NEW YORK CITY — Police Commissioner Bill Bratton had better watch his back, insiders say.
If Mayor Bill de Blasio had to choose between keeping Bratton or Rev. Al Sharpton in his inner circle amid the current Eric Garner chokehold controversy, sources say the progressive mayor would likely toss Bratton “under the bus” to assuage the constituency that catapulted him into City Hall.
De Blasio was sent to Gracie Mansion last November riding a tidal wave of an anti-NYPD sentiment fueled largely by skyrocketing stop-and-frisks and quality-of-life arrests under the Bloomberg administration.
But from the start, de Blasio's pick for top police brass “was not the choice of the minority communities,” according to insiders who have known de Blasio since his days in the Dinkins administration.
“Hiring Bratton was a huge disappointment to them,” one source said. “Black people saw him as a clone of [former Police Commissioner Ray] Kelly.”
“There was a fair amount of pushback on Bratton’s appointment going way back,” added another source, who is one of de Blasio’s longtime confidantes.
“People expressed concern, not because of his police talent but about whether he would be able to build bridges to communities that Ray Kelly did not care about."
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Instead, those who have seen the city through a series of racial flashpoints over the last decade that put the NYPD and City Hall at odds with minority communities had hoped for a commissioner of color — such as NYPD Chief of Department Phil Banks, the highest ranking black uniformed officer, or NYPD First Deputy Commissioner Rafael Pineiro, the department’s highest ranking Hispanic.
But de Blasio chose Bratton, who was credited with employing the “Broken Windows” policing tactic that toppled serious crime in the mid-1990s by focusing on low-level offenses to avert major crimes.
The mayor specifically cited Bratton's track record not only in the Big Apple, but in Los Angeles, where Bratton pulled off a law enforcement trifecta — dealing with a federal monitor, reigning in police brutality and cutting violent crime.
But the Bratton appointment here “came at a cost of a lot of political capital,” sources say.
The mayor's office did not return a request for comment.
De Blasio’s relationship with Bratton was tentative from the outset, despite the photo ops and press conferences, source say. Cracks showed early on when the mayor telephoned an NYPD press officer rather than Bratton for information about a Brooklyn minister arrested in February for a suspended license. Bishop Orlando Findlayter, 50, who is close to the mayor, was subsequently released without being forced to go before a judge, sparking controversy.
The shaky relationship was highlighted even further last week when mayor held a press conference with Sharpton to his left and Bratton to his right, sending the message to observers that he considered them equals in terms of influence, insiders say.
“That speaks to the relationship" between de Blasio and Bratton, the mayor's longtime associate explained. “It is not strong on the little things, and then the mayor forces the commissioner to sit next to him with Sharpton on a big thing, and there is nothing [Bratton] can do about it.”
The source said it's no surprise that Sharpton went on in that press conference to shame the mayor and the police department, saying that the mayor's son, Dante, could have been treated the same way as Eric Garner.
“No one inside City Hall should be surprised Sharpton embarrassed both the mayor and Bratton,” the source went on. “Sharpton did not support de Blasio and he is also a man who once wore a wire for the FBI against his closest friends to get out from under his own problems.”
As for Bratton, “the mayor picked him because he knew that one day the s--t will hit the fan, as it always will, and he will need Bratton’s experience to keep the cops in line and handle the situation.”
For now, de Blasio is walking that fine line, supporting quality of life initiatives and seeking balance.
"The mayor has been handlng the situation very well and having Bratton makes it easier to handle the tightrope walk," the sources said. "Anyone else and it would be harder for him to walk that line where others are trying to push him."
Over the weekend, Bratton went out for interviews with major television stations, defending “Broken Windows” and promising he will correct abuses and be a bridge builder. So far now, the mayor appears to have Bratton's back, and no move seems imminent.
But if things worsen, insiders say, it will be no question that de Blasio would opt to stick with Sharpton rather than Bratton. Sharpton commands a constituency that is more aligned with de Blasio’s voting pool than Bratton does, they say.
“He can throw Bratton under the bus.”