After all that talk about Sandinistas, Bill de Blasio may turn out to be a closet conservative. Not in his policy pursuits, exactly: So far the mayor-elect is sticking to his progressive values in pushing for an expansion of pre-kindergarten programs, telling a fund-raising event Tuesday night that, “It’s time to tax the wealthiest New Yorkers!” But this morning in Red Hook, in the first pivotal act of the De Blasio administration, he announced his pick for police commissioner: Bill Bratton. And that’s a strikingly conservative — as in cautious — move.
Bratton certainly has a deep and impressive résumé. He worked wonders with transit cops in Boston and New York before transforming the NYPD as a whole during two tumultuous years under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He followed that up with seven years running the LAPD, again driving down crime. But De Blasio’s choice is about much more than operational competence. His campaign rhetoric about “ending the stop-and-frisk era” was a highly effective rallying cry to liberal and minority voters, but it rattled the city’s monied interests. After the Democratic primary, when De Blasio met with business leaders, the hand-wringing first question was almost always about how he’d keep crime from soaring back to the levels of the dystopian seventies. A source familiar with De Blasio’s thinking says the mayor-elect picked Bratton because he has the media and political skills to sell a continuing reduction in stop-and-frisk to the city’s ruling class, while mending relations with minority neighborhoods — and that if crime does tick upward, De Blasio believes Bratton has the credibility and track record to reassure the elites and the public that he’ll soon have things heading in the right direction again.
For Bratton, today’s triumph has been a very long time in the making. He’s essentially been campaigning for a return to One Police Plaza since 2001, during the mayoral primary, when he jumped onboard with Mark Green, another lefty Democrat perceived to be wobbly on public safety. Part of Bratton’s strategy has been defusing the image, left over from his gaudy clashes with Giuliani, that he’s not a team player: When I asked him, not long ago, a fairly mild question about Ray Kelly’s relations with rank-and-file cops, Bratton couldn’t get off the phone fast enough, not wanting to say anything remotely controversial. Today Bratton said all the right things, underscoring De Blasio’s remarks about community policing, which were further highlighted by the setting, inside the Red Hook Community Justice Center, next to a door labeled “Peacemaking Program.”
On the other hand, Bratton still clearly loves the spotlight, and he has warm relations with much of the city’s press, particularly the Elaine’s diaspora: It’s telling that the report of Bratton’s recent Brooklyn dinner with De Blasio came from Richard Johnson, the dean of the Post’s gossip columnists. The mayor-elect didn’t want to risk choosing an untested police commissioner — but he’ll take his chances on competing with his top cop for headlines.