It’s not clear that Mayor de Blasio finally ended his exercise in self-indulgence as a presidential candidate for any reason other than the increasing ridicule he was getting for staying in while making no headway. But in case it hasn’t yet registered with him, there is a growing number of problems in the city he is paid to govern that could use his undivided attention.
One of his best-regarded predecessors, Fiorello La Guardia, famously said, “There is no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage.”
The same holds true for other vital services including public safety and education, something this Mayor hasn’t yet absorbed because of the ideological dogma clogging his brain. In essence, what Mayor La Guardia meant was that wherever those running the city stood on the political spectrum, what the great majority of residents wanted was someone who provided key services efficiently.
In a period of high crime, there often is less squeamishness about tough policing; when crime seems under control, more attention is paid to complaints of brutality or disparate treatment based on race or ethnicity.
A consensus formed by 2012 that the NYPD had gone too far with stop-and-frisks, which too often were being done based on departmental quotas rather than the law. They were scaled back drastically during the final two years of Michael Bloomberg’s administration, even though he publicly—and foolishly—insisted that any relaxation in that area could produce a 1970s-like crime wave.
Further reductions occurred over Mr. de Blasio’s first five years in office, but frisks have gone up this year at the same time that shootings have consistently been higher than in 2018 on a month-to-month basis. A good Police Department adapts to changing circumstances.
The city’s Correction and Juvenile Justice departments generally operate below the radar. Mr. de Blasio, prodded in one case by then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and in the other by a change in state law, has moved to close Rikers Island and transferred 16- and 17-year-old inmates previously housed there into the city’s two juvenile-offender facilities.
Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen last year warned of inadequate preparations for the transfer of the young inmates, and has branded the Rikers closing plan both a scam to clear the island for development and a way for the Mayor to distract attention from the growing safety problems in the jail system. We don’t know about the development aspect of his critique, but on the other two items he got confirmation last week from the Mayor’s Management Report, which found increasing violence at both Rikers and in the juvenile centers.
That trend should serve as a warning that even with bail reforms due to take effect shortly, the Mayor may have been premature in contending that the inmate population at Rikers would decline sufficiently in the coming years to be able to close it and house all detainees in four smaller borough jails. At the very least, the disturbing details from the management report, including a rise in the percentage of inmates with gang affiliations, should convince the City Council, which is scheduled to vote later this fall on the plan to close Rikers, to slow down that train.
Mr. de Blasio made a Rikers shutdown a symbol of progressive reform, along with ending solitary confinement for inmates 21 and younger. He has seemed blinded to the reality that, according to correction-union leaders, the sharp reduction in punitive segregation has made it far more difficult to control the most-violent inmates in the system.
What, exactly, is progressive about a change that may have been designed to ease conditions for a largely minority inmate population but instead has made life harder for not only correction officers who are also primarily black and Latino, but for the minority inmates who are not gang-affiliated and therefore vulnerable to being preyed upon?
These are among the questions the Mayor must begin thinking seriously about, now that he is not distracted by not only being physically away from New York campaigning, but mentally calculating how taking particular positions may play in gaining national attention. We would hope that the humbling experience of his White House run has prompted him to examine his preconceptions more closely.
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.