Wall Street Journal

Upd. March 16, 2016 7:49 p.m.


Largest NYPD Union Hires Consulting Firm With History of Fighting City Hall

The PBA has brought on board Tusk Strategies, which led a bid to halt Mayor Bill de Blasio’s cap on Uber

By JOSH DAWSEY and PERVAIZ SHALLWANI

ANDREW HINDERAKER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch.

New York City’s largest police union has hired Tusk Strategies, the consulting firm that orchestrated Uber’s successful attack on City Hall, as it plans to again take on Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association brought in the firm to buttress its push for higher salaries and a better pension system for its 23,000 members in a prolonged battle with the city over a new contract.

The union is planning to increasingly go after Mr. de Blasio, who is unpopular with its members, unless he agrees to more concessions, according to people familiar with the matter. Tusk Strategies—which oversaw this week’s rollout of a poll showing many officers have a negative opinion of the mayor—is expected to wage a political campaign for them in coming months.

‘Mayor de Blasio’s investments in 1,300 new officers, bulletproof vests, smartphones, tablets and retraining make clear that he is aggressively supporting our hardworking officers.’ —City Hall spokeswoman

The consulting firm is led by Bradley Tusk, who ran Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2009 re-election campaign and remains one of his top advisers. Besides overseeing the Uber campaign, the firm represents the Times Square Alliance, which is wrestling with City Hall over new regulations in Times Square after a proliferation of topless, painted women appeared there last year. Several people at the firm are working on the PBA campaign, according to people familiar with the matter.

The firm declined to comment. The PBA hired Tusk in February to advocate on behalf of the union regarding policing matters, said Patrick Lynch, the union president.

“We look forward to working with the Tusk team to help support our members in the work that they do in this increasingly difficult environment and we hope to engage in a productive dialogue with the mayor’s office and City Council about addressing critical benefits issues and fairly compensating NYC police officers,” Mr. Lynch said.

The PBA has frequently feuded with City Hall, and the animosity reached a fever pitch after two police officers were executed in December 2014 while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn. Mr. Lynch accused Mr. de Blasio of having “blood on his hands,” and some officers turned their backs to the mayor as he arrived at the hospital and again at the officers’ funerals.

Many at City Hall said the slights by police marked the lowest moment of Mr. de Blasio’s tenure.

The mayor has tried to cultivate better ties with the police force, thanking officers at length, paying for new gear and technology, and adding about 1,300 officers. His aides and advisers worry the strained relationship could prove damaging in his re-election campaign and want to tamp down tensions while focusing on more quality-of-life issues this year.

“Mayor de Blasio’s investments in 1,300 new officers, bulletproof vests, smartphones, tablets and retraining make clear that he is aggressively supporting our hardworking officers,” said City Hall spokeswoman Monica Klein. “And with murders and shootings at their lowest in modern history, our officers are more effective than ever.”

The police union approached several lobbying firms, which declined to work for them for fear of angering City Hall, according to people familiar with the matter.

The PBA lost a battle with the city in December over its contract negotiations when an arbitrator recommended a 1% pay raise for officers in each of the two years from August 2010 to July 2012, giving police officers an increase that largely matched terms reached with other unions. The PBA is in the process of negotiating a contract with City Hall for the remaining years.

“The number the city presents is far less than, for example, the Port Authority police, who already earn $90,000 and have been for the past seven years,’ said the union’s Mr. Lynch.

Had the union accepted the contract that the other unions signed off on last year, a full paid officer—one who has been on the job for 5.5 years—would have made about $83,000, not including overtime, about $4,800 above what they are making now, according to city officials and public records.

To ramp up pressure on the city, the union hired an outside polling firm to conduct a survey of its members, the results of which were released over two days this week as a part of a media campaign crafted by Tusk.

Of the 6,000 officers who responded to the poll, 87% said the city had become “somewhat less safe” or “a lot less safe” in the past two years under the de Blasio administration.

The union’s next move is sending out mailers with the police survey results, according to a person familiar with the matter, and further advertisements are possible.

The Uber fight is widely seen as one of Mr. de Blasio’s biggest missteps at City Hall. By alienating Mr. de Blasio from many in his liberal base, pressuring City Council members and spending millions in advertising, Uber was able to defeat a plan to cap its growth and cause strains for the mayor among many in the City Council.

Write to Pervaiz Shallwani at pervaiz.shallwani@wsj.com