Letitia James Criticizes de Blasio's Slow Pace in Hiring Top-Level Staffers
CIVIC CENTER — Public Advocate Letitia James says she’s concerned over the slow pace of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s agency appointments, saying the delay is hurting agencies, including the FDNY and the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting.
James, in a wide-ranging roundtable interview held in her downtown office Wednesday, said the fact that the city's fire department remains without a new commissioner was particularly troubling to her.
“I would urge the de Blasio administration to appoint a fire commissioner post-haste and with deliberate speed, because clearly we need someone to lead that agency,” she said.
The FDNY has been headed by Sal Cassano — who was appointed by former mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2010 — since de Blasio took office in January.
The Public Advocate said she the recent settlement over racial bias in FDNY hiring practices earlier this year showed the need to bring in new leadership at the department.
“Clearly we need to heal, we need to get past that,” she said.
Also of concern was the need for a commissioner at the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, James said. The administration’s inaction has reportedly worried elements of the city’s growing entertainment industry.
James, whose former council district in Brooklyn included the Steiner Studios, said it's important for the mayor to moving forward quickly with an appointment for the lucrative office.
“It’s an economic development engine. It wants to expand,” James said. “We obviously need someone at the helm [of the agency].”
James, who has been an outspoken critic of the NYPD in the past, also expressed concern about the dwindling staffing levels at the NYPD, saying the police department needs to increase its ranks. As a city councilwoman, James regularly criticized Bloomberg’s approach to crime, most notably on stop-and-frisk.
While she praised de Blasio’s reversal of many Bloomberg-era policing policies, including stop-and-frisk, she said the department needed to grow to keep crime levels down.
“I’ve heard about commanding officers all throughout the city of New York who are just concerned about the decrease in workforce and the number of officers and rank-and-file who are retiring,” James said. “I think we need to increase the number of police officers.”
James also said she wanted to increase the number of detectives in the force to handle the city’s backlog of cold case files, as well as looking at reforms to police service areas that cover public housing, where she said the city had seen an increase in crime.
During a press conference on April 8, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton noted that the department was down 6,000 officers, but said that the available overtime allowed the department to "police as if we had the larger department."
"There is not a police chief in America that would not tell you that they’d like more cops," Bratton said. "I’d always like more cops, but you work with what you have."