By Michelle Conlin
NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City Police Department union boss Pat Lynch, who gained global notoriety for his clashes with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, will face an election challenge this spring, a slate of union members announced on Tuesday outside a police station in Brooklyn.
Lynch’s challenger for control of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), arguably the most powerful police union in the United States, is a former friend and onetime ally from Brooklyn named Brian Fusco, a union trustee and 27-year NYPD veteran.
“Pat Lynch’s leadership has failed,” said Fusco in an interview on Tuesday. “We’d like to give police officers the representation they deserve.”
Fusco painted a portrait of Lynch as a charismatic, telegenic leader who, during his 16-year tenure, has grown complacent and isolated on the job. He noted that under Lynch’s tenure, police have been without a new contract for five years, and rookies have seen their disability benefits diminished.
In an interview last week, Lynch, who has not faced a challenge since 2003, said he was responsible for turning a “corrupt, ineffective PBA into a member service organization where the members’ needs are always first and foremost.” He also noted that the NYPD has seen a 56 percent cumulative pay raise since he took office in 1999.
Fusco’s campaign slate, called Strengthen the Shield, includes four other union veterans. Two of them, Michael Hernandez and Joseph Anthony, are representatives from the Bronx and were among a group of officers who were investigated in 2011 for making tickets of friends and family disappear. The case is pending.
It was widely felt by many police officers that the indicted officers were scapegoats made to take the fall for hundreds of other officers who were investigated but not charged in the probe.
That is a point with which Lynch agrees. “These officers are sacrificial lambs, unjustly suffering for a common practice and I don’t blame them for the way they feel,” he said.
The long-simmering feud between the PBA and City Hall hit a new low in December after a New York grand jury decided not to indict a white officer in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man.
That decision, coupled with a similar decision a week earlier in Missouri in the case of an unarmed black teen who was shot and killed by a white police officer, sparked a wave of national protests against the use of excessive force by police.
Heated exchanges between Lynch and de Blasio intensified in late December after two police officers were shot and killed, execution style, as they sat in their patrol car in Brooklyn.
The gunman, who later committed suicide on a New York City subway platform, had said on social media that he was avenging the police killings of unarmed black men.
Lynch accused de Blasio of having “blood on the hands” because, prior to the slayings of the officers, de Blasio had spoken about how he and his wife, who is black, had counseled their son to be careful around police.
In the weeks that followed, Lynch became the face of a revolt in which some officers turned their backs on the mayor at police funerals, and organized a job action in which the issuance of tickets and summonses virtually ground to a halt.
For a time, it seemed as if the mayor had lost control of his police force, the largest in the United States.
At a union meeting at a Queens catering hall last week, it was Lynch who seemed to be losing control as about 100 of the 400 union delegates present openly challenged him during a question-and-answer session.
When the meeting devolved into an expletive-filled shouting and shoving match, Lynch adjourned it.
Later in an interview, Lynch said he welcomed the challenge.
“Democracy is a good thing,” he said.
(Reporting by Michelle Conlin; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Lisa Shumaker)