City Comptroller Scott Stringer, long seen as the Democrat most likely to challenge Mayor Bill de Blasio in the September primary, seemed to rule out that possibility in a radio interview this morning—then proceeded to ratchet up his ongoing feud with the mayor over the NYPD body camera contract.
Radio host Brian Lehrer bluntly and repeatedly asked Stringer, an inveterate de Blasio critic, whether he would seek de Blasio’s job this fall. The comptroller responded each time that he intended only to run again for his current post, which he would have to forfeit in order to mount a challenge, since New York law bars politicians from running for multiple offices simultaneously.
“I think it’s safe to assume I will continue to be doing the job that I truly love, which is serving as comptroller,” Stringer said in answer to Lehrer’s question, a response he repeated as the host pressed harder. “I’m running for the job that I have today, and that is where things stand. And I’m very happy to serve as city comptroller.”
The comptroller pointed to his various audits of the administration, which range from its controversial actions that allowed a Lower East Side AIDS hospice to become luxury condos, to its operation of the New York City Housing Authority, to its handling of the mushrooming homeless population. He insisted he fulfilled a vital need for an overseer and critic in local government.
“I believe that there is a real role in the city for somebody who calls it as they see it, somebody who really has built the people’s office, meaning that we’re really helping the children of the city and we are bringing a progressive agenda forward with accountability, and with real ideas for New York,” he said. “And I hope to be able to continue in this role.”
“This is where I’m at. And I think that people have to understand that this office is vital to this city,” he said.
Still, when Lehrer gave him a chance to hit de Blasio for accusing him of pulling “a cheap stunt” by initially refusing to sign off on the city’s contract with Vievu for 5,000 police body cameras, Stringer pounced. He noted that the NYPD had informed his office of an open Department of Investigation probe into the deal, and made a withering reference into the parallel criminal inquiries into the mayor’s fundraising.
“When I see a contract come into my office, and the NYPD says to me there’s an open DOI investigation, what’s the first thing I do? I just send the contract back saying ‘please give more detail, because my charter authority is to root out fraud,'” he said. “And the mayor, who has experience—a lot of experience—with investigations should know that you answer these questions so that we are certain that the body camera program will go forward.”
The comptroller also hit the mayor over what he claimed was the glacial pace of the recording devices’ arrival in New York City.
“I actually think it’s pretty shocking that the mayor basically slept through the first couple of years and didn’t put a body camera program in place quick enough so that the body cameras could actually be used today,” he said. “I’m committed to it, it’s a shame the mayor can’t come to terms with the fact that he was late on body cameras, that’s why he’s playing catch-up. He’s very focused on his election, his re-election, whatever he’s going to run for.”
The mayor’s office claimed the only person who has delayed the body camera program is Stringer.
“It’s Groundhog Day, again, and the comptroller doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” said spokesman Austin Finan. “His cheap political stunts are more than a little tired at this point.”
De Blasio debuted a body camera pilot program in December 2014. But it wasn’t until this January that he reached an agreement with the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the largest NYPD union, to equip rank-and-file officers with the devices.
Under the terms of the deal, all cops on the beat will wear one of the cameras by 2019.
Bradley Tusk, a former aide to ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founded the organization NYC Deserves Better largely for the purpose of drafting Stringer to challenge de Blasio.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the mayor’s other main Democratic rival in local government, refused to rule out challenging de Blasio earlier this year. Polls consistently show de Blasio with an anemic approval rating overall, but strong support of Democrats, who dominate the city electorate.
Updated to include comment from de Blasio’s office.