Wall Street Journal
Updated Jan. 12, 2015
9:46 p.m. ET


Cuomo Eyes Peacemaker Role

Governor Considers Taking Steps to Heal Rift Between Mayor de Blasio and NYPD

By MICHAEL HOWARD SAUL AND ERICA ORDEN

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is weighing a role as peacemaker in the conflict between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and some members of the police force, a move that political experts warned could weaken the mayor as he labors to mend the relationship on his own.

Mr. Cuomo hasn’t yet determined whether to insert himself into the dispute and what his role might be if he did, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

Aides to Messrs. Cuomo and de Blasio have been in touch since political tensions in the city worsened after two New York Police Department officers were fatally ambushed Dec. 20. But Mr. Cuomo wouldn’t necessarily wait for an invitation from Mr. de Blasio, said the person familiar with his thinking.

“He’s not going to do something purposely to jam Bill, but if he sees a path that’s productive without waiting for Bill’s approval, he would do it,” the person said. “But first he’d make a real effort to work with Bill, who’s a friend, to work it out.”

For now, the governor is more focused on an overhaul of criminal-justice practices he pledged last year to advance in this legislative session, the person said.

A spokeswoman for the governor didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Phil Walzak, a spokesman for Mr. de Blasio, said the mayor “believes an outside intermediary is not necessary,” even though the mayor respects Mr. Cuomo and other potential mediators who have been floated.

Police-union officials and other civic leaders have accused Mr. de Blasio of fostering an antipolice climate, citing his alliance with the Rev. Al Sharpton, a frequent police critic, and recent remarks the mayor made about preparing his biracial son for a potential police encounter.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, next to his girlfriend, Sandra Lee, speaks to the media outside the wake of Officer Wenjian Liu on Jan. 3 in Brooklyn.

On Monday, Police Commissioner William Bratton released data showing an increase in police activity after summonses and arrests had sharply fallen since the killings of the officers.

During the week that ended Sunday, arrests declined 37% compared with the same week in 2014. That is an improvement from the previous week, when numbers were down 55.9% from a year earlier.

“The officers are beginning to re-engage again,” Mr. Bratton said.

On Monday, Mr. de Blasio sounded determined to heal the division between himself and the police.

“We’re going to keep talking to the union leaders, we’re going to keep talking to everyday cops, and we’re going to keep working for understanding,” he said.

Costas Panagopoulos, professor of political science at Fordham University, said Mr. Cuomo’s potential involvement in the dispute brought risks for Mr. de Blasio.

“It doesn’t look good when someone else has to swoop in and rescue you from your political trouble,” Mr. Panagopoulos said. “It doesn’t speak highly of your leadership and governing abilities or your capacity to resolve disputes with the key city agencies.”

The main risk for Mr. Cuomo is that he could be making a “strategic miscalculation” in his ability to resolve a thorny dispute, Mr. Panagopoulos said.

A role for the governor in the mayor-police conflict would require careful political handling, said George Arzt, a longtime Democratic consultant who worked on Mr. de Blasio’s 2009 campaign for public advocate.

“I can understand the resistance to the optics of having the governor step in,” Mr. Arzt said. “If I were advising him, I would say let’s consider both sides. The optics of having the governor come in and the possibility that the governor may actually be helpful.”

Messrs. de Blasio and Cuomo have known each other for decades and say they are friends, but their first year working together as mayor and governor was turbulent.

At the beginning of last year, Mr. Cuomo opposed the mayor’s plan to raise city income taxes to expand prekindergarten and appeared to revel in poking the mayor as he battled with supporters of charter schools.

Mr. de Blasio went out of his way last spring to help the governor mend fences with the left wing of the Democratic Party, which threatened to abandon Mr. Cuomo as he sought re-election.

Mr. de Blasio’s aides thought they had turned a corner with the governor, but Mr. Cuomo surprised City Hall this fall when he issued a mandatory quarantine order in the midst of the Ebola scare, a policy that Mr. de Blasio opposed.

The path forward for Mr. de Blasio is marked by many hurdles. Police union officials and other civic leaders have called on him to apologize to the police. The mayor has declined to apologize.

One mayoral aide said the level of rhetoric from union officials intensified in connection with the decision by the main police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, to go to binding arbitration in a dispute with the mayor on police pay. The union’s president, Patrick Lynch, has denied the continuing conflict is related to the union’s contract.

—Rebecca Davis O’Brien contributed to this article.

Write to Michael Howard Saul at michael.saul@wsj.com and Erica Orden at erica.orden@wsj.com