When Judge Shira Scheindlin declared the “stop-and-frisk” policing tactic unconstitutional on Monday, she did so only four weeks before primary day for New York City’s hotly contested mayoral race. Within a matter of hours, the major Democratic candidates had all released statements applauding the judicial ruling.
“I will ensure the court’s decision fulfills its objective—a New York where everyone is protected by the law,” said former comptroller Bill Thompson in a statement. He and New York City public advocate Bill De Blasio are nearly tied for second place in the Democratic primary, though both trail City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
While the long-term political effects of Judge Scheindlin’s ruling are difficult to predict, it would likely play a major role in the remainder of the mayoral race, said Andrew White, the director of the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.
“It throws [stop-and-frisk] on the front page,” he said. “It’s clearly a big issue for a whole slew of different people.”
But stop-and-frisk isn’t just a big issue; it’s also a supremely delicate one for several of the front-running candidates. Thompson is probably the candidate “walking the finest line on this,” said White.
“He’s got a good relationship with the police unions, and he’s also got a good sense of the real difficult of how this is being dealt with in the black and latino communities,” White told msnbc.
Lower-tier candidate Sal Albanese, a former Democratic City Council member, has already tried to use stop-and-frisk against Thompson. In an open letter to police unions, he wrote that Thompson had “irresponsibly and dangerously equated the intentions of the NYPD to those of vigilante thug George Zimmerman.”
The reemergence of stop-and-frisk as a primary campaign issue may also create difficulties for Quinn, who left-wing critics accuse of being too close to Bloomberg. De Blasio took a direct swipe at her in his statement on stop-and-frisk, saying that the Bloomberg administration had employed stop-and-frisk with Quinn’s “acquiescence.”
“The only way to end the abuse of stop-and-frisk in New York City is with real reform, and I am the only candidate committed to enacting the changes we urgently need,” said de Blasio.
For her part, Quinn has spent the past few months trying to put greater distance between herself, Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly on issues like stop-and-frisk. Following the ruling, Quinn said she disagreed with Bloomberg’s assessment in touting the program as a success. She stood by her previous statements that the next mayor “would be lucky” to see Kelly continue as police commissioner, but only if stop-and-frisk were implemented in a “constitutional framework.”
Quinn has also proposed legislation to institute an independent Inspector General in the NYPD. She trumpeted that legislation in her response to the stop-and-frisk ruling.
“The NYPD Inspector General will help review and provide guidance to ensure that stop-and-frisk is done in a constitutionally sound manner that focuses on the quality of the stops, not the quantity,” said Quinn in a statement. “And as mayor, I intend to work with the federal monitor to help ensure these stops come down dramatically so that we can build stronger relationships between our communities of color and our police force.”
“If she can define the specifics of her position in a way that resonates, then people will see how she’s different, how she’s not Bloomberg,” said White. De Blasio has also endorsed the idea of instituting an Inspector General.
While the Democrats tried to stake out distinct positions on the ruling, Republicans uniformly bemoaned it.
“Our Constitution is a living document and I disagree with some of Judge Scheindlin’s conclusions regarding the use of Stop, Question and Frisk and the Fourth Amendment,” said Republican frontrunner Joe Lhota in a statement. “I urge the mayor to appeal the decision to delay implementation of a federal monitor.”