Black Leaders Showing Signs of Frustration with Mayor de Blasio

Nikita Stewart and Alexander Burns, New York Times, May 17, 2015

Dozens of black ministers, justice reform advocates and civil rights activists and four black members of Congress gathered last Monday at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem to discuss a delicate matter: What to do about Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Over the course of the morning meeting, attendees voiced a series of concerns: Mr. de Blasio, some complained, seems to have lost his appetite for criminal justice reform. The mayor, they said, has been too slow to take action against the police officer whose use of a chokehold on Eric Garner, an unarmed black man on Staten Island, led to Mr. Garner’s death. Other participants grumbled that Mr. de Blasio and his staff have simply not done enough to communicate with black community leaders on issues like affordable housing.

The unusual congregation of community influencers, convened by the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, was part gripe session, part strategic huddle, revealing the first hints of frustration with a mayor who won 96 percent of the black vote when he was elected in 2013.

Black voters have been an essential base of support for the mayor, remaining largely enthusiastic about him even as his support has wilted with other groups in the city. The bonds were forged in Mr. de Blasio’s early criticism of stop-and-frisk policing, and reinforced by politically resonant images of his biracial family broadcast during the 2013 campaign.

Yet the perception that Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, has eased up on his commitment to police reform has plainly begun to rankle some: At a weekend gathering this month at the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat, publicly lamented that “broken windows policing,” the aggressive enforcement of minor violations, was still policy across the city.

Mr. Jeffries, who also attended the gathering at Abyssinian, said in an interview that there was “growing disenchantment with the administration in the black community.”

“The disenchantment relates to policing issues, the mayor’s support of broken windows, his lack of support for banning chokeholds and his willingness to support making resisting arrest a felony,” Mr. Jeffries said, adding: “We’re very early in the mayor’s first term, and there’s a lot of room for progress.”


Mr. de Blasio’s advisers strongly dispute that he has hit a rough patch with the city’s black political establishment, or with the black electorate. Indeed, a recent Quinnipiac University poll shows that the mayor remains on solid footing with African-Americans: 68 percent of black voters approved of Mr. de Blasio’s job performance, compared with 44 percent of voters over all. (A majority of white voters said they disapproved of the mayor.)


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