Tuesday, 05 Dec 2023

De Blasio meddled in NYPD brass promotions, orchestrating ouster of 4 white chiefs

De Blasio meddled in NYPD brass promotions, orchestrating ouster of 4 white chiefs

New York (Writer)-Mayor Bill de Blasio described forcing out a pioneering white female NYPD chief, as well as three other chiefs, as merely “the human reality for a few individuals” as he sought in 2017 to burnish his credentials on race, emails obtained through a lawsuit reveal.

The new details on de Blasio and former First Lady Chirlane McCray’s influence on NYPD personnel decisions emerged through an ongoing lawsuit filed by former Chief of Community Affairs Joanne Jaffe, who was the NYPD’s first female three-star chief.

After Chief of Department Carlos Gomez, who is of Cuban descent, abruptly retired in 2017, de Blasio moved to increase people of color in high-ranking positions in the NYPD. De Blasio and McCray wanted the senior staff at 1 Police Plaza to reflect not just the demographics of the NYPD, but of the city as a whole, according to the suit.

Fulfilling that goal for the mayor required the ouster of four white chiefs, including Jaffe, according to an amended complaint filed Friday.

In emails to then-Commissioner James O’Neill, de Blasio described Gomez’s retirement as a “situation” that would “only exacerbate the demographic tensions” in the city, according to the suit.

The mayor and McCray were so closely involved that they interviewed Jaffe’s replacement, Nilda Hofmann, months before Jaffe even realized she was being pushed out, Jaffe’s lawyer John Moscow said.

“Why the mayor is interviewing people, I don’t know. Why the mayor’s wife is interviewing three star chiefs is totally beyond me,” Moscow said.

De Blasio insisted Hofmann’s maiden name, Irizarry, be included in the press release announcing her promotion to highlight her Latino heritage, according to the suit.

“It’s really important that the press release say ‘Nilda Irizarry Hofmann’ to get the point across. Unless she has a strong personal objection to that, it is important for the team. And I’m happy to talk to her personally if needed,” the mayor wrote in an email, according to the suit.

Hofmann had not used her maiden name, Irizarry, since her marriage in 1992, the suit states.

When it came time to force the chiefs out, de Blasio suggested to O’Neill in an email on Dec. 16, 2017 that he “bury the departures in the pre-holiday media lull.”

O’Neill objected in a reply, saying the negative media attention would be a “a major distraction.” He suggested shuffling the upper ranks the following month.

Jaffe sued in 2019. The emails reveal “a cynical public relations move that put de Blasio’s political interests ahead of the law and the well-being of dedicated NYPD civil servants,” the lawsuit states.

Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city Law Department, said the allegations in the amended complaint are being reviewed and declined further comment. The city previously said it could only find a few emails regarding the decision to force Jaffe into retirement, prompting a judge to exclaim last year “Do you think I’m stupid?”

Jaffe’s lawsuit provides a window into the cutthroat political maneuvering among police brass and City Hall. O’Neill wanted Chief of Patrol Terence Monahan, a close friend, to succeed Gomez as chief of department — the highest-ranking uniformed position. McCray, referred to in emails as “FLONYC,” wanted then-Deputy Chief Rodney Harrison, who is Black, to get the nod, the suit states.

Weeks passed without a new chief of department before Monahan was named to the post in November 2017. Harrison replaced Monahan as chief of patrol.

O’Neill pushed out Jaffe, Chief of Citywide Operations Thomas Purtell, Chief of Personnel Diane Pizzuti and Chief of Transit Joseph Fox in January 2018.

O’Neill called Jaffe into his office on Jan. 8 and ordered her to file for retirement within four days, according to the suit. The meeting lasted less than a minute. Until then, she had no intention to retire.

O’Neill’s top aide, First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker, allegedly told Pizzuti that same day, “We don’t have a spot for you.” Pizzuti, the NYPD’s first female chief of personnel, settled her discrimination lawsuit against the city in 2020 for $330,000.

Fox and Purtell, both older and white, were forced out at the same time.

“What they did was unethical,” Fox said Friday. “The mayor was increasingly tinkering in personnel decisions later in his eight years. It got so you could not promote deputy inspectors without checking with City Hall.

Catch up on the day’s top five stories every weekday afternoon. “But there was no explanation, no footnote, no press release that said why we needed to do this.”

Though O’Neill publicly thanked Jaffe for her long service, she never got a “walk-out,” the tribute accorded well-regarded commanders, the lawsuit said.

O’Neill had his own reasons for the personnel moves, according to department insiders. Jaffe, for example, was seen by some as a difficult boss who had been publicly critical of the commissioner’s signature community policing program.

Purtell was also viewed as a difficult boss. Pizzuti was seen as spending too much time away from the office on her teaching job. Fox was very well liked but seen as somewhat out of touch, insiders said. “O’Neill wanted to move them for different reasons,” one department insider said.

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