MANHATTAN — Mayor Michael Bloomberg has no doubts about his decision to clear the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park.
One day after more than two hundred people were arrested during clashes with police across lower Manhattan, the mayor stood by the his order to move into Zuccotti early Tuesday to clear the encampment as it prepared to celebrate its two-month anniversary.
“It was the right thing at the right time,” the mayor told WOR’s John Gambling in his first extensive interview following the raid.
While the mayor faced a litany of criticism from local officials for the tactics used during the raid, including reports of police violence and reporter arrests, he said that none of his critics have actually called for the encampment to return.
“I think one of the surest signs that we did the right thing is that no one in the city, as far as I know, is calling for the return of the tarps, tents, and encampment of Zuccotti Park,” he said. “I don’t know any elected officials who have stood up.”
“There are a lot of candidates running for mayor. What would they have done, you know, explicitly? And they all say, ‘Well, you know, this that.’ But nobody’s willing to stand up,” he said.
The mayor also offered some insight into why he didn't end the encampment sooner.
“I think you have to give people time to express themselves. If you had tried to do it earlier, it’s not clear to me the courts would have permitted it,” he said.
“The courts want to be convinced that you are protecting people’s First Amendment rights and that the argument that there’s a safety hazard is a legitimate one.”
Despite the raid, the protesters spent Thursday marking Occupy Wall Street’s two-month anniversary with a massive “day of action” that culminated in a march across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne told WNYC's Brian Lehrer Friday that, at most, about 5,000 people participated in the march, with "hundreds" demonstrating earlier in the day.
But Bloomberg argued that many of those who marched over the bridge were not in fact Occupy Wall Street members.
“A vast percentage of the people were union members protesting, some private unions and then some municipal unions…. So it really wasn’t the protesters that have been in Zuccotti Park,” he said.
“This was just an opportunity for a lot of unions to complain."
Despite the end of the encampment, the mayor said he doesn’t believe the movement is over, given the high unemployment rate and other economic woes.
“I don’t think the things that they were trying to protest have gone away,” he said.
“There’s an awful lot of people, and not Just in the United States, but around the world, who feel that they’re being left out and that things aren’t going as well as they should be."