Wall Street Journal
November 17, 2014

Embattled City Hall Aide Takes Leave After Son’s Arrest

Rachel Noerdlinger Has Been the Subject of Headlines for Months

By Michael Howard Saul

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that his wife’s chief of staff, who announced her departure earlier in the day, had been the victim of a smear campaign conducted for political purposes.

Rachel Noerdlinger, who also has served as an adviser to the mayor, said she stepped aside to spend more time with her teenage son, who was arrested Friday on a trespassing charge.

Mr. de Blasio said news reports in the past few months about Ms. Noerdlinger’s personal life was part of a “systematic effort to undermine” certain work in his administration.

Ms. Noerdlinger, who earned $170,000 a year, will be on indefinite, unpaid leave, but she is welcome to return to the administration if she chooses, Mr. de Blasio said. First lady Chirlane McCray is expected to find a replacement, he said.

Most of the news-media reports have focused on Ms. Noerdlinger’s relationship with her boyfriend, Hassaun McFarlan, who has a long criminal history.

There have also been reports that both Mr. McFarlan and her 17-year-old son, Khari, made derogatory comments online about police officers.

The city’s police unions—at odds with the mayor over the level of his support for officers—have decried Ms. Noerdlinger’s relationship with Mr. McFarlan.

Ms. Noerdlinger, who served as the Rev. Al Sharpton ’s spokeswoman before joining the administration, also has come under scrutiny.

She didn’t disclose on a background check that she lived with Mr. McFarlan, resulting in City Hall placing a note in her personnel file. She also filed four versions of a financial disclosure report, which contained document errors.

On Friday, Khari was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespass on West 164th Street in Manhattan. He has agreed to one day of community service, and if he stays out of trouble, the case will be dismissed in six months, according to the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

“It was a very low-level misdemeanor that if not for the fact that Khari’s mother was Rachel Noerdlinger this is the sort of thing that happens 1,000 times a week in New York City and is never reported,” said his attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman.

In a statement, Ms. Noerdlinger described the reasons for taking a leave of absence. “These past two months have been extremely difficult for both of us,” she said, referring to her son, “and his arrest on Friday heightens the need for me to devote my full attention to Khari, my number one priority.”

“I can handle criticism and scrutiny of me, even when it’s mean-spirited—that comes with the territory when you take on the status quo,” she said. “But increasingly, my son has been subjected to attacks that have nothing to do with the public interest, and everything to do with derailing this administration. I do not want to be a distraction—the work at hand is far too urgent.”

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said, “Should City Hall decide to fill what is a very questionable position, we hope they can find someone who appreciates the critical role that police have in making this city a viable place to live and who will not bring an anti-police bias to the table.”

At a news conference just hours after his office announced Ms. Noerdlinger’s departure, Mr. de Blasio said: “We saw this in the 1950s, we’ve seen this throughout the history of this country.” He added: “If someone wants to smear people, and use that for political purposes, there’s a pretty easy playbook for doing it. It’s repulsive.”

The mayor said public servants, particularly appointees, were entitled to privacy surrounding their personal lives. “Their child should not be our interest—that’s the bottom line,” he said.

—Pervaiz Shallwani contributed to this article.