De Blasio_Dominic Williams

OPTING FOR PROBLEM-SOLVERS AND ‘CLEAR LINES OF AUTHORITY’: Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, standing with Dominic Williams, whom he appointed as Chief of Staff to First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, in tapping Mr. Shorris and, as Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton, chose two men well-versed in the demands of their jobs as part of an effort to create a government that reflects his core values and works effectively but also ‘looks like New York City.’

You could almost feel the air being let out of the room Dec. 4 when Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio walked in and announced the appointment of three senior members of his administration and none of them was named Bill Bratton.

The Bratton hiring would come the following morning, but his tapping of Tony Shorris as First Deputy Mayor, while it didn’t set many pulses racing, may prove just as important, if not more so. Because just as Mr. Bratton, warts and all, is a top police professional, Mr. Shorris—who has been known to raise a few hackles himself—has the kind of background and talent that make him, now that he’s re-entered the public consciousness, seem like an equally obvious choice to, as Mr. de Blasio put it, “run the day-to-day operations of government” and “implement our agenda.”

The Police Commissioner and Schools Chancellor, as has been the case under Michael Bloomberg, will report directly to the Mayor, but they, along with other city agency heads, will be expected to coordinate with Mr. Shorris on key issues, Mr. de Blasio said.

Both the depth and the breadth of the looming First Deputy Mayor’s experience served to reassure business and civic leaders who had wondered about Mr. de Blasio’s ideological leanings and his lack of experience as a manager, notwithstanding Mr. Shorris’s emphasizing that they were on the same political wavelength. In one regard, that last aspect should be reassuring: as he had during the campaign, Mr. de Blasio stressed the importance of having “clear lines of authority, clear lines of accountability.”

Learned From Dinkins’ Mistake

In his first debate with Republican opponent Joe Lhota in October, Mr. de Blasio said the lasting lesson he had taken from his time working under Mayor David Dinkins was the importance that the administration “speak with one voice.” He didn’t elaborate, but it seemed to be an allusion to the differing sensibilities of First Deputy Mayor Norman Steisel and Deputy Mayor Bill Lynch, who had been Mr. Dinkins’ campaign manager and had a political vision that sometimes affected the smooth operation of city government.

Mr. de Blasio told the media horde packed into a room across Broadway from City Hall, “There is no question that Tony Shorris will be the leader of our operations.” Mr. Shorris in turn praised the Mayor-elect’s “bold agenda” during the campaign and emphasized his intention of “ushering in new police reforms” and improving education by “ending the kind of onerous testing system that is not working.”

Several former colleagues of Mr. Shorris said his background left him ideally positioned to carry out those initiatives.

“I can’t think of someone who is better qualified,” said Stanley Brezenoff, the president of Continuum Health Partners who served as First Deputy Mayor under Ed Koch and later brought Mr. Shorris with him as his top deputy when he became Executive Director of the Port Authority in the early 1990s. That was a job Mr. Shorris would eventually occupy himself after another return to city government for a period that spanned the end of Rudy Giuliani’s tenure as Mayor and the early part of Mr. Bloomberg’s.

Noting Mr. Shorris’s start 35 years ago as a Deputy Director in the Office of Management and Budget, Mr. Brezenoff said “He was at OMB for a long time, which is a great window of experience on city government, in a number of ranking positions. He’s done economic development and infrastructure,” an area Mr. de Blasio had cited in talking about his role as “one of the architects of the Koch administration’s affordable-housing program.”

‘An Ideal Choice’

Referring to his more-recent role as a top executive of the NYU Langone Medical Center, Mr. Brezenoff continued, “He’s now been working at one of the finest health-care facilities in the world. I think he’s extraordinarily well-prepared and really an ideal choice.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Michael Jacobson, who began in OMB about the same time as Mr. Shorris during the Koch administration, later served as Probation Commissioner and Correction Commissioner under Mr. Giuliani, and now heads the City University of New York Institute for State and Local Governance.

Beyond Mr. Shorris’s political compatibility with Mr. de Blasio, Mr. Jacobson said, “He in many ways is perfect for the job. He worked in education, he worked in budget. He was Finance Commissioner and he ran the Port Authority. He’s just a very smart and analytical guy—he’s someone who knows the details but also has a good strategic sense. I think it’s a strong choice and a really good sign.”

Just as with Mr. Bratton, there’s a “but” that goes along with the stellar credentials. One veteran government official who dealt with him called him arrogant; a former OMB colleague said something similar, although he was effusive about him in all other respects.

‘Obnoxious’ But Capable

“Tony can be a little on the obnoxious side,” said this man, who spoke conditioned on anonymity. “But he can run the place. Totally appropriate for the position, very knowledgeable, really knows the budget.”

The abrasive part of Mr. Shorris’s personality may have been what cost him his job as Executive Director of the Port Authority in the spring of 2008, not long after the man who appointed him, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, resigned amid a hooker scandal and was succeeded by David Paterson. Early in his tenure, Mr. Shorris stated during a public appearance where the guests included more than a few lobbyists that he would not meet with any lobbyists seeking to do business with the Port Authority. As New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer wrote, he later instructed subordinates to follow his lead.

What was considered a bad attitude on this subject was raised by some of those lobbyists not long after Mr. Paterson became Governor. Mr. Shorris also reportedly rebuffed some lobbying by Congressman Charles Rangel, who at the time headed the House Ways and Means Committee and had long been close with the new Governor’s father, Basil Paterson.

Also Gave Nadler Brush-Off

Mr. Rangel denied knowing who Mr. Shorris was, but one Democratic insider told me at the time of his ouster that one factor was that “a lot of officials had problems with him—including Rangel and [Jerry] Nadler,” another Manhattan Congressman who didn’t take kindly to being ignored.

Mr. Paterson was also said to have been disturbed at the number of key positions Mr. Shorris filled with New Jersey residents, including the officials who presided over the World Trade Center rebuilding and the Port Authority Bus Terminal project. That he might have chosen them because they were the best candidates available undoubtedly seemed beside the point in Albany, where a union lobbyist once joked that the best way to ease the tension in a battle over a bill was to urge legislators to support it “on the merits” and then wait for the laughter to subside.

One of the primary assets for a First Deputy Mayor is a prickly side and a willingness to crack the whip to get things done. While their personalities were different in key respects, that is a quality shared by Mr. Koch’s two best people in that role, Nat Leventhal (who did the job without the actual title) and Mr. Brezenoff; Mr. Steisel under Mr. Dinkins; Peter Powers before Mr. Giuliani decided that even his best friend from childhood wasn’t going to make him do things he didn’t want to; and Marc Shaw, who played a key part in Mr. Bloomberg’s first and strongest term. Mr. de Blasio during the campaign and in his early appointments has shown he is not nearly as malleable as Governor Paterson or inclined to let allies’ reservations about someone dissuade him from putting the right people in key spots.

The Bratton Paradox

That was also evident in his choice of Mr. Bratton, even though at a superficial glance it would seem to run counter to his vow to “end the stop-and-frisk era” in which the police tactic became a major irritant within the black community.

Mr. Bratton, after all, under Mr. Giuliani ushered in the kind of hard-nosed, make-no-apologies policing that was considered a key factor in the huge drops in crime during his 27 months in the job, and when critics challenged him or the cops, he could be as unsympathetic in response as his boss. It has been pointed out that during his seven years as Police Chief in Los Angeles starting in 2002 (the same year Mr. Bloomberg took office) stop-and-frisks in that city soared just as they did in New York.

When Mr. de Blasio was asked about that during his Dec. 5 announcement of Mr. Bratton’s appointment, he spoke of the “different dynamics” that existed in Los Angeles and noted that leaders from that city had praised Mr. Bratton for making sure the stops were targeted at gang members, who constitute a problem in that city “far beyond anything we have experienced here.”

Mr. Bratton offered a revealing—and just as importantly, probably accurate—insight when asked why his new tenure as Police Commissioner wouldn’t end as badly as his first one did, with Mr. Giuliani pushing him out the door because he believed he had taken too much of the credit for the crime drop.

Takes Rap for Rift

“I learned,” he said, referring to gaining the understanding that a Police Commissioner isn’t a free agent who can swagger his way to glory without regard to the concerns of the man to whom he reports. “We had our differences, but some of those differences were created by me, in hindsight.”

Try to imagine Mr. Giuliani making a similar admission. Or Mr. Bloomberg, for that matter, given his continued insistence that there was nothing wrong with how the NYPD conducted the stop-and-frisk program, even though steps taken by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly that have drastically reduced the numbers produced over the past two years tacitly acknowledged the tactic had been abused.

Mr. Bratton, late in Mr. Giuliani’s term, after the Mayor was under fire from police unions as well as outside critics for what had become oppressive enforcement in minority communities that he justified as warranted by the crime problems within those neighborhoods, faulted his old boss for not having grasped that the huge reduction in crime during his first term had given him the opportunity for a “peace dividend.” He said he should have eased back on enforcement with the aim of getting greater cooperation from communities that had wanted strong anti-crime efforts but believed they had been extended beyond going after criminals to getting tough with ordinary citizens for petty or nonexistent reasons.

Mr. Bratton’s rhetoric then and now could be viewed as the words of a politician, playing to a change in the mood of the city. But it could also be regarded as the product of having learned from experience, and getting past the sting of his critics’ barbs to understand that maybe they had a legitimate point of view.

Mr. Kelly has always had the persona of a cop who rose through the ranks because he was smarter than most of his colleagues but retained a cop’s sensibility and had a no-nonsense air about him. Mr. Bratton was more fond of symbols and bells and whistles: as Transit Police Chief he became popular among those who worked for him not just because he got them 9-millimeter weapons well before they were issued to NYPD cops but for smaller touches like commando sweaters that built esprit de corps by putting a bit of pizzazz in a department that was seen as a kind of poor relative to the larger force.

Along with his fellow bon vivant, the late Jack Maple, he introduced CompStat to policing, first in the Transit P.D. and later in the NYPD. Internally, CompStat has lost much of its luster during the debate over stop-and-frisk, largely because it is believed that abuses in the program occurred due to police commanders who were desperate to avoid being aired out during the program’s monthly meetings at 1 Police Plaza communicating that anxiety downward. Cops working under them understood that ignoring the Constitution to keep stops high was less risky to their careers than obeying the law and failing to meet stop quotas as a result.

‘Mixed Tradition, Innovation’

Mr. Bratton’s greater success in avoiding that kind of criticism in L.A., where Mr. de Blasio noted he was accountable not only to a Police Board but a Federal monitor who had been installed because of bad behavior by cops under his predecessors, is proof of his ability to adapt to a changing climate rather than believing that his past laurels gave him license to keep doing it the way he had started.

“He has combined the best of tradition and the best of innovation,” Mr. de Blasio said.

In the process, Mr. Bratton has demonstrated that he is adaptable, an invaluable quality for a Police Commissioner to have. Mr. Kelly having gone from a pro-community-policing Commissioner under Mr. Dinkins to one who became so closely associated with a stop-and-frisk initiative that can be antithetical to that sort of approach is one example of someone who changed to meet the mandate given by a different Mayor, although not necessarily for the better.

Mr. de Blasio said he had interviewed only three candidates for Police Commissioner, the others being current Chief of Department Philip Banks III and First Deputy Commissioner Rafael Pineiro, who came under consideration only after some pressure from Latino police groups. Mr. Banks, who has less than nine months as the NYPD’s top uniformed official, arguably could use some seasoning, although had he been chosen and turned into a good Commissioner, Mr. de Blasio would have gotten a lot more credit than he is likely to receive if going with a proven commodity like Mr. Bratton turns out well.

Substance Over Symbolism

He made the safe choice, but that wasn’t necessarily a sign that the bold candidate was going conservative, in more ways than one, when confronted by the prospect of actually having to govern. Mr. de Blasio coupled Mr. Shorris’s appointment with the naming of two much-younger aides to key positions, Dominic Williams as Chief of Staff to the First Deputy Mayor and Emma Wolfe as Director of Intergovernmental Relations. In choosing a black man and a woman, both in their 30s, for those jobs, he was able to say that he was making good on his pledge to create “a government that looks like New York City” even as the two marquee appointments he made were of white men older than he is.

Toward the end of his recently-published autobiography, Mr. Dinkins mused on his inability to build his political strength among Latinos even after responding to criticism by appointing people from that group to jobs in his inner circle. On reflection, he wrote, his political strategist, Mr. Lynch, thought “we would have done better to increase services where the effects would have been felt by the rank and file...”

Mr. de Blasio opted against symbolic appointments in filling two of the most important jobs of his administration. It is likely that future choices to high-profile posts will reflect the diversity he pledged to bring to the upper reaches of city government, but for these two he made experience and proven ability the decisive factors.

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