Bill de Blasio and Phil Walzak (Paul Martinka)
A former top aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking over the NYPD press office — and a police union boss accused Hizzoner of using the department as a “political tool.”
Phillip Walzak, who served as campaign manager, senior adviser and press secretary for de Blasio, is taking over for outgoing Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Stephen Davis.
“Phil showed me he is level-headed, dedicated, and thoroughly experienced,” Police Commissioner James O’Neill said in a statement. “He understands the NYPD’s vital mission to maintain New York’s stature as the safest large city in America.”
But the announcement prompted an outcry from two of the city’s police unions.
“This is 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,” Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said.
Lynch has been at loggerheads with the mayor’s office over the release of body-worn camera footage that he wants kept secret with police officers’ disciplinary records.
“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 cameras were ordered by a federal judge to promote police accountability. The department’s public information office has been releasing the footage of police involved shootings to the media on a regular basis over the objections of the PBA.
The head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association was also critical of the Walzak move.
“I’m sure Mr. Walzak is experienced,” said SBA President Ed Mullins. “However, this is an interesting selection. Of the many highly talented media personalities in the selection pool, it seems the Commissioner expects us all to believe the Mayor’s Office had the best people. I guess we will see if the NYPDs communications are separate from City Hall and this was in fact the Commissioner’s choice as claimed.”
Head of the Detectives’ Endowment Association Michael Palladino said the move had his “antennas up.”
“Despite a new community policing model and record low crime rates, cops have not been appreciated as of late and he will now be in a position to change that,” he said. “I hope he is prepared”.
A police source said several members of O’Neill’s top staff went to him last week to oppose Walzak’s appointment when they heard whispers of it.
“They like Phil,” the source said. “They think he’s a smart guy, but they don’t think that it’s acceptable for a political press person, the mayor’s former right hand guy, to be sent over to run communications for the police department.”
But the head of the Captains Endowment Association called Walzak a “voice of reason.”
“He cares deeply about the NYPD and appreciates the risk and sacrifice cops make every day,” tweeted president Roy Richter.
Walzak worked as de Blasio’s press secretary from 2014 to 2015, and as senior adviser for Strategic Planning in his office from 2015 to 2016.
“The NYPD and New York City have set the standard for American policing, and are again raising the bar,” Walzak said. “I am honored and humbled to be part of this incredibly important mission.”
Walzak also served as Director of Strategic Communications at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2009 and 2010.
Davis, who has been in DCPI since 1987 and held the top job there for four years, will serve his last official day on March 30.
He was an NYPD member and retired from that role as a captain in 1992.