Mayor Bill de Blasio put his city-funded Black Lives Matter mural outside Trump Tower on hold Thursday, but only after 16 police officers and several commanders were already paid overtime to staff the project Wednesday night.
Police waited outside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue for more than seven hours, but painting crews from the NYC Department of Transportation never showed up. The mayor blamed “logistics” for the abrupt postponement.
Asked to explain the delay at his Thursday press briefing, de Blasio offered vague details, instead saying “It’s gonna happen soon. Couple things we have to work through."
Emails obtained by NBC New York outlining the administration’s plans show DOT crews were supposed to begin painting at 9 p.m. Wednesday. A city source familiar with the operation said the police were finally released from the location after 2 a.m. without explanation.
According to sources familiar with the police department’s budget, the fruitless deployment of NYPD members cost city taxpayers “thousands of dollars” just hours after de Blasio committed to slashing the department’s overtime budget by $352 million.
“Clearly the same rules don’t apply to Mayor de Blasio,” said Queens Council Member Eric Ulrich, a Republican. “Just a couple of days ago, he was slashing the NYPD’s budget. Now he wants to use the cops as political props. It’s not a good use of the taxpayer’s money,” Ulrich said.
The mayor is planning to participate personally in painting the message at a photo opportunity outside Trump’s Manhattan residence at a later date, which has yet to be announced.
Some NYPD members who requested anonymity tell NBC New York they fear painting the message at the president’s doorstep will only reignite protests and counter-protests, leading to new clashes with civilians and further stress on their budget.
One local government official said the move defies logic by antagonizing the president at a time when the city is desperate for a multi-billion dollar federal bailout. “It’s a publicity stunt without an end game,” the official said.
Other local officials say Mayor de Blasio might have delayed his plans so that he could involve members of the Black Lives Matter movement and community leaders who initially felt left out of City Hall’s plans. Freddi Goldstein, a spokeswoman for Mayor de Blasio, said this was not the reason for the delay, but declined to elaborate further.
By painting NYC streets with political messages, the de Blasio administration is also opening itself to challenges from others who want to use the sidewalks as a platform.
The conservative group Judicial Watch sued the mayor of Washington D.C. Thursday for ignoring a request to paint their motto “Because no one is above the law” on district streets. The group says the motto is intended to apply equally to law enforcement, protesters and looters.
A similar suit against New York City could be next. In a June 30 letter to Mayor de Blasio, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said “Because city streets are now being used as public fora for expressive activity, we would like to have our motto painted along a street, preferably Fifth Avenue between 81st and 83rd Streets.” Fitton says his group would pay for the painting but added “we would likely need the assistance of the city to aid in traffic diversion.”
Despite the unprecedented fiscal crisis facing the city, the mayor insists the Black Lives Matter message is worthy of tax dollars.
“Small cost. Big Impact,” de Blasio said.
Some taxpayers agree. “I’m okay with it. We’re a melting pot and a city that’s about tolerating people,” said Jeff Garfin of the Upper East Side.
According to an internal email from a city official, the other two BLM murals in Manhattan — along Adam Clayton Powell at 125th Street in Harlem, and the other along Center Street between Worth Street and Reade Street in Lower Manhattan — are going ahead as planned, with events planned at both on Friday.