight from the desk of Lynch:

“Reform this, mother*cker.”

Just being in New York, and listening to chatter on trains and in bodegas, and on the comment pages of the tabloids’ websites, there’s a clear sense than not everyone is comfortable with the police using a funeral to make a political point.  Whether a dominant or latent opinion, it is there:  The cops might have gone too far.

In this, and given that the situation already has turned political, by the grace of Pat Lynch, now might be the time for Mayor de Blasio to take a stand.

A look at his election coalition shows that he probably does not have a lot to lose.  The Mayor dominated nearly every segment of the vote, save for a few.  First, among whites, he won only 52-43 percent.  Among white men, it was tied.  But the share of the white vote was a meager 45 percent, compared to 55 percent when Rudy Giuliani ruled the city.   Those who thought former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was doing a good job gave de Blasio under 60 percent of the vote, one of his worst segments.  But, among those who felt that “stop and frisk” was excessive, de Blasio won a whopping 87 percent.

In short, if we have to make this about politics, it is clear that as cops turn their backs, and whites sympathize with them, de Blasio is mostly losing the people he never really had to begin with. To the degree that this is a “nightmare” for de Blasio, as Politico put it, it is one of the media’s creation, and their perpetuation.

That said, that stream of stories has tamped down the enthusiasm of the coalition that swept Mayor de Blasio into office, which, even in the wake of the deaths of Officers Liu and Ramos, still believes that policing in New York needs reform.  If the Mayor loses their energy, then he’ll be facing a true nightmare.

There’s nothing more depressing to progressives than seeing one of their own become a punching bag, sitting there and taking it, while political media crows about how they’re fumbling and bumbling, as is happening to Mayor de Blasio.  Eventually, the negativity becomes self-perpetuating and an albatross.  You needn’t look any further than most of the Obama presidency for evidence of that.  Or the moment de Blasio clumsily called for public protest of police tactics to be put on pause for a couple of weeks.

But when a politician fights back, progressives will run through brick walls.  “Example A,” currently, would be Elizabeth Warren.

Politics in the 21st century is a minute-by-minute game.  As quickly as Pat Lynch turned the dynamic against Bill de Blasio, by firing up the people who hate him, and depressing those who support him, the mayor can flip it right back around by making a simple proclamation in four parts:

  • The deaths of Officers Ramos and Liu do not undo the votes of New Yorkers who elected me to reform and improve the police department.  We will continue retraining police, especially in use of excessive or unnecessary force, and continue to reform the department to put more of an emphasis on community policing.
  • The people of New York understand the police are here to help enforce the law, and protect our citizens, and targeting them for violence is never acceptable.  If you target cops, we will find you, and we will bring you to justice.
  • At the same time, police work for us, and are paid by us.  Police are public servants, not a private security force or militia.   They take their orders and direction, ultimately, from the elected Chief Executive of the City.  If any member of the force doesn’t like the direction that New Yorkers voted to take the police department, and feels they cannot continue to serve under those conditions, the city will negotiate a package to allow some to retire early, and aid others in finding new work.For those who stay, and respect that they work for the public, and are accountable to the public, we will make sure they are compensated – as generously as possible – for the tough, life-threatening work they do for us.
  • But, I will never be bullied or shamed by those who see murder as a political opportunity.   If they want to try me, they will lose.

There’s little doubt that this would upset a bunch of white voters in New York, and a lot of police —  two groups that de Blasio didn’t win too handily, and doesn’t need to win again.  But it would reinvigorate those who did sweep him into office, while also reassuring them that the Mayor they wanted to fight for them is still going to do so.   That is a group he can’t lose.

It would also change the entire media dynamic, giving Mayor de Blasio the upper hand, putting him in a position of strength.

In the end, it is sickening that a piece like this even needs to be written.  If everyone – from the media to the PBA – would have tried to rise above politics and political analysis in the wake of the awful deaths of Officers Liu and Ramos, we would have all been better off.  As has been known to happen, politics and punditry has taken over and mucked up what could have turned into a watershed moment of reconciliation and progress.

Yet, as they say in politics and life, “It is what it is.”  Mayor de Blasio didn’t make this political.  But, now it is, and it isn’t going back.  For his own mayoralty, and for the people depending on him, it is time for him to recognize that.

Author: Eric Schmeltzer

That progressive guy. Very different from that Progressive Girl (aka "Flo"). Also an independent PR consultant.

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