New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio strongly defended a call he made to police in which he inquired about a political supporter's arrest, saying it was "appropriate" even as good government groups and a top elected official criticized the mayor's involvement.
De Blasio made the call late Monday after learning of the arrest of Bishop Orlando Findlayter, a member of the mayor's inaugural committee.
"This is an unusual situation where a very prominent member of the clergy obviously was experiencing a very unusual situation," de Blasio said Thursday in his first comments about the situation. "So, I thought it was appropriate to make an inquiry and I got a response. And that's the end of the story."
But despite that declaration, questions swirled about the appropriateness of the city's mayor calling police to ask about an ally.
"The only thing unusual about the situation regarding Pastor Findlayter is that the mayor involved himself in a police matter on behalf of a supporter and a friend," said Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause New York, a good government group. "It is inappropriate for the mayor to exercise favoritism."
Findlayter was arrested at a traffic stop in Brooklyn just before 11:30 p.m. because he had outstanding warrants for failing to appear in court related to an October arrest during an immigration protest.
De Blasio said Thursday that he learned of the arrest from an aide. He then called NYPD Deputy Chief Kim Royster, who in turn called Deputy Inspector Kenneth Lehr, the commanding officer of the precinct where Findlayter was being held.
Lehr, who said he has known Findlayter for years, issued the bishop a desk appearance ticket, which freed him from spending the night in jail. De Blasio, who took office last month, said that he did not ask for Findlayter to be released.
De Blasio said he called Royster, who works in the NYPD's Department for Public Information, because he had known her for years and was "trying to literally get information." He said he has not discussed the matter with Police Commissioner William Bratton.
On Tuesday, Findlayter appeared before a judge in Manhattan Criminal Court and had the warrants vacated.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer, a fellow Democrat and close de Blasio ally, said the call was problematic.
"The rule is, the mayor shouldn't be involved in any way about somebody's arrest," Stringer said. "When you do make that call, you do have to answer a lot of questions."
De Blasio was peppered with questions about the call during the Thursday news conference, the toughest of his young mayoralty. It also saw an onslaught of questions about his decision to keep city schools open during the morning's heavy snowstorm.
De Blasio said he was "100 percent" certain the police handled the matter correctly.
"The proof's in the pudding," he said. "The precinct commander made a decision and he made a decision based on his view of what was the right thing to do. And we respect our precinct commanders."
The mayor would not say whether he made similar calls in the past, saying "every (situation) is different." He also did not rule out making calls to the police in the future, saying he would evaluate each situation on a "case-by-case basis."
Findlayter was charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle in the third degree after being stopped after making a left turn without using his signal.
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