It’s been a tumultuous week for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the liberal firebrand who swept into office this year with the promise to show what an über-progressive chief executive could do once in charge.
Under the glare of the nation’s largest city – and media grand central – Mayor de Blasio’s ambitions included reforming a police department known for its effective if controversially aggressive street tactics, as well as addressing the city’s growing economic divides.
Surrounding both issues, however, were the delicate politics of race. As a candidate, de Blasio was the foremost critic of the New York Police Department's massive stop-and-frisk and marijuana busts, which fell overwhelmingly on people of color. And his economic “tale of two cities” campaign mantra galvanized blacks and Latinos more than other groups – their widespread support catapulting the outspoken progressive to a record landslide win last fall.
But while a new poll this week shows the mayor’s still-strong overall support holding steady, it also revealed that support from whites have waned, even as support from blacks and Latinos continues to grow.
Over 70 percent of black voters approve of the job de Blasio is doing – up from 65 percent three months ago, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday. The mayor’s Latino support remained steady with a 56 percent approving of his job, one point higher than its poll in August.
De Blasio’s support among whites, however, has slipped to 34 percent, while half of those polled disapproved of his performance. In August, 41 percent of whites had approved the job the mayor was doing, and 42 percent disapproved.
“It's a tale of two cities under New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio,” said Maurice Carroll, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll, in a statement Tuesday. “Black voters think the mayor is terrific. White voters don't approve. And the racial gap gets wider every time we ask."
And this week, the de Blasio administration has seen this racial dynamic play out in especially acrimonious terms – even as the NYPD on Monday released crime figures that should have been a triumph for the mayor, showing that overall crime in the city has fallen to its lowest point in 20 years – and the lowest since the NYPD began using its vaunted CompStat tracking system.
Most observers note that the de Blasio administration’s ultimate success rests most on keeping the city’s crime rates at his conservative predecessors’ record lows.
Yet instead of ballyhooing these essential statistics this week, the mayor was bitterly denouncing the forced leave of absence taken by one of his closest and most trusted aides, and accusing the city’s tabloids of “character assassination” and “McCarthyism.”
Rachel Noerdlinger, the black chief of staff for the mayor’s politically-active wife, who is also black, announced she would leave the administration after her 17-year-old son was busted for trespassing in an uptown apartment building as he loitered in a lobby with friends.
Ms. Noerdlinger, the former spokeswoman for Rev. Al Sharpton, was a key liaison between de Blasio and the city’s black communities, and had deep ties with both high-profile black leaders and grass-roots advocates. During the controversy over the police killing of Eric Garner this summer, the powerful aide was the administration’s point of contact with the family and community leaders.
But her son’s arrest was just the latest public setback for Noerdlinger, who endured a storm of controversy after it was discovered that she was living with a man convicted of manslaughter when he was a teen and who had served time in prison for drug trafficking – a fact she failed to disclose on a background check.
And it didn’t help that both Noerdlinger’s boyfriend and son had made disparaging remarks against the NYPD on their social media accounts.
“These revelations are of serious concern because her position gives her access to critical information about police plans and strategies,” Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the rank-and-file police union, told The New York Post when the story broke in September.
And after it was revealed that she failed to disclose her relationship in the city’s background check, the police unions led the calls for her dismissal as the city’s tabloids emphasized her connections with Reverend Sharpton.
Police also remain angry that the mayor gave the controversial civil rights leader such a prominent place in de Blasio’s efforts to improve the ongoing troubled relationship between the NYPD and minority communities – one of the administration's top goals.
Yet throughout the controversy, de Blasio remained steadfast in support of Noerdlinger, who often accompanied the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray, to police briefings. Her presence gave New York cops pause.
According to the mayor, the attacks and leaks surrounding Noerdlinger’s personal life were essentially a political hatchet job, and on Monday his anger – and not the record crime lows –became the dominant story.
“Why would so much attention be given to one person and her personal life?” de Blasio said at a testy news conference Monday. “It’s clearly a pretty systematic effort to undermine certain work that’s being done, and we’re not going to be dissuaded by that one bit.”