New York, home to the best AND worst this month
Best in Governance
Bill de Blasio
In July, a shocking video clip surfaced on the Internet that showed New York Police Department (NYPD) personnel brutally subduing a Staten Island African-American man and choking him to death. The disturbing footage from a bystander’s cell phone revealed police using an illegal chokehold to tackle the 43-year-old Eric Garner. Before the heavyset, asthmatic father of six lost consciousness, he can be heard repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.”
The chilling video created an outrage, bringing close attention to the tactics NYPD officers use to restrain suspects and presenting New York Mayor Bill de Blasio with the first test of his young administration. In recent history, New York has been haunted by a litany of deaths resulting from excessive police force, including infamous cases like Amadou Diallo during Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s time in charge and of Sean Bell under the Michael Bloomberg administration.
With these cases in mind, de Blasio moved fast and took a decisive role in addressing the crisis that stands in contrast to the sometimes tone-deaf positions of his predecessors. Soon after watching the Garner video, Mayor de Blasio organized a swift response that included an immediate outreach campaign to members of the Garner family, conversations with organizer and police critic Rev. Al Sharpton and other community members, and suspensions for the officer involved as well as four members of the emergency medical response team that seemed slow in its response.
The mayor’s assertive approach in taking control of a potentially flammable situation almost immediately instead of waiting was a smart and intuitive move from the largely untested de Blasio. But still it may not be enough to make the crisis disappear and for the country to forget the searing images from the video. With anger across the city still simmering, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has promised to review police training procedures, and Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan is investigating a death the medical examiner has deemed a homicide under great scrutiny. Mayor de Blasio has struggled to bring together police and community members together as well as with questions about how he will balance his campaign promises to rein in the NYPD with the need to build a working relationship with the police. Still, his action to act decisively at the start of the crisis is a demonstration that de Blasio is capable of taking strides toward forging a forceful and responsive leadership style.
Worst in Governance
For New Yorkers who have become weary of an epidemic of political corruption and unsavoryscandals over the past few years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s vows last year to clean up the state’s disreputable politics were a welcome development. Promising that New Yorkers could “sleep better” knowing that their government would be held to the “highest ethical and legal standards,” Cuomo convened an independent commission with wide-ranging powers to investigate public corruption under the powers of the 1907 Moreland Act.
However, those hopes have largely been dashed. Cuomo abruptly shut down the panel in March and later claimed in an interview that he was beyond reproach: “I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it is mine. It is controlled by me.” And a July New York Times investigation into the governor’s influence on the panel showed that Cuomo did more than just prematurely shutter the special commission. Interviews with staff members and a review of emails, subpoenas and internal documents revealed that the governor’s office played an active role in thwarting its own oversight body.
When the Moreland Commission issued a subpoena to investigate the practices of a media firm that purchased millions of dollars of ads for the New York State Democratic Party, the governor’s office moved quickly to pressure the commission to withdraw the subpoena. The firm counted Cuomo as one of its clients. But this was not an isolated case. The New York Times report uncovered several instances of the Cuomo’s aides actively working to compromise and undercut the efforts of the commission when it came too close to the governor and his interests, yielding a barrage of criticism for the would-be reformer.
The scandal has drawn the attention of U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, who confronted the governor with a strongly worded letter after the New York Times report that raised the possibility that the Cuomo administration might face an investigation for obstruction of justice or witness tampering. With Cuomo facing re-election in November, the Moreland Commission scandal has threatened a campaign once considered cakewalk—a surprising turn of events for a man who had previously campaigned on a promise to clean up New York’s beleaguered record of public corruption.