New York Times (New York)
By William Neuman
April 23, 2017
When the Justice Department accused New York City of being “soft on crime” last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio called it an insult. But in political terms, for a mayor seeking re-election as a progressive defined by his defiance of President Trump, the swipe from the federal government was more like a gift.
It allowed Mr. de Blasio, in one moment, both to burnish his anti-Trump credentials and to wrap himself up in police uniform blue.
The mayor, a Democrat, wasted no time on Friday in summoning the news media to Police Headquarters in Manhattan, where he stood beside his police commissioner, James P. O’Neill. Mr. de Blasio shot back at Mr. Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who had sent New York and several other cities and jurisdictions a letter renewing threats to cut federal grant money if they did not remove communication barriers between the local police and immigration authorities.
“The mayor’s strategy is Trump, and it kind of gave him a lifeline in a lot of ways,” Suri Kasirer, a Democratic political consultant, said, referring to Mr. de Blasio’s campaign strategy of serving as a foil to a president who is intensely unpopular in New York City. “And it is certainly making lots of people who might not agree with him on every issue feel like he’s standing up for them.”
She added: “The Trump administration doesn’t realize, or isn’t focused on, how every time they hit New York or hit him, they’re actually doing him a favor politically. They’re stepping right into his strategy.”
The Justice Department’s letter was accompanied by a statement saying that many of the jurisdictions cited were “crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime.” And it singled out New York, saying the city “continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city’s ‘soft on crime’ stance.”
Mr. de Blasio called the accusations outrageous and absurd and said at the Friday news conference that “the notion of calling this city and our Police Department ‘soft on crime’ is unacceptable on its face and flies in the face of everything we have seen over the last quarter-century in this city.” The mayor and Mr. O’Neill cited police data showing that most major crimes had continued to decline sharply and were at historically low levels.
So far, Mr. de Blasio has appeared to be coasting toward re-election, with no well-financed Democratic challengers.
At the same time, the smattering of Republican and independent candidates jockeying to run in November has consisted of untested newcomers who would have a difficult time gaining traction in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans among registered voters by more than six to one.
And any Republican who ran against Mr. de Blasio would suffer from associations with Mr. Trump.
“Any time Bill de Blasio is talking about Donald Trump, he’s winning,” said William F. B. O’Reilly, a Republican political consultant who has worked with one of the Republicans seeking to run for mayor, the real estate sales executive Paul J. Massey Jr.
“It protects him on his left and in the center with the non-Trump supporter,” Mr. O’Reilly said, “and to some extent it protects him as a crime fighter on the right, so it’s a double win whenever he gets to play that card.”
Mr. O’Reilly also said Mr. de Blasio’s strategy was an effective way of sidelining the Republican mayoral hopefuls. “There’s no room for anyone else in the conversation,” he said.
Phil Walzak, a senior adviser to Mr. de Blasio’s re-election campaign, said the mayor was right to issue an aggressive response to the Justice Department’s statement.
“This demonstrates very much what Mayor de Blasio is about: standing up for and fighting for the people of New York, the city and the institutions of the city like the N.Y.P.D., against outrageous and factless statements like the one made by D.O.J. on Friday,” Mr. Walzak said.
On Sunday, Mr. Sessions appeared to back off the assertion that New York was soft on crime, saying during an interview on “This Week” on ABC that the comment referred only to the city’s policy toward cooperation with immigration authorities.
“For four decades, New York has been a fabulous city for law enforcement,” Mr. Sessions said. “They have developed some of the best techniques ever. They’re so far ahead of many other cities.”
He even praised some of the policing strategies supported by Mr. de Blasio, saying, “They have proven community-based policing, broken-windows policing, to make cities safer, saved lives, and other cities need to be studying what they’ve done.”
The risk for the Republicans and independents hoping to unseat Mr. de Blasio is that confrontations like these might position those who question the mayor’s crime-fighting bona fides on the side of Mr. Trump.
Bo Dietl, a former police officer who until recently was a registered Republican, has announced his candidacy as an independent for mayor. Mr. Dietl, who operates a private security company, has been sharply critical of Mr. de Blasio on public safety and policing issues.
“Yes, I think they’re soft on crime, and it’s the directive right from City Hall down through the police commissioner, and the poor cops have to take the brunt of walking around and being spat on, being treated like garbage,” Mr. Dietl said, pointing to discontent among rank-and-file police officers with Mr. de Blasio.
Mr. Dietl voted for Mr. Trump in November, but he said that should not define him as a candidate. “Donald Trump is a narcissistic personality,” he said. “I’m not a narcissist. I’m not a billionaire.”
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