It’s not exactly Nixon going to China but Bill de Blasio’s selection today of Bill Bratton as his police commissioner is an act of political triangulation meant to reassure New Yorkers that the city will still be safe when he enters City Hall next month.
It’s a tricky balancing act because Bratton was the architect of the CompStat program which revolutionized crimefighting in the NYPD but he also served as a central figure in the administration of Rudy Giuliani – the “most divisive mayor in recent history” in de Blasio’s words.
Highlighting the many strong parts of Bratton’s resume while overlooking his links to Giuliani will be a bit of pretzel trick for de Blasio – but luckily for him, Bratton’s stormy tenure at the NYPD ended in 1996, which is ancient history for many New Yorkers.
For those who’ve forgotten, Giuliani’s close relationship with Bratton and their success at battling crime quickly morphed into a jealous rivalry, fueled by the police commissioner’s appearance on the cover of Time magazine. When Giuliani learned of Bratton’s plans to celebrate the NYPD with a parade on his birthday, it was too much for the mayor to handle. And in George Steinbrenner-Billy Martin style, the police commissioner left the administration a little more than two years into his tenure.
Since then, Bratton succeeded at the law enforcement equivalent of managing a West Coast baseball team, running the Los Angeles Police Department for seven years to wide praise. But stop and frisks – the dirtiest words in Bill de Blasio’s lexicon – were also on the rise during Bratton’s tenure in L.A.
Trying to give de Blasio some political armor, Al Sharpton released a statement about Bratton’s selection this morning, noting : “When Bill Bratton served in New York City under Rudy Giuliani, we had a very distant and adversarial relationship, but when he served in Los Angeles, he and I…worked closely on gang violence and police misconduct matters.”
So with the blessing of The Reverend Sharpton, a political odd couple will have to make their marriage work because both men desperately need each other. Bratton has been fixated on returning to One Police Plaza almost as soon as he resigned. De Blasio needs to take on fears that the squeegee men will return to harass New Yorkers – and that his administration will do little to preserve the city’s high quality of life.
While it will be interesting to see if de Blasio and Bratton can avoid a public battle of the egos, it’s in both of their interests – and the interests of the city -- to have their strange partnership work. It will be one of the most important things to watch in City Hall next year.