Say this for Mayor de Blasio: He likes a challenge. Just when you think he has hit rock bottom and can’t go any lower, he is happy to prove you wrong.
The last few days have been a microcosm of the 6½ years of his reign of error. From Day One, he’s not been so much a flip-flopper as a straw blowing in the breeze.
Whatever is easy and might be good for him, he’s for it. If it’s the exact opposite of what he said the day before, so what?
His 180-degree switch to embrace cuts in police funding, coming after he was booed off a Brooklyn stage for opposing those cuts, perfectly captures his governing principle: me, me, me.
It was telling that on Tuesday he credited his wife, Chirlane McCray, with the idea of shifting funds from the police to youth groups and social issues. For many male politicians, crediting your wife for an idea might be seen as a tender, unifying gesture.
But this is actually a case of de Blasio Inc., an effort by the both of them, to launch McCray’s political career. Putting her in the vanguard of a “defund the police” moment is another way of using tax dollars to promote her almost-certain campaign for Brooklyn borough president next year.
That was the whole point of the Thrive mental-health program the mayor created for her. Nearly $1 billion has been flushed with little to show for it, but McCray is apparently bored and ready for a new challenge. Aren’t we lucky?
Although it’s not clear how much money the NYPD will lose, it will have to be big enough to elicit gasps on the far left or it won’t make de Blasio and McCray look sufficiently woke. In addition, the mayor can’t appear to be dragging his feet against a City Council that is itching to prove its anti-cop bona fides.
All this would be outrageous enough in pretty much any city — except New York is not just any city. We’ve been down this road before, with tragic and deadly results.
A police force that was both too small and too often handcuffed in going after bad guys nearly killed the city several times over the last half-century.
One notable restriction, for example, prohibited beat cops from arresting people they actually witnessed selling drugs. The argument was that drugs were such a lucrative business that it would make younger police too vulnerable to corruption.
That attitude led to the charge that cops had been reduced to “blue flowerpots.” They looked nice on the streets, but just stood there and couldn’t do anything.
Crime’s heyday ended with the election of Rudy Giuliani in 1993, but not before tens of thousands of murders. The bodies could be counted but the lost jobs and opportunities could only be imagined, though surely they were enormous.
Minneapolis, for one, seems either ignorant of the New York experience or determined to repeat it. The pledge of its city council to eliminate the police department following the George Floyd homicide shows the foolishness of turning protest slogans into policy.
The council president there even envisions a “police-free society.” Good luck with that.
Until his about-face, I was starting to get the sense that de Blasio understood how daffy that kind of thinking is. Although his first campaign was driven by an anti-police agenda and much of his first term was dominated by a rupture with the NYPD after two detectives were assassinated, he has more lately defended cops against the smears of the activists and anarchists driving the reaction to the Floyd case.
“It’s the continuing education of Bill de Blasio,” I told a friend, and thought it might be worth writing about if it continued. After all, here was a lefty mayor who had essentially ended enforcement of many quality-of-life infractions but who was coming to his senses on the fundamental issue of public safety. That was his red line and while I thought his excessive lenience was inviting trouble, at least he had a limit.
Sure, it was self-serving in that he realized that without the police, the always-fractious city would quickly find itself swamped by the kind of gang warfare that has turned Chicago into a nightmare. That would lead to an even greater exodus of the rich and the middle class — and cut deeper into the tax money that de Blasio loves to redistribute to his union pals and donors.
But then he blew it and, without missing a beat, took the other side of the argument by promising to slash the budget. He has even convinced top cop Dermot Shea to endorse cuts to the NYPD.
Now that de Blasio has decided which side of the fence he’s on, he’s going all in. Separately Tuesday, he said his biracial daughter, Chiara, has confronted him about his “white privilege” and that he has “started to be open to my own privilege.”
Oy, another expensive assignment for McCray seems inevitable. The only question is, how much more is the mayor’s discovery of his privilege going to cost taxpayers?
Times of trouble
The new acting editorial-page editor at the New York Times knows who her boss is. Kate Kingsbury reportedly told the paper’s newsroom that “anyone who sees any piece of Opinion journalism — including headlines or social posts or photos or you name it — that gives you the slightest pause, please call or text me immediately.”
Her plea is pathetic, but she is seemingly determined not to make the same mistake James Bennet did. Her predecessor had the nerve to publish an op-ed by GOP Sen. Tom Cotton that supported President Trump’s idea that it might be necessary to use the military to quell the recent riots.
For the sin of practicing traditional journalism, Bennet was condemned by his colleagues and publisher, and is now unemployed.
With her invitation, Kingsbury is conceding that the newsroom has seized veto power over what appears on the editorial page, including by Times columnists.
Prediction: More bloodletting is certain to follow.
Protecting bad cops
A friend and former prosecutor makes an intriguing point about the large number of serious complaints previously made against the officer charged with George Floyd’s murder. Suggesting that unions are a big part of the problem, he writes: “It’s hard to understand why Gov. Cuomo and the mayor are not calling for the breakup of some public employee unions. Just as you can’t fire bad teachers and end up putting them in rubber rooms, it’s very hard to fire bad cops.”
He adds that the late Robert Morganthau persuaded the Legislature not to grant union status to assistant district attorneys because they could never be fired, “even when they deserved to be.”
Given union power here, the idea won’t go far. But there’s no denying that union protection too often protects the guilty and penalizes the public.
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