The Chief
January 19, 2001

Razzle Dazzle

Rudy's Unredeemed Pledge

By RICHARD STEIER

"I haven't been to a rally that's been unruly yet," Police Officer Michael Alberts, a 12-year veteran assigned to Patrol Borough Bronx, said as he stood along Broadway with 10,000 other cops Jan. 11 at a City Hall contract rally organized by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

That statement invited mention of the last PBA-sponsored rally at City Hall in September 1992, the one that turned into a mini-riot when some overserved cops tried to storm into the building and later blocked traffic at the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.

"I don't remember the '92 rally," Officer Alberts replied.

An 11-year officer assigned to Brooklyn South had a clearer recollection. "What I remember," he said, "was Rudy Giuliani was one of the guys who incited us."

Poured Gas on Fire

This cop, who did not want to give his name, asserted that contrary to Mr. Giuliani's claim that he had steered cops at that rally away from City Hall after their reckless charge toward the building's entrance, the future Mayor had actually egged the mob on.

Of course, the indelible and indisputable memory of Mr. Giuliani that lingers from that event was of him standing on a flatbed truck at the corner of Murray and Church Sts. a short time later, denouncing Mayor Dinkins and his police policies and repeatedly using a barnyard epithet to attack his credibility.

And now, Mr. Giuliani was the man occupying the west wing of City Hall while a throng of cops, this time disciplined and orderly in their protest, were expressing displeasure at how they were being treated at the bargaining table.

There was never any real chance that this rally would get out of hand the way the 1992 protest did. That fiasco not only embarrassed the cops and then-PBA President Phil Caruso, it wound up costing them something tangible when the City Council, which had been expected to torpedo Mr. Dinkins's plan for an all-civilian Civilian Complaint Review Board, became so revulsed by the mob scene that it wound up passing the enabling legislation.

A peaceful and orderly rally in Battery Park last June that amounted to a warm- up for last week's protest made clear that PBA President Pat Lynch had learned the hard lessons of the 1992 mini-riot. This year's turnout had plenty of union marshals and no apparent alcohol consumption, and while the off-duty cops standing inside the metal barricades were spirited, they were always well-behaved.

"Yeah, they've stressed it," Police Officer Mary Amato, an 18-year veteran who works out of the 62nd Precinct in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, said of the PBA's advance warnings to officers that any acting up would defeat the purpose of the rally.

And so the only remarkable thing about the turnout was that the union was able to muster at least as many members on a cold January morning as it had for a warm day in September more than eight years ago.

When he first took office in 1994, helped by the strong if unofficial backing of the PBA during the previous November's election, Mr. Giuliani opted not to deviate from a bargaining pattern established under Mr. Dinkins when he negotiated police contracts.

'Can't Give You More Now'

That July, upon reaching a settlement with the PBA that left union members not entirely thrilled, Mr. Giuliani said, "Obviously, I'd like to be in a position where I could compensate people better. But I'm not."

The implied promise in those words has yet to be redeemed. And the protesters who were within shouting distance of the Mayor were still smarting from the subsequent contract, which began with a two-year wage freeze, and wondering whether, with reports that other uniformed unions were close to a deal that could again limit the PBA's terms, Mr. Giuliani's primary concern remained outmaneuvering them at the table.

"I'm not really surprised," said Officer Amato, "because this has been his attitude since he's been in office.

"We've got a [budget] surplus and crime is down," she noted. "We're just looking for a decent raise so we can support our families."

Asked what she would consider "decent," she responded, "Compatible to other major cities around us that have less revenue but their cops make more money."

That was an allusion to Newark, where the base salary is 11 percent higher for rookies and 18 percent higher for veterans, and they work fewer hours on an annual basis. The difference in work schedules has led the PBA to ask for a 25-percent increase as a "catch-up" raise at the beginning of a new contract, with additional raises over a proposed two-year deal bringing the total to 39 percent.

Mr. Giuliani following the demonstration told reporters that if he granted the PBA's demands, his successor would wind up facing the equivalent of the mid-1970s fiscal crisis.

Sweet Nothings?

"It's easy to pander and it's easy to say what people want to hear," Mr. Giuliani said, adding that he would take the braver course by saying "no" to the union's demands.

Tim Nickels, who was the president of the now-defunct Housing Police Benevolent Association when Mr. Giuliani settled the 1994 contracts, said it seemed in retrospect that the Mayor had been implying what the unions wanted to hear.

"He asked the unions, 'Help me recover, help me take care of the city. When times are better, I'll take care of you,'" Mr. Nickels recalled. "So the bullet was bit, the city is doing extremely well, beyond anybody's expectation and all of a sudden Rudy's talking about deficits, which is what every Mayor talks about at contract time.

"We were the workhorses that plowed the financial fields," Mr. Nickels said as he walked across Broadway while the rally dispersed. "Rudy, put up. Keep to your word, keep to your commitment that we will share in the wealth."

Mr. Lynch, standing on a flatbed truck at the south end of City Hall Park, had put it in blunter terms, placing the onus squarely on Mr. Giuliani, where his past speeches had spoken of "the city's" obligation to pay its officers better.

'Crime is down, murder is down, revenues are up, but our salaries are down." he shouted to the cheers of his members. "We are not numbers in somebody's political career. We've given more--we deserve more!"

As the crowd chanted, "No increase in pay, no reason to stay," Mr. Lynch continued, "No one wants to take this job and risk their life for $350 [after taxes] a week. It's time we catch up with the future. We should get paid like a modern Police Department."

'Time to Repay Us'

Then, pointing to City Hall and referring to the raises of between 18 and 28 percent that the Mayor and other city officials received last year, Mr. Lynch exhorted, "You got a raise. We want a raise!" Cops, more than any other factor, he said, were responsible for the improved quality of life in the city, and he called on city officials to "repay us with their respect, repay us with their support, and repay us with a salary that will pay our bills."

While some officers spoke of being unappreciated by the taxpayers - "What police want as much as a raise is just a little more respect from the public," the cop from Brooklyn South remarked - money was the overriding issue at the rally.

The widening gap between pay for NYPD officers and their suburban counterparts was referred to repeatedly.  When Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association President Jeff Frayler - whose members will have a maximum salary of more than $100,000 at the end of their current contract - told the crowd, "If there's anything we can do, just ask," numerous cops shouted back, "Hire us!"

"You shouldn't want to leave this job," said Nassau Police Benevolent Association President Gary Delaraba said. "Some people think it's okay that New York City Police Officers have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. It's an injustice."

Koch More Flexible

An injustice that Mr. Giuliani seems prepared to perpetuate in the name of fiscal stability, just as he also tries to hold the line in bargaining with the United Federation of Teachers despite growing evidence that low salaries have adversely affected the quality of the work force in the public schools.

Two-and-a-half years into his first term as Mayor, Ed Koch granted uniformed employees raises that were slightly better than those he gave their civilian counterparts. They deserved a bit more because they put their lives on the line, he argued.

It probably didn't hurt that the uniformed unions were his most enthusiastic municipal labor boosters. But when the city confronted a severe nursing shortage during the late 1980s, Mr. Koch again deviated from a bargaining pattern to give the New York State Nurses' Association - never a big backer of his - the most generous contract of the bargaining round.

Mr. Giuliani, even with a budget surplus that would make it easier to give some unions more without triggering an insurrection among others, appears determined to hold to a single pattern. For a Mayor who prides himself on operating outside the box of tradition, it's a surprisingly conventional position to take.

Cogs in His Machine?

The veteran officer from Brooklyn South said he thought this stance reflected the Mayor's belief that cops were just faceless cogs in a crime-fighting machine he had created.

"I teach my rookies you're just a pawn on a giant chessboard," this officer said. "We definitely made him look good. The hierarchy of the department is taking credit for the reduction in crime, but it's the guys on the street who are responsible, and they're risking their lives for pennies.

"What impact do I think us coming out here will have? Zero. You can't go up against somebody that has a Napoleon complex."