Phil Walzak (r.), a former City Hall operative, will be the NYPD's new top spokesman. (COREY SIPKIN/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
Police Commissioner James O'Neill Monday tapped a former City Hall operative to be the NYPD's top spokesman — a move immediately blasted by the largest police union.
Phil Walzak will replace Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Stephen Davis, who is retiring at month's end to work in the private sector.
Walzak was director of communications for Bill de Blasio's successful 2013 mayoral campaign. He then served as the mayor's press secretary and as a senior adviser, and helped run the mayor's successful reelection campaign.
Walzak, who after de Blasio’s victory became a political consultant in the private sector, said in a statement that he is “honored and humbled” by his appointment.
“I can think of no greater privilege than to work every day on behalf of the people of New York City and one of the most recognizable law enforcement agencies in the world,” Walzak said. “Commissioner O’Neill has laid out an ambitious and exciting vision for the NYPD — a vision that is truly a model for our entire country.”
The move, however, is unusual in that the NYPD’s top spokesperson does not typically have such close ties to the mayor.
Pat Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, slammed the appointment as “the clearest sign yet that the de Blasio administration thinks the NYPD's primary mission is to serve as a political tool, not protect public safety for all New Yorkers.”
“With the mayor's former campaign manager now overseeing information given to the press — including the body-worn camera footage that the mayor and the police commissioner have pledged to release in violation of state law — how can either police officers or the public have any confidence that it will be dispensed with an eye towards safety and justice and not filtered through a purely political lens?" Lynch said.
The PBA charges in a lawsuit that releasing such footage violates Section 50-a of the state civil rights law, which prohibits the release of police personnel records, though the city insists the videos aren’t covered by the law.
City Councilman Donovan Richards, who chairs the Public Safety committee, was less concerned than Lynch.
"We have a long way to go and we're hoping that this office is not necessarily going to serve and give political rhetoric necessarily, but really is going to function in a way that ensures the press and the communities in the city at large see more transparency within the NYPD,” Richards said.
Top cop James O'Neill said his decision was based on Walzak’s credentials — and his determination to promote the NYPD’s various initiatives. (SUSAN WATTS/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
O’Neill in a statement said his decision was based on Walzak’s credentials — and his determination to promote the NYPD’s various initiatives.
“Phil showed me he is level-headed, dedicated, and thoroughly experienced,” O’Neill said. “He understands the NYPD’s vital mission to maintain New York’s stature as the safest large city in America.
“He is fully committed to our Neighborhood Policing philosophy — a crime-fighting approach that seeks to build trust and strengthen relationships among New Yorkers in all communities and the cops who serve them.”