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Politicians Slam Anticipated NYPD Cuts After TriBeCa Sex Assault

By Julie Shapiro on September 23, 2012 10:01pm 

TRIBECA — One day after a homeless man allegedly raped and tried to strangle a 21-year-old woman in the TriBeCa section of Hudson River Park, politicians gathered at the site of the attack to speak out against anticipated budget cuts to the NYPD.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and other local leaders slammed the city for recently asking the NYPD to submit a budget reduction plan — especially after Saturday morning's attack in TriBeCa and the brutal sexual assault of an elderly birdwatcher in Central Park earlier this month.

"Given the recent string of recent sexual assaults in our city’s parks, it is paramount that the budgets for the NYPD and Parks Department remain untouched," Quinn said in a statement. "Now is not the time to consider cutting the vital services we need to keep New Yorkers safe."

In Saturday's TriBeCa attack, a 21-year-old woman was sitting on a bench at Harrison and West streets about 5:15 a.m. when Jonathan Stewart, 25, a registered sex offender who has served time in prison, approached her and tried to start a conversation, police said.

When the woman rebuffed him, Stewart is accused of punching her in the face, attempting to strangle her and dragging her into the bushes and raping her, police said.

Stewart was charged Saturday with rape, criminal sexual act, sexual abuse, assault and forcible touching, police said.

Steward tried to commit suicide over the weekend, the New York Post reported on Monday. He was taken from court to Bellevue Hospital, sources told the newspaper.

On Sunday, Quinn and other politicians said they were concerned that earlier this month, the Bloomberg administration sent a letter to city agencies warning of a $2.5 billion budget shortfall over the next year and a half and asking all of them to submit cutback plans.

The NYPD is required to submit a plan to slash its budget by 2.7 percent this year and 4 percent next year, while the Parks Department must plan for a 5.4 percent cut this year and an 8 percent cut next year, officials said.

Stringer and other elected officials said Sunday that the city should exempt the NYPD from funding cuts, as has sometimes happened in the past.

"The city should suspend planned cuts to the NYPD and Parks Enforcement Patrol budget for [fiscal year 2013]," Stringer said in a statement. "Violence and brutality of this nature have no place in the biggest, safest city in the country."

A spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg emphasized that the budget plans are still preliminary.

"We've gone through rounds and rounds of cuts in recent years and maintained headcount at NYPD — including hiring 1,200 officers this summer," the spokesman said in an email Sunday.

"We just began the process of trying close a large budget gap and we will be working with the speaker and council on how to close the gap while continuing the record progress we've made on public safety."

Saturday's assault in TriBeCa followed the broad-daylight rape and robbery of a 73-year-old woman in Central Park near Strawberry Fields on Sept. 12.

Police arrested David Albert Mitchell, a 42-year-old homeless man from Virginia, and charged him with predatory sex act, robbery, assault rape and criminal possession of stolen property, accusing him of punching and raping the victim to retaliate after she took a photo of him masturbating in the park one week earlier.

"We’re not going to yield one blade of grass to sexual perpetrators," Quinn said Sunday. "We’re not going to yield one street corner."

The city is also organizing a free self-defense class in TriBeCa and in the meantime will offer one Oct. 7 at 2 p.m. at the North Meadow Recreation Center in Central Park.

On Monday morning, Quinn, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin and about 25 women walked through the Hudson River Park chanting "Whose Park? Our Park!"

"We want to make sure the city knows we want more officers in our parks," Chin said.

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