Frisky Business: Once Again, Police Practices Matter In Politics

ray kelly5 Frisky Business: Once Again, Police Practices Matter In PoliticsOne afternoon earlier this month, Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate and a potential mayoral candidate, held a press conference on the steps of City Hall to unveil a new report and suggest a modest reform. The New York Police Department has seen the number of people it has stopped and frisked skyrocket, often without yielding any evidence of a crime. Mr. de Blasio suggested the agency simply record the number and location of their stops, just as they record murder, thefts and rapes under CompStat, the computerized police accountability system that is credited with keeping the city’s plunging crime rate low.

A few hours later, Howard Wolfson, Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s deputy mayor for communications and an old pal of Mr. de Blasio’s from their days on the Hillary Clinton Senate campaign, sent out a blistering response.

“When Bill de Blasio last served in the city’s executive branch there were 2,000 murders a year,” he said, referring to the public advocate’s tenure under former Mayor David Dinkins, a mayoralty that has lived on in the memory of Bloomberg’s supporters as a warning about the dangers of an unchecked bleeding heart lefty presiding over City Hall. “Today we are on track to have less than 500—a record new low. Mr. de Blasio may be nostalgic for the days when the ACLU set crime policy in this city, but most New Yorkers don’t want rampant crime to return … Make no mistake, we will not continue to be the safest big city in America if Mr. de Blasio has his way.”

The next day, Mr. de Blasio arranged another news conference to denounce Mr. Wolfson’s denunciation of him.

And so it has gone: With the 2013 mayoral election still over a year away, stop-and-frisk has emerged as one of the most important and fraught issue in the early days of the campaign.

Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer has been out front on the topic for nearly a year, visiting 19 churches and delivering a major address on the issue alongside Newark Mayor Cory Booker. (Privately, supporters of his scoff that Mr. de Blasio only jumped in once Mr. Stringer made it an issue.)

“Scott was out there early and pushing the issue; I’m happy about that,” said City Councilman Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn, who is neutral in the 2013 mayor’s race and whose own arrest at last summer’s West Indian Day Parade by police unaware of who he was served to spark a call for reforms.

But it is not just the two of them. A week after Mr. de Blasio’s series of pressers, Council Speaker Christine Quinn—whose status as the early frontrunner has been solidified by her implicit vow to carry on the legacy of Mr. Bloomberg and by her current ability to wring concessions out of the other side of City Hall—coaxed out of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly a series of reforms that included greater training for officers. Then, John Liu, the city comptroller whose fundraising scandal threatens to derail his own mayoral ambitions, called for the practice to be outright abolished.

“This is not what a democratic society is about,” he told The Observer. “It smacks of martial law.”

Organizers are planning a massive protest on Father’s Day, hoping thousands of New Yorkers will turn out for a silent march up Fifth Avenue. George Gresham, the president of the powerful labor union 1199/SEIU, recently announced they couldn’t “ever support anyone who wants to be in the leadership of New York City if they are not speaking out against this policy of stop-and-frisk.”

For Mr. Wolfson, it is this desire that is motivating the denunciations of the administration’s police practices.