The Chief

February 25, 2000

 

PBA Holds Nose For Senate Race

Diallo 'Murder' Flare-Up

By William Van Auken

Hillary Clinton
HILLARY CLINTON: Trying to make amends

While many of the city's civilian unions have enthusiastically signed on to Hillary Clinton's U.S. Senate campaign, the police unions are sitting uncomfortably on the sidelines.

"We've got a pail and a shovel, but no beach to play on," said John A. Flynn, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association's Midtown South trustee and co-chair of the union's Committee on Political Education.

Choose Your Poison

Some civilian union leaders may be backing Ms. Clinton out of conviction and others merely as a matter of settling scores with Mr. Giuliani, but from the unique vantage point of the police unions, the cure could be as bad as the disease.

Mr. Giuliani's defense of the police won him PBA backing — if not the union's official endorsement — in his first two mayoral campaigns. His refusal to provide any additional compensation for cops. forcing them to adhere to the "double-zero" collective bargaining pattern set by the other municipal unions, brought an end to that support in 1997.

Relations between the Mayor and the largest police union have been further soured by Police Commissioner Howard Safir's attempt to unilaterally push through a merit-pay scheme and the department's policy of taking every civilian allegation of abuse to an administrative trial, no matter how flimsy the evidence.

Despite Ms. Clinton's attempts to cast herself as a "new Democrat," a supporter of the death penalty and strict law enforcement, she has made little headway in converting the resentments of the police unions toward the Mayor into political support for her campaign.

A series of well-publicized gaffes have particularly rankled the police unions. Her initial support for President Clinton's offer of clemency to emebers of the FALN, a group that claimed responsibility for bomb attacks that maimed several city cops, created animosity in police circles that her subsequent flip-flop on the issue did little to shake.

The Mayor attempted to make the most of the Clinton campaign's request in January that marked NYPD patrol cars not be assigned to her motorcade, declaring how happy he was to be identified with the police. Ms. Clinton's staff was apparently concerned that the police personnel, who are assigned by the NYPD Intelligence Division, might provide campaign information to Mr. Giuliani. The last and most egregious act in the eyes of the PBA was the Democratic candidate's statement referring to last year's "murder" of Amadou Diallo while addressing a Martin Luther King Day event organized by the Reverend Al. Sharpton.

Whether it was murder of a tragic error, union officials insisted, was precisely the issue to be determined by the jury in Albany. Ms. Clinton's comment, they maintained, amounted to finding the four Street Crime cops guilty before trial.

Lynch: 'Most Disturbing'

PBA President Patrick J. Lynch addressed a letter to Ms. Clinton Feb. 8 calling the remark "most disturbing, not only to me but to all members of the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association." Mr. Lynch further criticized comments by the First Lady which he said suggested support for bringing Federal civil rights charges against the four officers if they are acquitted in Albany.

"That both characterizations were expressed in the context of a campaign appearance with Al Sharpton on the Reverend's turf only adds to our concerns," the PBA president wrote.

In a "Dear Pat" letter, Ms. Clinton said she "clearly misspoke" in her use of the word "murder."

"As a lawyer, I know that the four officers charged in the shooting death of Mr. Diallo have a right to due process and I want to make sure that they are given that fundamental right," she wrote. "Only a jury can decide their guilt or innocence and I did not ean to suggest otherwise."

Credits Crime Efforts

Ms. Clinton declared her support for "our brave men and women in law enforcement who proudly serve their communities," and credited the drop in the crime rate to "the hard work of our officers who face tremendous risks every day ..."

The First Lady went on to claim credit for having "fought to put 100,000 more police on the streets," referring to the additional funds provided for police hiring by her husband's administration. She also ticked off her backing of various measures favored by law-enforcement organizations including scholarships for cops, a ban on "cop-killer" bullets, increased funds for bullet-proof vests and the imposition of the death penalty for those convicted of killing a police officer.

"I value your service to our communities and hope that we will work together in the future," Ms. Clinton concluded her letter.

While the Democratic candidate seemed intent on mending fences and members of her campaign staff have requested a meeting to seek the PBA's endorsement, union officials said that Mr. Giuliani has made no appeal for the union's backing in the upcoming Senate race.

Open-Minded, But ...

"The PBA is always open-minded," said the union's recording secretary, Robert Zink, who chairs the PBA's Committee on Political Education. ""But some of Ms. Clinton's remarks, particularly calling cops murderers, make it very difficult for us even to speak to her." Asked about the mayor, he said there was just as much of a problem. "A lot of cops are still hurting from the last contract, the double zeroes," said Mr. Zink.

Noting that a recent poll showed 51 percent of the states's voters wished there were another candidate, Mr. Flynn said, "With our members, it's probably 85 percent." Given those numbers, the PBA's considerable political muscle and resources may well go untapped in this year's Senate race.

Mayor Giuliani
MAYOR GIULIANI: Contract a key factor.

According to one police union official, however, the choice between the two candidates hinges on whether there is any progress toward an acceptable contract agreement between now and November.

Ball in Mayor's Court

My goal is to deliver a collective-bargaining agreement to my members," said the official. "If we can do that through political means, fine." Tthe official said that the unions would be seeking a rough equivalent of the salary increases provided under the recently ratified agreement between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Transport Workers Union Local 100.

"If the Giuliani administration refuses to conduct meaningful negotiations with the police unions, he warned, "anger may dictate the way the members go," resulting in an endorsement of Ms. Clinton.

"Cops are going to vote with their pocketbook," he said.