The news that a top aide to the mayor’s wife lives with an ex-con — who bashed police on his Facebook page a couple years ago — involves enough degrees of separation and lapsed time that it’s unlikely to dog Mayor Bill de Blasio for long.
But it’s yet another chapter in the story of the mayor’s troubled relationship with New York City’s police unions, flaring up over stop and frisk and Eric Garner’s death, but underscored heavily by ongoing contract negotiations.
The animosity between the union leaders and the administration is unlikely to wane until a deal is struck. Even then, there’s been enough bad blood over other issues, and enough that’s likely to have miffed rank-and-file cops in addition to union heads, that it’s hard to imagine the the mayor and police ultimately making up.
“The relationship is really one that is fractured, and you know, de Blasio came into office with an anti-police background, an anti-police atmosphere. He got elected by bashing police,” Sgt. Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, told the Observer of Mr. de Blasio’s stop-and-frisk-focused campaign.
It’s no surprise that Mr. Mullins takes issue with the news, first reported by DNAinfo, that Rachel Noerdlinger, chief of staff to first lady Chirlane McCray, lives with a man convicted of homicide as a teen and drug crimes later in life. The man, Hassaun McFarlan, also called cops “pigs” on his Facebook page.
“The mayor’s wife’s chief of staff is living with him, lovers, whatever you wanna describe it as, and I think it says a lot about her character, the character of the mayor, and the character of the mayor’s wife,” Mr. Mullins said.
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch has called for Ms. Noerdlinger’s job, but that’s unlikely. Mr. de Blasio said he has “full faith” in Ms. Noerdlinger and that the situation is different than when his administration parted ways with top campaign aide Lis Smith because she was dating another law breaker, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
“The significant other of an administration member is not reflective of the administration’s world view and policy,” a City Hall source told the Observer.
Further straining relations between Ms. Noerdlinger and the police is that she once worked for their chief antagonist, the Rev. Al Sharpton. She advised the mayor during the aftermath of Mr. Garner’s death, though she technically works for Ms. McCray.
Ms. Noerdlinger’s boyfriend problem is just more grist for the mill for Mr. Mullins and other union leaders, who are spinning the idea that the mayor’s reforms are making the city less safe — Mr. Mullins going so far as to place a paid advertisement in newspapers urging the Democratic National Convention not to come to town because New York is “lurching backwards to the bad old days of high crime, danger-infested public spaces, and families that walk our streets worried for their safety.”
The mayor’s team contends that it’s politics over substance. “Every move the union is making — not the rank and file — is through the lens of negotiations,” the City Hall source said, also citing ongoing negotiations over disability legislation in Albany. “Lost in that kind of bravado is a real honest conversation about this administration’s support for the police department.”
The drama has even led to proxy fights between the police unions and United Federation of Teachers — which took the first major contract with the city, setting a precedent for all other unions that uniformed unions have rejected because it contains some years without raises. The UFT recently backed a march against police brutality on Staten Island.
“There has been no real trust and relationship,” Mr. Mullins said. “Yes, we have to settle contracts — you know, the mayor talks about a workforce that has to be compensated, he said that all before election time. Then he comes to the table and offers zeros.”
City Hall sources point to the mayor’s plaudits of individual heroic cops, his framing of the conversation around wearing body cameras as a positive for officers, and his work to put more cops on the streets to civilianization.
“No one should doubt the mayor’s strong support for the brave men and women of the NYPD who put their lives on the line everyday to protect our neighborhoods and keep New York the safest big city in the world,” de Blasio spokesman Phil Walzak said.
It’s unlikely that Ms. Noerdlinger will lose her job, and despite the trouble with the unions, Mr. de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton — who offers the mayor strong law enforcement credibility — maintain what the mayor has called “one of the best relationships I’ve had in all of my professional life.”
But after fights over everything from Mr. Sharpton’s visit to City Hall to the wording of an autopsy report, it’s not a question of whether Mr. de Blasio will clash with police unions again — but when, and over what.
“Right now everybody is on edge,” said Mr. Mullins. “And the mayor has got three more years of dealing with this.”