Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

September 1, 2016

Sheriff Clarke named Person of the Year by NYPD union

By Daniel Bice

Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. (Photo: Associated Press)

For more than a decade, Milwaukee Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. has waged war with the local union representing his deputies.

But Clarke now is being honored by the largest municipal police union in the country.

Last week, the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association — known as the PBA — named the Milwaukee County sheriff its Person of the Year. Clarke is set to accept the award and serve as the keynote speaker at the labor organization's convention on Thursday. Last year's winner was New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"Sheriff Clarke is a passionate and vocal defender of police officers, at a time when our job is more difficult and dangerous than ever before," said PBA President Pat Lynchin a statement. "That is exactly what the PBA does for New York City police officers, so it has been encouraging to hear Sheriff Clarke make the same case on a national stage."

The connection between Clarke and the police union goes even deeper than that.

Lynch and his labor group have been longtime critics of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Lynch was among the cops who famously demonstrated their anger with the mayor by turning their backs on him when he entered a hospital to pay his respects to two murdered officers.

Clarke, for his part, has torn into de Blasio on national TV for his "irresponsible rhetoric" in the case of Eric Garner, the New York man who died as a result of a police chokehold.

"I am humbled, yet honored, to receive this designation from the largest union of police officers, both active and retired, of America’s iconic law enforcement agency — the NYPD," Clarke said in a statement. "I accept this award on behalf of every law enforcement officer who serves and protects their community with integrity, honor, courage and commitment throughout the United States."

But the award has not been without controversy.

The New York Daily News, in particular, has been sharply critical of the honor, citing objections from civil rights activists and others, including one who called the pick "surprising and disturbing." That was followed by an editorial entitled, "The PBA’s Man of the Fear: The NYPD union's cynical divisive choice."

The editorial focuses on Clarke's repeated criticism of Black Lives Matter (which he regularly dubs Black Lies Matter), his frequent and acerbic Twitter posts, and his unflagging support for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

"The honor is supposed to go to 'one individual who has made an outstanding contribution to New York City police officers or the law enforcement community,' " the editorial says. "Instead, Lynch hugs a man whose main distinction has been to escalate the so-called war between police and those who in good faith seek reforms to the way law enforcement does business."

But Clarke dismisses this criticism — or any questions from the newspaper about his contentious past with police unions.

In an email, he said everywhere he goes he is told he is a "credit to Milwaukee County." But he said he doesn't get that same recognition from his hometown newspaper, which he prefers to call the Sentinel Journal, or from this columnist.

"Why is (Bice) and the Sentinel Journal the only ones who do not give kudos for my achievements and accomplishments?" Clarke said in a statement apparently dictated to his spokeswoman. "Does this really bother him that much that I have made more out of my career than he has out of his? Is he really that envious? This is a recognized mental disorder."

Clarke, who has been elected four times, didn't stop there. He said the paper has a "crabs-in-a-bucket mentality" in which it spends all of its time pulling others down and making sure no one escapes the bucket.

"This is very small minded and typical of the small-mindedness of the Sentinel Journal," he said. "If I was anti-gun, pro-criminal and a race demagogue, Bice and his employer would hail my achievements."

The Milwaukee County deputy sheriffs' union declined comment on Clarke's award.

Al O'Leary, communications director for the PBA, said it's not surprising that the Milwaukee County sheriff battles with his local union yet is being honored by the largest municipal police union in the nation.

O'Leary said the PBA sometimes sides with its local police chief, New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, but sometimes disagrees with him. O'Leary emphasized that his group was honoring Clarke for his strong defense of the cops, not because of his work on labor matters.

"Those are different conditions," O'Leary said.

Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 224-2135 or dbice@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice or on Facebook at fb.me/daniel.bice.