Weeks removed from an open revolt from his own police force that had officers turning their backs on him, Mayor Bill de Blasio now declares he has moved past the rift, striking a tenuous truce with a strategy to stay above the fray and public opinion that eventually soured on the cops’ behavior.
While he acknowledged much work remains to repair the hard feelings over the death of Eric Garner, de Blasio told The Associated Press he has regained the footing to move on.
“It was a perfect storm. It was based on two tragedies. The death of Eric Garner and the murder of these two officers. People felt pain all around,” de Blasio said in an interview. “I do believe things are much better. I believe the dialogue is moving forward.”
It was the biggest crisis of the Democrat’s year-old administration. Rank-and-file police had already been distrustful of him over his plans to reform such enforcement tactics as stop and frisk, and for his ties to Al Sharpton.
De Blasio’s planning on how to handle the crisis began the day after the police slayings in December, when shaken members of his inner circle devised a playbook.
Unveiled for the first time, that plan involved three parts: Maintain the focus on the grieving families. Empower carefully chosen surrogates to speak on the administration’s behalf, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Police Chief William Bratton. And avoid engaging in verbal warfare with the unions, hoping that the passage of time would dissipate anger.
For a while, the strategy failed.
Hundreds of officers turned their backs on de Blasio at both funerals. The mayor was also heckled at a police graduation ceremony, and appeared tired and angry at his first news conference with reporters after the shooting.
At the peak of the crisis, Edward Mullins, head of the sergeants union, demanded that de Blasio apologize. The mayor refused. A meeting between de Blasio and the union heads yielded nothing. And arrests plummeted as officers went into a work slowdown.
But then the momentum shifted.
A poll showed that de Blasio’s approval rating held steady during the crisis, and that two-thirds of New Yorkers did not approve of the police unions’ behavior. Cracks in their front began to show.
“I think the public cared that City Hall stepped back from the debate and respected the families. Some others didn’t,’” de Blasio said.
Money may also have played a subtle role. Several of the police unions are working on expired contracts and while the PBA, the largest and most influential union, is in arbitration, the sergeants union is close to a deal.
Asked if he had any regrets during the crisis, de Blasio said it was in not moving quickly enough to repudiate the rhetoric of anti-police protesters.
“I didn’t understand how vile some of the language was,” he said. “I wish I had understood better because there’s no question in my mind it was unacceptable behavior even if Constitutionally protected.”
But while anger has cooled, tensions remain and could flare again.
“De Blasio did a good job. He remained steadfast in what he believed,” said Joseph Mercurio, a political consultant. “But these police union leaders have long been at odds with mayors. I imagine it will happen again.”