The Chief
January 24, 2003

Bloomberg’s Bluff Backfires

Mayor Bloomberg learned a lesson in municipal gamesmanship last week when he retreated from the position he and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly took less than a week earlier that the layoff of cops might be unavoidable.

Mr. Kelly first sounded that alarm Jan. 8 in discussing the added 3-percent budget cut he had been asked to make to deal with the city’s financial problems. Mr. Bloomberg echoed his concern two days later on his radio show.

Their statements provoked a strong public response that went beyond the inevitable protest by the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, and so by Jan. 16 Mr. Bloomberg was telling reporters that he hoped “with attrition and good management we can avoid layoffs.”

It was a change in tone more than substance: Mr. Kelly had merely said it would be “very difficult” to cut the budget without layoffs, and the Mayor wasn’t definitively ruling out that step. But clearly he had concluded that this was one instance where seeing the glass as half-full was preferable to taking the more pessimistic view and stirring public fears about a resulting increase in crime.

Particularly since the half-empty glass stance of a week earlier always smelled more like a bargaining tactic than a genuine position on the administration’s part. Mr. Bloomberg has been trying to squeeze PBA President Pat Lynch into agreeing to productivity changes, including one that would involve shortening cops’ tours in return for compelling them to work 10 more shifts per year. Doing so would reduce the NYPD’s hiring needs by boosting each cop’s availability throughout the year.

After strenuous lobbying by Mr. Lynch prompted an arbitration panel to scrap that part of its proposed award last summer – and a 4-5-percent raise it would have granted for the increased availability – the Mayor expressed disbelief that the PBA would essentially take money out of it’s members’ pockets. Remarks along those same lines by First Deputy Mayor Marc Shaw in early December (at the same conference where he drew notoriety for questioning firefighter productivity) made it clear that Mr. Bloomberg is still annoyed by the PBA’s position.

There is no reason to believe that Mr. Lynch has taken that stance in defiance of his members’ wishes, however. He knew his chances of re-election this spring were closely tied to his rank and file’s satisfaction with the contract he got them, and so it would be difficult to accept a lesser pay raise because he balked at the additional tours unless he was convinced that’s what his members wanted.

Mr. Bloomberg comes from a business world in which most people willingly put in extra days at the office in return for additional compensation. Mr. Lynch must operate from a different perspective. Many of his members, because of the hazards they confront, don’t regard any extra shift as just another well-compensated day at the office. And their primary reference point is police departments in neighboring suburbs, which in many cases allow officers to work far fewer tours but require significantly longer shifts (the common denominator among departments is the state law requiring that cops be scheduled for 2,088 hours a year.)

Mr. Bloomberg’s changed tone last week shows he realized that using the layoff threat to prod the PBA was not a worthwhile gambit. The union that was directly involved in this municipal poker game wasn’t about to fold, but the public at large was worried enough about the Mayor’s bluff to force his hand.