New York Daily News

November 28, 2006

Bloomberg's goal is to calm the waters

BY MICHAEL SAUL DAILY NEWS CITY HALL BUREAU CHIEF

Before he said a word, those who stood silently next to Mayor Bloomberg at City Hall yesterday already spoke volumes.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith was immediately to his right. Rep. Charles Rangel stood to his rear. City Controller William Thompson also had the mayor's back.

It was a distinct, powerful image - numerous black leaders standing with Bloomberg during a potentially racially divisive event - that underscored one of the themes of Bloomberg's mayoralty: He has consciously sought to minimize racial tensions where others in his position have only inflamed them.

Bloomberg then opened the news conference, promising "fairness, openness and justice" as he tried to mollify a city enraged by the 50 police bullets that left an unarmed bridegroom dead on his wedding day.

At first, Bloomberg spoke gingerly about the fatal shooting of Sean Bell, declaring it was "much too early to arrive at conclusions."

"We simply don't have all the facts," Bloomberg insisted. "And I think it would be wrong, for us, to rush to judgment and we will not do that."

But as reporters peppered the mayor with questions, Bloomberg let down his guard, saying the deadly spray of 50 bullets was "unacceptable" and "inexplicable."

"It sounds to me like excessive force was used," said Bloomberg, a statement that earned him a swift rebuke from the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, who called the remark "premature."

But even before the news conference, Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly met privately at City Hall for nearly two hours with roughly three dozen elected officials and clergy members, who exhorted the mayor to express moral outrage.

When the mayor emerged from the meeting, he marched into the Blue Room with the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"I just wanted everybody to get their picture and understand we've just met together," said the mayor, beginning his news conference as many members of the private meeting stood with him.

Bloomberg said yesterday he hoped to meet soon with Bell's family, and he also promised to go to Jamaica, Queens, and speak directly to the community.

Earlier, during the private meeting - a free-flowing discussion described by participants as tense, serious and candid - City Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) called on Bloomberg to fire Kelly.

Bloomberg defended Kelly as the city's best-ever NYPD commissioner. He said Kelly will remain the city's top cop through the rest of his term.

Sharpton praised Bloomberg yesterday for having "better manners" than his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, but he said he was more interested in the pursuit of justice.

Barron described the mayor's response to the incident as "weak."

"We don't need a kinder, gentler Giuliani," Barron said. "We need policy change. And if you don't want to change the polices and protect us, then, we need a regime change."

For the most part, though, community leaders offered the mayor kudos.

Councilman James Sanders (D-Queens) said the shooting may be a defining moment for the mayor and his administration.

"I believe that he will come through this one, I trust, with flying colors," Sanders said.

With Lisa L. Colangelo