The Chief
May 23, 2003

Lynch Seeks 2nd Term

Giving City’s Police Reason to Believe

By Mark Daly

After four years at the helm, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch is touting his transformation of the 23,000-member union.

The locks and buzzers are gone from the doors of the PBA’s office on Fulton Street in Manhattan, a building once considered inaccessible by the union’s members. The precinct delegates have all been issued beepers so any cop in trouble can reach them 24 hours a day.

A grueling court battle and contract arbitration fight last year gave cops a 10-percent raise over two years and ensured that any disputes in the new round of negotiations will be resolved by the state Public Employment Relations Board, a shift which Mr. Lynch says is to the union’s advantage.

‘Big Wins, But Still…’

Mr. Lynch’s challenge now is to get officers to care enough about the changes to give him a second term.

“We have gotten huge victories for this organization,” he said in an interview last week. “But there’s an awful long way to go. You have to keep moving forward.”

Mr. Lynch is facing a challenge from Thomas Barnett, the union’s Manhattan North Trustee, who has assembled a “True Rank and File” slate for the PBA’s top five posts and two dozen other officers.

In visits to precincts, Mr. Barnett attacks the incumbents on bread-and-butter issues. The salary increase Mr. Lynch achieved through arbitration is “virtually nothing,” he says, compared to the larger raises negotiated by the Teachers’ and Librarians’ unions. He also lambastes Mr. Lynch for imposing a $5 co-payment for prescription drugs obtained through the union’s benefit fund.

Mr. Lynch, in turn, says his opponent is “devoid of ideas. They’re just saying they’re going to negotiate but they don’t have a plan as to how.”

A campaign flyer released by the “Team Lynch” slate accuses Mr. Barnett of shirking his trustee responsibilities to work a second job as a Broadway stagehand, a charge Mr. Barnett indignantly denies.

Ballots in the PBA’s officer elections are scheduled to be mailed out May 23. They will be counted by the American Arbitration Association on June 7.

A Team of Incumbents

The top candidates on the “Team Lynch” slate, all incumbents, are John Puglissi, for first vice president, Mubarak Abdul-Jabbar for second vice president, Joseph A. Alejandro for treasurer, Robert Zink for recording secretary, and Brian Mooney for citywide trustee.

The son of a Transit Authority motorman, Mr. Lynch worked as a subway Conductor for less than a year before entering the Police Academy in 1984 at age 20. He spent his career in the 90th Precinct, which covers the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Before becoming a delegate, “I was on patrol, and I also did Community Affairs," he said.

Mr. Lynch took office in 1999 in the union’s first competitive election in 15 years, after campaigning as an outsider in a bruising four-way race. More than 16,000 cops voted in the election, about 60 percent of the membership at the time.

The incumbent, James “Doc” Savage, and other candidates from the union’s executive board paid the price for a two-year wage freeze in the union’s five-year contract, as well as a kickback scandal in the former Transit Police union that ensnared the PBA’s lawyers and its former negotiator.

Mr. Lynch’s campaign this time seems to count on his members having long memories for what came before him.

“Modernized Union”

Past administrations “did not want to make the difficult political decisions,” Mr. Lynch said as he explained how the $5 co-pay helped stabilize an ailing benefits fund. The union has bombarded members with leaflets and mailings, he continued, because previous leaders “kept members in the dark. We had to bring this organization up to modern times.”

Two recent low points in police-community relations in the city, the stationhouse torture of Abner Louima and the shooting of Amadou Diallo by four Street Crime Unit cops both happened before Mr. Lynch was elected, but his administration dealt with the fallout. On what Mr. Lynch calls “a business decision,” the PBA, through its insurance carrier, paid $1.5 million to settle a civil suit brought by Mr. Louima over the conduct of PBA delegates in his infamous case.

“We were getting painted with the brush of the image of the old PBA,” Mr. Lynch said. “And it takes time for people to realize there’s a change in the PBA. The citizens now know who defends New York City police officers when they’re wrongly accused.”

Steady Drumbeat on Pay

The union’s “aggressive media campaign,” to use Mr. Lynch’s phrase, has focused on taking the city to task over cop’s salaries, which the union contends have lagged behind the pay offered to cops in the suburbs and at the Port Authority.

The PBA has adjusted its strategy as the city’s budget crisis has deepened. Mr. Lynch said, the PBA recently provided precinct-staffing data to local community boards to enlist their assistance in fighting Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to shrink the Police Department through attrition.

His opponent, Mr. Barnett, takes a more cynical view of the union’s outreach efforts. He points out that the major fighting in Iraq had ended by the time the PBA’s “Support Our Troops” billboards began appearing near city bridges earlier this month. The ads feature a cop in counter-terrorism gear standing beside a uniformed soldier, with Mr. Lynch’s name at the bottom. (Mr. Lynch says billboard companies donated the space when it became available.)

Last week, Mr. Lynch launched a second ad campaign, titled “Don’t Blame the Cop,” to bring the PBA’s allegations of ticket quotas to the public’s attention. The radio, print and television ads also feature Mr. Lynch’s name. “He’s misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in members’ money,” Mr. Barnett complained. For 46 months he’s had a chance to work on this. Now, two weeks before the election, it’s the most important thing he’s gotta deal with.”

Mr. Lynch is all business in an interview, deflecting questions about how the presidency has changed him to return to his campaign message that Team Lynch has changed the union for the better.

His term, he said, “was the busiest four years in the history of the New York City PBA. We faced more issues than any other administration all at once. We’ve spoken to every living president of the PBA and every one of them said there’s never been so many issues that were so important to the membership all at one time.

The union waged its contract arbitration fight at the same time that it coped with the aftermath of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, which took the lives of 23 NYPD officers.

Aligned With UFA

Near the end of the arbitration process, Mr. Lynch formed an alliance with Stephen J. Cassidy, the newly elected president of the United Firefighters’ Association, who like Mr. Lynch had leapt from the rank and file to the apex of his union.

A rally the two presidents convened near Times Square last summer drew a crowd of thousands, including many firefighters. The event was a protest against an arbitrator’s proposal that would have had cops work shorter tours and show up for 10 additional days each year to get a larger raise. The proposal was dropped from the final award.

Mr. Barnett believes the rally was little more than a sideshow. By taking so long to resolve the PERB court fight and the arbitration, he argues, the PBA allowed the United Federation of Teachers to sign a contract which established the principle that municipal employees must be prepared to work longer hours – the Teachers added 20 minutes to their work day – for greater pay.

Mr. Lynch counters that the UFA soon after negotiated an agreement that mirrored the raise pattern of the PBA deal, and shared the virtue of being six months shorter than the 30-month contracts accepted by other uniformed unions. “We broke the pattern,” the PBA leader said.

Different Priorities

The arbitration panel’s award, issued last September, included an additional 1.5 percent in funds that the city wanted to devote to raising the pay of Police Officers at the start of their careers. The PBA fought to place approximately half of the total in longevity payments for veteran cops.

The UFA favored younger members when it divvied up its 1.5 percent, which Mr. Barnett emphasizes in his campaign stops. Firefighters in their third year on the job now make 2 percent more than cops, he says.

Mr. Lynch makes no apologies for the PBA’s decision. “We have to represent all our members, whether you have one day on the job or 20 years on the job,” he said.

Firing back at his opponent, Mr. Lynch said Mr. Barnett failed to attend any of the PERB arbitration hearings, despite his status as a trustee on full excusal from his duties as a police officer. “He never once set foot in that room. Not once."

Mr. Barnett said he grew disgusted with the union’s strategy in November 2001 after Mr. Lynch proposed that arbitrators give the PBA the 10 percent offered to the uniformed unions, but with a “market differential” attached. By acknowledging the pattern, Mr. Barnett argued, “he lowered his demand, just two months after 9/11.”

Among its other conflicts with the city, the PBA has faced a department newly sensitized to the embarrassment of prisoner escapes, which have become a staple of media reports on crime in the city. Commanders have taken to suspending officers for 30 days if they are found at fault in an escape.

‘NYPD Shifts Blame’

Mr. Barnett sees this as a PBA failure, but Mr. Lynch contends few cops stay out for the full month. “We get them back ahead of time, but it’s glamorous for my opponent to say that and point at that,” he said. “Management is not training and equipping us properly to deal with this problem, and they’re trying to divert attention from this by saying it’s the individual police officer’s fault.”

As the date for releasing the ballots neared, Mr. Lynch took his entire slate to an afternoon muster at the headquarters of Transit District 2 near Canal Street. (The district is the home turf of Mr. Zink, the union’s recording secretary, who is a former delegate for the unit.)

After roll call, at least 30 cops crowded into a narrow underground room. They appeared to listen intently as the union officers gave updates on a new overtime lawsuit, the move toward arbitration by the Detectives’ union and the latest on legislation in Albany.

‘Make Educated Choice’

At one point Mr. Lynch paused to apologize for speaking quickly before continuing to dole out information. “I mean no disrespect,” he said.

“When you get that ballot, I’m asking you to make an educated decision,” Mr. Lynch concluded. “Did we do all the things we said we were going to do the last time we came through here? When my opponent comes here, hold his feet to the fire, too.”

When Mr. Lynch asked for questions, Pedro Rodriguez, a cop with 19 ½ years in the district, raised his hand. “I have a comment,” he said. “I think you’ve done a great job. I think you’re going to be around for a while.”