NYC Police Union’s Lynch Emerges as De Blasio’s Chief Antagonist

Patrick Lynch
Patrick Lynch, head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, speaks during a news conference after the bodies of two fallen NYPD police officers were transported from Woodhull Medical Center in New York on Dec. 20, 2014. Photographer: John Minchillo/AP Photo

Patrick Lynch, the New York police union chief emerging as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s biggest antagonist, got his taste for labor activism while walking the picket line with his father, a subway motorman from Queens, during the 1980 transit strike.

The youngest officer ever to head the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association when he was elected in 1999, Lynch, now 51, has “union blood coursing through his veins,” according to his official biography.

So it wasn’t surprising that after two officers were shot to death on a Brooklyn street, Lynch said de Blasio had blood on his hands for fomenting an anti-police environment through his support of protesters angered by the chokehold death of a Staten Island man.

“Pat is a dedicated guy, he advocates strongly for his union and that’s what he should be doing,” said Howard Safir, who served as police commissioner from 1996 through 2000 under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. ‘His words were emotional based on the fact that he had just lost two New York police officers. It was a very emotional situation, and I think he acted emotionally.’’

Lynch, who favors slicked-back hair, grew up in Bayside, Queens, the seventh of seven children, and served as a police officer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He was elected head of the PBA, the city’s biggest police union, after running a dissident campaign to clean up corruption. He declined to be interviewed until after the two officers’ funerals.

Gentlemanly Conduct

Under his leadership, the PBA won the right to take the city to binding arbitration, breaking a pattern of settling for terms similar to those negotiated with other unions. He negotiated a four-year contract from 2006 to 2010 that won police offers an additional 17 percent increase, according to the PBA, which has 24,000 members.

“He always conducted himself like a gentleman, really did, no table pounding, no cussing, none of that kind of stuff,” said James Hanley, the city’s former chief labor negotiator.

During Lynch’s tenure, officers’ salaries have gone up 55 percent on a compounded basis, according to the PBA. Even so, their hourly pay is still 67 percent less than officers in Long Island’s Nassau County and about 43 percent below the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey police, according to a 2012 study by the Citizens Budget Commission.

Turning Backs

Lynch’s friction with de Blasio was on display on Dec. 20, when the mayor walked into a press briefing on the killings of Rafael Ramos, 40, and Wenjian Liu, 32. Officers turned their backs on the city’s chief executive in a show of disrespect.

“There’s blood on many hands,” Lynch said, according to a video on the union’s website. “Those that incited violence on this street under the guise of protests, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day.”

“That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor,” he said.

Such heated rhetoric isn’t unique to Lynch, said Hank Sheinkopf, a political consultant and former police officer who has worked with police unions in 25 states.

“Cop shootings are overwhelmingly personal, and, naturally, when a police officer’s shot, there’s a sense that everybody in that thin blue line has to come together,” Sheinkopf said. “That being said, he’s a union leader. The union’s leader’s job is to speak on behalf of his constituency and not to worry about what other people think.”

Other New York PBA presidents have been “very vocal,’ he said. Those that haven’t, haven’t kept the job long.

Historical Strife

At a news conference yesterday, de Blasio said Lynch’s comments were ‘‘wrong” and declined further comment. Police Commissioner William Bratton said police hostility toward the mayor is part of New York politics.

“Can you point out to me one mayor that has not been battling with the police unions in the last 50 years?” Bratton said. “It’s nothing new, it’s part of life and it’s part of politics and it is what it is. This is New York City. We voice our concerns and we voice our opinions.”

Bratton said that he has spoken with the heads of the five police unions about toning down the rhetoric and delaying a “return to dialogue” until after the two funerals.

The city and the PBA are in arbitration over a new contract.

Lynch is running unopposed in the June PBA election, said Al O’Leary, a spokesman. If elected, Lynch would be the second-longest running president in PBA history, O’Leary said.

Angering Cops

De Blasio, 53, took office in January as the first Democrat to run City Hall in 20 years after a campaign that highlighted economic inequality and criticized police policies. He vowed to end stop-and-frisk tactics that had been challenged in federal court as discriminatory, and reached an agreement with those who sued.

De Blasio’s campaign infuriated the rank-and-file who said the mayor got elected by bashing police. Lynch had already sparred with de Blasio when the mayor was public advocate for supporting a law that allows people to sue police officers if they believed they were stopped because of race alone.

Their relationship became more fraught after the July 17 death of Eric Garner, 43, a father of six.

‘Can’t Breathe’

A video showed officers applying what Bratton said appeared to be an illegal chokehold while arresting Garner on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. The video captures Garner saying ‘I can’t breathe,’’ which became a rallying cry for people protesting police brutality. The city Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide.

Lynch said the police officer Daniel Pantaleo used a “take-down technique” learned in training and called Garner’s death a tragedy.

A grand jury’s refusal to indict Pantaleo sparked a wave of protests in the city, including a Dec. 13 march that drew 25,000 people where police were assaulted. De Blasio drew the union’s scorn when he referred to the assaults as “alleged.”

After the grand jury’s decision, de Blasio, who is white, spoke about how he and his wife, who is black, had conversations with their son, Dante, about avoiding police officers.

Lynch accused the mayor of “throwing cops under the bus.”

“There’s enormous anger because the cops have been painted into a corner,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, and a former NYPD officer and prosecutor. “The language he picked can’t artfully describe the anger and the angst cops feel as they’ve repeatedly had their job and their profession misrepresented without anybody rebutting it.”

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