A judge’s order installing a monitor to oversee the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics may boost the mayoral candidacy of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and hurt former Comptroller William Thompson.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin yesterday said the practice unlawfully targets minorities. Thompson, the only black among seven Democrats seeking the party’s nomination, opposed a City Council measure creating an inspector general to oversee police policy. The council will vote Aug. 22 on whether to override Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto of the legislation.
De Blasio, 52, who has backed the inspector-general bill and another measure granting the right to sue on racial-profiling grounds, has probably seen his standing enhanced, said Kenneth Sherrill, political science professor emeritus at Hunter College in Manhattan. The former Democratic frontrunner, council Speaker Christine Quinn, 47, who voted for an inspector general while opposing the lawsuit bill, may also benefit, he said.
“This decision pushes a serious issue in front of the voters at a time when people are beginning to focus on the primary election,” Sherrill said. “Thompson’s position that the mayor should be in charge without an independent reviewer doesn’t square with the judge’s finding that the facts require an independent monitor for the department.”
Thompson, 60, responded to the ruling with an e-mailed statement reiterating his position that stop-and-frisk “violates the constitutional rights of all New Yorkers, but especially innocent blacks and Latinos.” He said he would “uphold the law and work with the federal monitor.”
His comments didn’t include his previous insistence that the mayor should be free to run the police department without oversight.
De Blasio surged to the lead among Democrats in the race to win the Sept. 10 primary vote, with four weeks to go, a Quinnipiac University poll released today showed.
He was favored by 30 percent of likely Democratic voters, topping Quinn, who was backed by 24 percent after having led most surveys this year. Thompson was third at 22 percent, followed by Anthony Weiner with 10 percent, the survey showed. The Hamden, Connecticut, school’s Aug. 7-12 telephone poll of 579 likely Democratic voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
The court ruling, which the city plans to appeal, may move the campaign into a discussion of an important public issue after weeks of “media obsession” with Weiner’s personal problems, Sherrill said. The former congressman resigned his seat in 2011 after sending lewd photographs over the Internet, then acknowledged similar behavior again a year later.
“The decision sadly confirms what was profoundly obvious,” Weiner, 48, said by e-mail. “When the police stop tens of thousands of citizens who have done nothing wrong -- the overwhelming number being young men of color -- basic civil rights are being violated.”
Scheindlin should have waited until the next mayor was in office before deciding whether an appropriate remedy was an independent monitor, Weiner said. Bloomberg, 71, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, is barred by law from seeking a fourth term.
Weiner, who opposed the inspector-general measure, recommended that police be outfitted with small video cameras to record street encounters, and for the department to keep tabs on improper stops as it compiles neighborhood crime statistics. Scheindlin ordered a pilot camera program in certain areas.
The three Republican candidates -- John Catsimatidis, 64; Joseph Lhota, 58; and George McDonald, 69 -- each attacked the decision. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city 6 to 1.
Councilman Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who was a key sponsor of the police inspector-general legislation, said he and his colleagues would probably be even more intent on getting at least the 34 votes to override the veto. The council in June approved the bill 40 to 11; the lawsuit measure passed 34-17.
“The court-appointed monitor will be focused only on stop-and-frisk and will have power to order reform while the inspector general will be within the mayor’s administration and have a limited advisory role to issue recommendations about any police practices,” Lander said.
Mayors historically have an awkward relationship with police over accusations of brutality or when other problems arise, Sherrill said. An independent reviewer can provide a measure of political cover, he said.
“It’s very difficult for a mayor to criticize his own police department, particularly one that has a significant record of achievement, as New York’s has,” Sherrill said. “The inspector general, and even the court-appointed monitor, gives the mayor cover from those political constraints and may provide a reality check if the mayor is too loyal or not paying attention to problems.”
That’s the rationale for the law creating the inspector general, Quinn said in her reaction to the court ruling.
“The NYPD inspector general will help review and provide guidance to ensure that stop-and-frisk is done in a constitutionally sound manner that focuses on the quality of the stops, not the quantity,” Quinn said.
Quinn, who has led most voter surveys on Democrats in the mayoral race since January, stands to gain from New Yorkers who mostly agree with the court, said Douglas Muzzio, who teaches urban politics at Baruch College in Manhattan.
Her leadership of the City Council during passage of the police-oversight legislation helps immunize her, Muzzio said. Quinn didn’t mention that she has said she would ask Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to remain in the job, if she’s elected. Her opponents each made a point of it in remarks at a debate broadcast on WABC television tonight.
“For the most vocal critics, this decision gives them the right to say, ‘We were right and the mayor, police commissioner and Thompson were wrong,’” Muzzio said. “Those Democrats who were most emphatic in demanding oversight are the winners in this particular debate.”