There are plenty of arguments against the Police Benevolent Association making its first endorsement for President in at least 36 years on behalf of Donald Trump.
His disrespect of an American prisoner of war who was a political critic, and his verbal assault on the family of a soldier killed in action that opposed his 2016 election. His running a racist campaign aimed at scaring white suburban housewives while also finding a new target for a birther conspiracy theory claiming Kamala Harris is ineligible to run for Vice President.
His firing of U.S. Attorneys and Federal Inspectors General for investigating him or his allies, and of career diplomats and decorated military personnel who gave unwelcome testimony before Congress about his attempts to shake down the President of Ukraine.
His pardons of several campaign aides whose crimes included lying to Federal investigators.
His brushing off the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence network that Russia had interfered on his behalf in the 2016 election, saying he believed Vladimir Putin's "very strong denials," and his decision more recently not to question the Russian dictator about intelligence reports that his country paid bounties to the Taliban for the killing of American troops in Afghanistan.
His speaking disparagingly of any female official who stands up to him.
His continued refusal to disclose his tax returns.
His unwillingness to abide by the advice of leading government scientists about the coronavirus in favor of delaying while floating crackpot theories about how to cure the disease, even as its American death toll climbed toward 200,000.
His blocking a stimulus package that could help states and localities in desperate financial straits because of the virus, while also having his Postmaster General impose cuts in postal service that seem designed to either reduce mail voting in the election or raise doubts about the fairness of the process.
And oh yes, he lies quite a bit.
A Compelling Reason to Back Him
There was, however, one strong reason for Mr. Lynch to give the endorsement of his 24,000-member union to Mr. Trump: his unflagging devotion to the police at a time when city cops feel abandoned by Democratic leaders including Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
That sentiment is shared by cops in higher ranks, with the leader of the Detectives' Endowment Association, Paul DiGiacomo—who is not yet making an endorsement—saying, "I don't think there's any other way to go." Lieutenants Benevolent Association President Lou Turco, while emphasizing he would not commit until he discussed the race with "my political team," also blamed those Democratic officials and the City Council and State Assembly for turning on officers because of political pressure from the left.
How much impact city police unions will have on the presidential race is an open question. Two political consultants, Maureen Connelly and George Arzt—each of whom previously served as Press Secretary to Mayor Ed Koch, who did more to endear himself to cops than any other occupant of the job over the past half-century, particularly at the bargaining table—predicted it would have little effect.
Ms. Connelly said she couldn't remember Vice President Biden saying anything critical of the police while he made clear he opposed defunding police departments when that became a hot issue nationally at the start of the summer. Mr. Arzt contended that because of the controversy the union attracts in Democratic circles. even among some centrists, "I think Biden is better off without the PBA; for Trump it just feeds into his constituency."
The endorsement, announced on a Friday evening at Mr. Trump's golf club in Bedminster, N.J., wasn't a complete surprise, even though Mr. Lynch noted that he couldn't remember a PBA presidential endorsement during his 36 years as a cop. A month earlier, the National Association of Police Organizations had endorsed the President's re-election, and when officials came to the White House July 31 for a photo opportunity, Mr. Lynch was among them and spoke at Mr. Trump's prompting about the way recently approved laws had made his members' jobs harder.
'Need Your Strong Voice'
He amplified his frustrations two weeks later, saying NYPD officers were being victimized by "a false narrative...that New York City officers are evil. Mr. President, we're fighting for our lives out there. We need your strong voice."
The PBA president did not respond to a request for an interview to discuss in greater detail his decision.
Al O'Leary, who retired in January after serving as the union's chief spokesman for most of Mr. Lynch's 21 years as president, recalled Aug. 17 that when he asked his boss in the past about a national endorsement, the PBA president always answered, "Let's wait and see."
In making such decisions, he added, "There's also the question of whether you think the endorsement will help the candidate or hurt him."
That wasn't an issue here, Mr. O'Leary said. "Donald Trump doesn't care," he explained. "He accepts the endorsement because he believes in police."
Few would quarrel with his assessment that, "I don't think there's ever been a clearer difference between the two candidates."
But while the former PBA spokesman's remark about Mr. Biden's position on police at this point—"Where does this guy really stand?"—was bolstered by the comments of others interviewed that the Democratic nominee had perhaps been too low-key in reiterating his support for the police beyond stating his opposition to defunding police agencies, Mr. Biden's sympathy for cops was never previously questioned.
Past Favorite Among Cops
In fact, during the Democratic primaries, he took heat from rival candidates for the major role he played in crafting the 1994 Federal Crime Bill, which provided for longer sentences for certain offenses but also funded major boosts in police hiring in local departments throughout the nation. His presence on the ticket was a prime reason NAPO endorsed Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012.
Five years ago, when Mr. Biden was considering a run for the Democratic nomination as he wound down his second term as Mr. Obama's Vice President, then-DEA President Mike Palladino spoke of how helpful he had been to cops over the years going back to his time as a Delaware U.S. Senator, and said he would strongly consider endorsing him if he entered the primary. Last year, as he wound down his term at the DEA, Mr. Palladino was more-guarded in his assessment, saying he was concerned that Mr. Biden might be pulled to the left in order to gain the Democratic nomination.
Two months ago, the former Vice President went against the grain of the party by saying he opposed defunding departments and believed that more spending would be needed to improve law enforcement and community policing. The one remark he made that might have raised eyebrows among the police unions was, "I support conditioning Federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness."
But given the irresponsible outbursts from police-union leaders in Minneapolis and Buffalo in the wake of George Floyd's death at the knee of a cop in the former city and the shoving by Buffalo officers of a 75-year-old man to the ground and their walking away as he lay bleeding from a head wound, it should have been clear why Mr. Biden put forward that condition.
Mr. DiGiacomo said in an Aug. 17 phone interview, "From my observation, I haven't seen him come out in support of the police at all. In order to have the economy succeed, you need law and order."
That was why he called Mr. Trump a clear-cut choice, saying, "He's the only candidate out there supporting law enforcement."
Asked if there was anything, whether policies or personal conduct, regarding the President that left him with misgivings, the DEA leader replied, "No, not really."
Others 'Are Silent'
He said that during disturbances in the city and elsewhere that grew out of the late-spring protests following the killing of Mr. Floyd, it was important that Mr. Trump "put everyone on notice" of his willingness to send Federal troops to some cities if necessary.
Referring to the continuing spike in crime in the city, Mr. DiGiacomo said, "People are being shot and the elected officials are silent."
While he said he needed the approval of the DEA's board of officers to make an endorsement, he believed the only real question was whether it would come as an individual union or part of a police-union coalition.
Both Mr. O'Leary and Lieutenant Turco said one unsettling element this year was that there didn't seem to be the urgency among the general public to deal with the rise in crime that there was 30 years ago, which the former PBA spokesman said was emblemized by a New York Post headline aimed at Mayor Dinkins proclaiming, "Dave, Do Something!"
But there may be a reason alarms aren't ringing as loudly: in 1990, there were 2,245 murders in the five boroughs; even with the spike in homicides over the past three months, it's unlikely the end-of-year total will reach one-third of that number.
Mr. Turco remarked, "When I came on [the NYPD] in 1990, crime was crazy." But more recently, "Before you had the bail reform [Jan. 1], we had a very orderly policing situation and we were doing the community policing. Then they reformed and 'reimagined' the NYPD into a crime wave."
Banging Pans to Banging Cops
Just a few months ago, he continued, as cops continued to keep the streets safe even as more than 7,000 of them contracted the coronavirus, there were "people banging pots and pans thanking the NYPD. Then Minnesota hits," referring to Mr. Floyd's death at the knee of Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, "and they go crazy, even though we were doing our job, going along with the police reform. Now they own it: the politicians, the Mayor, the City Council, the State Senate, the Assembly."
"There definitely has been a vilification of law enforcement by the city and state," said Sidney Schwartzbaum, the longtime president of the Assistant Deputy Wardens/Deputy Wardens Association who is now an adviser to the current president, Joe Russo.
Emphasizing that he was speaking for himself and not for the union, Mr. Schwartzbaum said he was nonetheless mystified that the PBA thought backing Mr. Trump was a constructive response.
"De Blasio, Cuomo made the Police and Correction Departments demoralized," he said. And so PBA officials "were like battered wives who ran into the arms of a guy who constantly claims he supports law enforcement. But when I saw the endorsement, I wondered how the premier law-enforcement union in the country could support a guy who's the antithesis of law and order."
Mr. Schwartzbaum continued, "Then I thought about Cuomo and his appointees to the Parole Board. They've been releasing cop-killers even before the coronavirus."
Parole That Hit Home
One that particularly bothered him was the parole of Barrington Young, one of three men guilty in the murder of Police Officer Harry Ryman 40 years ago when he came out of his home to try to prevent their theft of the car of one of his neighbors.
It wasn't until after Officer Ryman's murder that Mr. Schwartzbaum's father told him that the cop, who worked out of Brooklyn's 60th Precinct, had put a stop to his being extorted for payoffs to leave his store alone by Roy DeMeo, a murderous mobster who was known for chopping up his victims and finding separate burial sites for their body parts.
While Mr. Young was paroled into the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement last March 27, a PBA spokesman said, that was small consolation to Mr. Ryman's survivors, Mr. Schwartzbaum noted. "He had five kids; he was 43 years old. He never got to see his grandchildren."
He added, "I was thinking, knowing this guy personally, how I felt about that parole, and how the PBA must feel. I don't agree with Paddy Lynch in endorsing Trump, but these are all things that add up."
He echoed the police unions' outrage about the bill passed by the City Council and enacted by the Mayor last month that subjects officers to criminal charges if they compress the diaphragm of an individual with whom they are struggling. Saying he was convinced none of those who supported the legislation had consulted with training instructors about the difficulty of making arrests without a chance of that happening, Mr. Schwartzbaum said, "This bill makes it more viable to punch the s--- out of a guy before trying to restrain him with body holds to make an arrest."
He also questioned Mr. Cuomo's decision to repeal Section 50-a of the State Civil Rights Law and allow officers' disciplinary records to be made public, saying that unless unsubstantiated complaints were expunged, it was too easy for law-enforcement officers to have bum raps used against them.
Still Can't Justify It
Nonetheless, Mr. Schwartzbaum said, those legitimate grievances did not make endorsing Mr. Trump a viable response.
"If Patrick Lynch and the PBA have no problem endorsing a President who stood on a stage in Helsinki and said he believed a KGB thug over his intelligence agencies about Russian election interference, that's his choice, but I disagree," he said. "Or knowing there were verified reports of Putin giving bounties to the Taliban for killing American soldiers and never confronting him. Or firing Inspector Generals for doing their jobs properly."
Mr. Schwartzbaum, who remains a registered Republican, concluded, "I'm riding with Biden and Kamala, two people who respect the rule of law. Trump to me is the antithesis of the rule of law."
One veteran labor leader, speaking on condition that he not be identified, questioned the endorsement on practical rather than moral grounds.
"If your fight is with the Mayor, the City Council and the Governor, how does that endorsement help you?" he asked. "They're just gonna stick it to you. You may be praised nationally within the Republican Party, but locally, how's that gonna do you any good?"
Ms. Connelly made a similar point, then said, "It's frustration, but they're not going to get anything from Trump besides MAGA caps for Lynch's members. He doesn't have a strong reputation with the truth. They say their members are under siege. Maybe this'll boost their morale; maybe it'll boost Trump's morale."
Another union leader, also speaking conditioned on anonymity, said, "It's understandable that labor leaders look at issues that affect their [members' jobs.] But when people step back and see the damage that the Trump Administration and Republicans have done to fundamental worker rights, it's hard to see how they could reach the conclusion that they should endorse Trump. The Trump Administration has accelerated attacks against working people, and Biden, while not perfect, is a better and safer choice for workers."
Appeal to 'Forgotten'
In 2016, Mr. Trump positioned himself as the candidate of the "forgotten people," a strategy that paid off in battleground states where it resonated with white working-class and moderate voters who viewed Hillary Clinton as too close to Wall Street and the elites on both coasts. It is easy to imagine police-union leaders viewing themselves in a similar light, forsaken by elected officials whom they once supported but now perceive—to the extent that they swear by Twitter—that the pendulum has taken a hard turn to the left and they don't want to get left behind.
In Mr. Lynch's case, though, his membership as a whole is unlikely to view Mr. Trump as a savior, and for reasons that go beyond whether his policies in office have done far more for the wealthy in this country than they have for those he proclaimed "forgotten" four years ago.
The NYPD likes to tout the fact that people of color make up the majority of its uniformed force, and that is especially true at the Police Officer level. That was one reason why Mr. Arzt said, "I think you'll see a good number of the members backing Biden."
Support for that notion came from a veteran white officer who is likely to vote for Mr. Biden despite being disillusioned by the actions of elected officials he believes were influenced by radical forces that became prime movers in the protests and don't have the best interests of the city at heart.
Asked what he thought prompted his union's endorsement, he said, "I think it was mostly a shot at de Blasio more than it was support of Trump."
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