The rumor all morning was that Bill de Blasio would be announcing his choice for police commissioner, and it drew an overflow crowd of reporters to a small fourteenth-floor conference room in an office building across Broadway from City Hall. Sorry, kids: The mayor-elect says he’s not “100 percent ready” to decide on who will lead the NYPD next year. Instead, De Blasio unveiled three other picks for top jobs in his administration, and while none of them are likely to make the front page of the papers tomorrow, they are important to how the city will run and for what their selections say about De Blasio.
Tony Shorris will be first deputy mayor, essentially the chief mechanic for day-to-day operations. Shorris brings an impressive breadth of experience in government (beginning in the Koch administration, as deputy budget director) and quasi-government (he’s leaving a post as senior vice-president at NYU hospital); he’s the type of “gray hair” hire that De Blasio advisers have been predicting will be made to competently deliver services and to reassure the elites worried by De Blasio’s thin managerial experience. The other two appointments were already key De Blasio insiders: Dominic Williams, his chief of staff in the public advocate’s office, and Emma Wolfe, the smart and tough architect of much of his winning grassroots campaign operation. Williams will be Shorris’s chief of staff; Wolfe’s new campaign will be selling Albany on a tax increase to pay for education programs.
Elevating this trio, at this point, emphasizes a few things about the mayor-elect: He prizes familiarity — De Blasio has known them all well for years — and he’s highly attuned to optics and to backing up his vow to assemble a staff “that looks like New York.” Shorris is a middle-aged white Jewish guy; Wolfe is young, female, and lesbian; Williams is younger still and black. The other message De Blasio sent today — repeatedly — was that he’s going to be in charge. In part, it’s a reaction to the mistakes he saw while working in the Dinkins administration. “I did not like the way the administration was structured,” he told me recently. “A lot of very good and talented people, but an organizational structure that was divided. There was a real lack of unity, a real lack of singleness of purpose a lot of the time. It was eye-opening to me, as a student of government, about how much you have to have a clear, sharp leadership structure.” Today he devoted many words and many hand gestures to hammering home the plan that everyone will be on the same page and that he will make the big decisions. Which sounds wise and efficient — but the tone may also have had something to do with this morning’s big Times story about the large part Chirlane McCray will play in City Hall. The first question to De Blasio this morning was what role McCray played in picking the three top staffers. The mayor-elect laughed and repeated how it’s no news that his wife is his most trusted adviser. But he also seems sensitive to the media meme that’s developing. “When it’s an important decision and a strategic decision, the buck stops right here,” De Blasio said, pointing to his chest. “I will be a hands-on mayor making those decisions.” Today, though, he enlisted the first savvy lieutenants who aren’t relatives.