BROOKLYN NAVY YARD — Rachel Noerdlinger, the embattled chief of staff for First Lady Chirlane McCray, announced Monday she is taking an indefinite leave of absence from her position because she no longer wanted to be a "distraction."
The news came after reports that Noerdlinger's 17-year-old son, Khari, was arrested this weekend and follows revelations made by DNAinfo New York that her live-in boyfriend has manslaughter and drug trafficking convictions and called police "pigs" on Facebook.
"Today I am announcing that I have decided to take a leave of absence to spend more time with my son," Noerdlinger said in a statement. "These past two months have been extremely difficult for both of us and his arrest on Friday heightens the need for me to devote my full attention to Khari, my number one priority."
Noerdlinger's leave of absence comes after several revelations about her, including that she failed to disclose that she lived with her boyfriend Hassaun McFarlan or that he had a criminal history on Department of Investigation background check forms when she was hired.
She was also the passenger in a car driven by an unlicensed McFarlan on the wrong side of the road when police stopped them. Police said the car reeked of marijuana smoke and that there was an unnamed minor in the backseat.
After each disclosure, de Blasio showed unwavering support for Noerdlinger.
"I have faith in her work as a public servant," de Blasio said just last month. "I think she's doing very good work for this city."
At an unrelated press conference at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Monday morning, de Blasio continued to defend Noerdlinger, whom he called a "hard-working public servant who has tried to do good throughout her life."
The mayor said the scandal surrounding Noerdlinger's personal life was "far overblown."
"I think the notion that somehow in modern society, not just your own actions but your girlfriend or boyfriend, your own teenage child, somehow all of this is fair game in the public discourse, I think something has gone wrong here that we need to look at," de Blasio said, invoking the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.
"It will be very hard to get good people in public service if we continue on this path."
Noerdlinger thanked City Hall for supporting her while also taking a swipe at the media.
"I can handle criticism and scrutiny of me, even when it's mean-spirited — that comes with the territory when you take on the status quo," she said. "But increasingly, my son has been subjected to attacks that have nothing to do with the public interest and everything to do with derailing this administration.
"I do not want to be a distraction — the work at hand is far too urgent."
De Blasio said Noerdlinger's leave will be unpaid and indefinite. There will be a period of transition before she leaves. McCray, whom de Blasio has called his most important adviser, will hire a new person to serve as her chief of staff.
Sharpton said in a statement that he supported Noerdlinger's leave of absence and, as de Blasio and Noerdlinger had, blamed the media for her troubles.
"I also agree that one cannot gauge what impact recent events may [have] had on her son, Khari, who unlike Rachel, the Mayor or I, did not volunteer for a public life that often involves media distortion, smears and outright lies," Sharpton said.
Sharpton, who hosts a national political show on MSNBC, is de Blasio's strongest ally in the black community. Noerdlinger's hire was seen as a measure of Sharpton's increasing local and national political influence.
Political consultant Basil Smikle said Noerdlinger's departure hurts the mayor.
"In the short term, it's another small setback for the mayor in terms of the appearance of his governance in both style and substance. He's been pushed back again on something he has come out firmly in support of," Smikle said. "He has relied largely on his wife and Rev. Sharpton for his total engagement with communities of color and he has to do more to change that so instances like this don't damage his broader community engagement."
While Noerdlinger's departure made it appear she's unlikely to return to City Hall, de Blasio did not rule it out.
“It’s a leave," he said. "By definition she is welcome back to the administration if she gets to the point she decides that’s the right thing to do."