Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bill Thompson - Political Hack And Walking Conflict Of Interest

With the Anthony Weiner poll plummet made official by yesterday's Quinnipiac poll release (Weiner dropped to fourth in the race; 53% of New Yorkers say he should drop out), I am starting to turn my attention back to the candidate whose policies I can live with who will be most effective at taking on Christine Quinn in a runoff.

The Marist poll from last week and yesterday's Quinnipiac poll release show us that the two candidates with a good chance to make the runoff against Quinn are Bill Thompson, the former NYC comptroller, and Bill de Blasio, the current Public Advocate.

The NY Times took a look at what both candidates were up to yesterday:

On Monday, in the midday heat, Mr. Thompson and Mr. de Blasio held bread-and-butter campaign events aimed at important bases of support — for Mr. Thompson, minority voters, and for Mr. de Blasio, middle-class liberals. 

Mr. Thompson’s appearance came a day after he delivered a forceful speech in which he criticized the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy, asserting that the city’s policing tactics were rooted in the same racial stereotyping that had led George Zimmerman to confront Trayvon Martin in Florida. 

Mr. Thompson was flanked by Councilman Fernando Cabrera, a Bronx Democrat, and Assemblyman Karim Camara, a Brooklyn Democrat who is the pastor of the church at which Mr. Thompson delivered his head-turning speech on Sunday. 

“Today I feel compelled to speak in the same vein, because the rules of our criminal justice system are failing young people and families, especially in our communities of color,” Mr. Thompson said before lamenting that New York and North Carolina are the only states that treat 16-year-old defendants as adults

Around the same time, Mr. de Blasio received the endorsement of Tenants PAC, a group that works to elect candidates who will fight rent increases and preserve the supply of rent-stabilized and rent-controlled housing. Standing on the corner of 16th Street and First Avenue, Mr. de Blasio said that under his mayoralty, every major development would be required to have affordable housing on or near the site. 

“Last time I checked, it wasn’t the real estate industry’s town, and we were just living in it,” Mr. de Blasio said, in remarks punctuated by applause and shouts of “That’s right!” from the two dozen tenants gathered, who were holding “De Blasio for Mayor” signs. 

Earlier in the day, Mr. de Blasio had been in Brooklyn, where he put forth a plan to coordinate spending among small Brooklyn hospitals, in order to save the financially troubled Long Island College Hospital, which has been scheduled to close. At the tenants’ event, he brought up that fight to take a veiled dig at Ms. Quinn, whom some downtown residents accuse of not doing enough to save St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan in Greenwich Village. The hospital closed in 2010.

“We lost health care, we got condos,” he said. “That’s not the future of this city.”

Thompson's "race relations" speech, which came weeks after the Trayvon Martin verdict and only after polls showed him slumping with black voters, seems less like a "bread and butter" issue that Thompson feels passionate about (as he claimed in his speech) and more like a cynical attempt to shore up black community support.

That cynicism was not lost on Jumanne Williams:

Councilman Jumaane Williams explained mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson‘s race relations speech by musing about his poll numbers among black voters. “I think he originally felt that certain segments of the population were going to go with him automatically. He started looking at polls and seeing that wasn’t happening,” he said. “Thompson’s trying to have it both ways without putting any skin in the game.”

Police backers of Thompson saw the speech as a cynical ploy as well:

That rhetoric didn't trouble cop unions chiefs who have backed Thompson.

“The reality is I think Bill Thompson continues to be the most realistic and reasonable of all the candidates and in the end it is campaign rhetoric,” said Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives' Endowment Association.

Roy Richter, who is the president of the NYPD’s Captains Endowment Association, likewise said he was not fazed.

“Bill Thompson wants to bring people to policing,” Richter said. “That’s good for the city and good for the NYPD.”

And the Daily News editorial page called him out for his "clearly shifting and heating rhetoric," where once Thompson refused to "pin" the NYPD with racial bias for its stop and frisk tactics, now Thompson compares the policy and the NYPD to George Zimmermann, the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, and concludes:

Thompson is drawing 22% support among African-American Democratic likely primary voters, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll. That’s a couple of points behind sexting liar Anthony Weiner and about tied with Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

With blacks so evenly divided, Quinn topped the pack with 27% of the support among all voters, while Thompson (20%) and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio (21%) were essentially tied in the critical competition for second place — and a spot in a runoff primary.

Based on Thompson’s clearly shifting and heating rhetoric, the distressing conclusion is that he is saying what he thinks he must in order to, at least, stay in the hunt.

Thompson's policy pivot is typical of his political hackery, wherein he speaks words that sound nice and progressive but actually do little to address the concerns he's raising and, indeed, do more to reassure his reactionary backers that he's only (wink, wink, nod, nod) saying stuff he has to in order to get elected.

We've seen this kind of thing before on other issues like education, where Thompson talks a good game about changing Bloomberg's education policies but then, when you take a closer look at his policy proposals, you notice they're not all that different than the one's we currently have under Bloomberg.

Given that Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch is Thompson's campaign co-chair, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that his education policies are quite corporate education friendly, and given that Al D'amato is a big supporter, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that Thompson's "law and order" policies are police-friendly to say the least.

And then there are the stories about Thompson's unsavory business connections, courtesy of Wayne Barrett:
In late June, Al Sharpton and four citywide candidates—Bill DeBlasio, John Liu, Scott Stringer and Letitia James—led a demonstration in Bill Thompson’s home territory, the Bed Stuy section of Brooklyn, where he lived all his life until 2004. They were protesting the mismanagement of Interfaith Medical Center, the last remaining hospital serving the neighborhood. Interfaith had filed for bankruptcy months earlier and was still run by managers from the company, Kurron Shares of America, that had led the death march.
Had Thompson come, he would have been protesting against his own one-time business associates.  In 2010 and 2011, as the hospital plunged toward bankruptcy, Thompson was serving as a paid member of the advisory board of a Kurron sister company, working intimately with the owner – a man named Corbett Price who’d been his friend since the 1990s and whose family, employees and firm have donated nearly $20,000 to Thompson campaigns, starting with his first race in 2001.

During that time, Kurron and Price have cut a trail of financial and medical mismanagement, run-ins with regulators and public controversies – not least repeated clashes with healthcare unions – up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

So Thompson’s paid ties to Kurron – during a period when he was planning a second run for the mayor’s office after his near-victory over Michael Bloomberg in 2009 – raise important questions about his attentiveness to detail, his judgment and his choice of associates.

 ...

The extent of the relationship would be more apparent if Thompson joined his fellow Democratic candidates for mayor by fulfilling a pledge to make public his tax returns. Early this year, he released his 2012 tax returns, but he has refused to release his 2010 and 2011 filings, which would list his Kurron earnings. He is the only Democratic candidate for mayor who’s only released a single year’s return, even while Scott Stringer is making repeated demands that fellow comptroller candidate Eliot Spitzer make five years’ returns public.

In 2012, Thompson appeared on NY1 and host Errol Louis, pointing out that all his opponents had already released their returns for years, asked why he was the only one who hadn’t. A smiling Thompson replied that he would “probably release all four years of them next year, in a campaign year,” rather than “deal with things one at a time.” Over a week of daily calls to Thompson's headquarters, press officer John Collins repeatedly promised them, at one point even describing how they could be viewed at the campaign office. In the end, the campaign never supplied them.

The de Blasio campaign has called once again for Thompson to release his 2010 and 2011 tax returns, but so far Thompson has not done so.

It does seem like he is hiding something, perhaps how much Kurron paid him.

And just how bad is Kurron Shares of America that Thompson refuses to release the tax returns showing how much he was paid by them?

Pretty damned bad, as Wayne Barrett explains:

Ties to Kurron are hardly something the average office-seeker would brag about.

WNYC asked an intern new to New York to do a Google search of Kurron to see how quickly she hit negatives. It took a minute. In three minutes, she read an abstract that “criticized Kurron for reducing medical care” at Interfaith and “later earning a surplus of $8.6 million.”

Within 12 minutes, she reached the first Google result about Price’s anti-labor record – a story that led to a deluge going back to 1985, when he started in the healthcare management business with the Hospital Corporation of America, a national fixture in the field. His layoffs in Maryland of 650 workers at the Prince George’s Hospital Center, the county hospital, sparked the union animosity that rails him to this day. In 1989, he left HCA and won a personal contract to run the huge, publicly-owned and privately-managed Maryland facility, but was fired within months, collecting three years of full CEO pay. That’s when he created Kurron, incorporating it in Maryland in 1990.

He tried twice to return to Prince George’s—seeking to buy it in 2003 , and failing that seeking a big consulting contract then and again in 2007 and igniting controversy each time. When county officials withheld millions in subsidies in 2003 that were due the hospital unless they hired Price, the hospital management went to the state attorney general, who conducted a six-month probe of the politicians’ demands before concluding there was no crime. In 2007, when county officials repeated the same public demand for a Price contract in exchange for releasing committed millions of county aid, The Washington Post wondered why Price met such vocal opposition and answered its own question: “Why? Because he has several decades of history tangling with the hospital workers.” A top Maryland union leader, Quincey Gamble, branded him a “slash and burn” villain; the county executive said to favor Price is now in jail, convicted on unrelated corruption charges.

Price’s company and his son donated $9,900 to Thompson’s mayoral campaign in 2007, at the same moment that the Washington-Baltimore press corps covering his Prince George’s County machinations was reporting that Price had “left 1,200 pink slips in his wake,” “enraged union members,” and “hurt” patient care.

 The union hostility continues to this day. Just a few months ago, New York’s hospital workers union, Local 1199, joined the New York State Nursing Association in briefs filed in the Interfaith bankruptcy case objecting to Kurron’s latest contract there and charging that Price was a shadow manager consuming grand fees without even visiting hospitals where he was listed as CEO. At the time, Thompson was aggressively seeking 1199’s mayoral endorsement, which he ultimately did not get. But he has received the backing of many city unions, including the United Federation of Teachers.

But the shadow over Kurron hardly ends there. The New York State Department of Health cancelled Kurron’s contract with Interfaith, pictured left, in April, after sending four blistering letters to the company, including charges that bonuses paid to Kurron executives were “contrary to law” and contending that “the reasonableness” of Kurron’s overall fees could not be determined. At the time of Interfaith’s bankruptcy filing, its liabilities exceeded its assets by $200 million after nearly 20 years of Kurron management. The demise wasn’t just financial; a court-appointed patient care ombudsman found the hospital’s emergency department “more chaotic and disorganized” than others he’d observed, noting that “there did not appear to be a coherent process of triage and patient management.”

This week, the health department rejected a reorganization plan proposed by Interfaith’s current managers – a team of former Kurron executives stripped first of Price and then of a long-time Kurron executive, Luis Hernandez, who quit the day of the June protest, a departure that one protest organizer, Robert Cornegy, credited to “pressure from the community.” The state now has asked Interfaith to submit a plan for its closure – part of a dramatic consolidation of healthcare services in Brooklyn that has nearby Long Island Community Hospital almost emptied.

While the collapse of Interfaith culminated after Thompson left Kurron’s advisory board, but the road to bankruptcy – marked by gaping operational deficits – was being paved through his tenure. Also on his watch, in November 2010, Episcopal Health Services terminated the company’s two-decade-old contact to manage St. John’s Hospital in Far Rockaway, disturbed by Price’s efforts to close the obstetrics unit in a low-income neighborhood in a cost-cutting maneuver and also supported by state officials. Soon after, in February 2011, Kurron’s biggest contracts – $14.6 million in politically-wired deals in tiny Bermuda – were abruptly terminated by the government 18 months before they expired amid a flurry of public condemnations.

Price’s champion there, Premier Ewart Brown, awash in corruption allegations, had just stepped down, and the new leader of Brown’s PLP party decided to kill one of the most expansive deals arranged by her own party, an extraordinary event in Bermuda’s hyper-partisan politics.

Pretty dirty stuff - yet Thompson was happy to take money from Kurron Shares of America and, so far at least, hide just how much he took.

Again, typical behavior from hack Thompson, as a brief look at Thompson's record of comptroller will show.

The NY Daily News reported that Thompson refused to audit the CityTime project despite obvious signs that something was really, really wrong with it:

A New York City councilwoman who led the charge against the fraud-bloated CityTime contract wrote to then-Controller William Thompson in 2009 asking him to audit the program.

A newly revealed March 2, 2009, letter shows Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) voiced her concerns about CityTime’s growing cost and potential for fraud, but Thompson did nothing.
“During this period of severe economic hardship, the public needs to know if their taxpayer dollars are being well spent,” James wrote to Thompson.

James — who grilled city officials about CityTime in a 2008 hearing — asked Thompson to contact her office about past CityTime audits and any “scheduled” for the future.

Sources say Thompson did not respond in writing. Later that year, James — who’s now a candidate for public advocate — supported Thompson’s bid for mayor.

As the Daily News revealed July 1, Thompson was repeatedly warned about CityTime by members of his staff but never took action.

Back in 2010, Wayne Barrett reported on Thompson's "damning" connection to Michael Bloomberg that may have had something to do with his refusal to audit Bloomberg's CityTime project:

It starts with a single, unsettling fact: The mayor has directed or triggered between $43 million and $51 million in public and personal subsidies into a museum project led by Thompson's current wife and longtime companion, Elsie McCabe-Thompson, dumping $2 million of additional city funding into it as late as September 30, in the middle of the mayoral campaign.

Thompson was so involved with his wife's Museum for African Art that he may have violated the city charter by using his office to solicit state and city funding for its grand new home now under construction, with marble floors and walls, at the end of Museum Mile on Fifth Avenue and 109th Street. While the project sounds admirable, the museum has attracted this funding at a time when it is little more than an office in a warehouse in Long Island City, with no permanent art collection of its own, no gallery, no accreditation from the American Association of Museums or the Association of African American Museums, and no connection or history with Harlem. It is so out of compliance with state legal requirements for museums that the best it could do, after weeks of Voice questioning, was shake "a letter of existence" out of education department officials, which it misrepresented as a "letter of good standing." Other outstanding African-American museums in the city, like the fully accredited Studio Museum of Harlem, which has a 1,600-object permanent collection and, unlike McCabe-Thompson's, has trained 90 artists-in-residence, receive a fraction of the public assistance showered on this monument to political connections.

The Voice has identified four city and state sources who say Thompson spoke to them on behalf of the project, a potential violation of Conflict of Interest Board (COIB) decisions that have resulted in fines when low-level city officials use their position to benefit their girlfriends or wives. While Thompson declined to answer questions about these contacts, a museum spokeswoman, Jeanne Collins, e-mailed that McCabe-Thompson was "unaware of any conversations" her husband may have had on the museum's behalf with individuals with "whom Ms. McCabe-Thompson did not have prior contact." Thompson "did not introduce the museum or Ms. McCabe-Thompson to any new funders," Collins said, never denying that Thompson pushed for funding the museum had already sought, as the Voice confirmed. In addition to Thompson's contacts, McCabe-Thompson noted in an application for funding from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer that she was "the fiancée" of the city comptroller, volunteering it as a form of disclosure. In fact, a Page Six item in the Post on June 6, 2006, announced that the "elegant" Elsie and the "smitten" Billy were dating, a story that Thompson advisers say they planted, making sure, not incidentally, that any possible funder out of the loop got the news.

Beyond Thompson's interventions on behalf of the museum, his office had to register its capital funding agreements and city contracts. Thompson's spokesman insisted that its contract unit only certified the project once, in March 2008, without any involvement at the top of the office. The spokesman insisted it was "approved as a matter of course," though the Bloomberg administration's Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which is shepherding the museum project and is convinced of its merits, says the comptroller "has sent back some funding agreement packages with questions or requests for more information." This project—which defaulted on or skirted several critical EDC deadlines, in addition to its questionable licensing status with the state—invited questions, but Thompson's office rubberstamped it. The city charter explicitly requires that capital projects receive the comptroller's approval, and he issues the directives that govern projects like this. His office even reviews the contracts for the museum's operating grants.

Thompson's explanation for how he handled this conflict raises as many thorny issues as it resolves. He supplied a previously undisclosed memo to the Voice dated March 14, 2005, indicating that he'd recused himself on "all matters" related to the museum. He asked his top deputy, Gayle Horwitz, who had worked with him since he became Board of Education president in 1996, to handle it. Since Thompson had only left his wife, Sylvia Kinard, in late 2004, his recusal just a few months after the break-up suggests what his friends say, but Thompson has never conceded—namely, that he left Kinard to move in with McCabe, who did not become McCabe-Thompson until September 2008. Thompson told the Post during the campaign that "there was nothing between us until I filed for divorce," which he did on April 26, 2005, a claim belied by his earlier recusal. Kinard called McCabe-Thompson "The Hoverer," telling the Post she was invited by Thompson to their 1999 wedding and was "always around" during their marriage. Others have said that even before McCabe-Thompson took over the museum in September 1997, she was actively lobbying then–Board of Education president Thompson on behalf of the technology-training company where she worked. She was one of the first to contribute to his comptroller campaign in 1999.

In one more strange twist, the mayoral wannabe remained registered at the Brooklyn home that Kinard lived in for years after he left, though McCabe-Thompson's neighbors on West 97th Street say that his city car and police vehicles were parked morning after morning outside her door since 2005. Mono Cleaners, around the corner from her condo building, gave us tickets for the suits and shirts on McCabe's account that he picked up and dropped off there for years.

This is the kind of behavior that would get a teacher fined tens of thousands of dollars for conflict of interest or rubber-roomed, but Bill Thompson is a walking conflict of interest with lots of friends in high places - including Mike Bloomberg - so nothing bad has happened to him.

Indeed, Bill Thompson has prospered by that connection to Bloomberg, as Barrett noted in his 2010 piece:


The Bloomberg administration quickly got the message. Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff had been a critic of the project, according to a former EDC official who attended a meeting that included him and McCabe-Thompson. "Doctoroff didn't want to delay development of the site," recalled Barbara Resnicow, a senior vice president at the corporation who dealt with "the skepticism about it" at the top of the agency from 2002 through 2004. EDC had agreed in the late '90s, when Rudy Giuliani was mayor, to sell four city-owned parcels on the current site to the museum. But five or six years later, this prime property was still vacant and appeared to be going nowhere. "I have a clear memory," says Resnicow. "Doctoroff was very negative about the project." But, starting in 2005, the city's attitude suddenly shifted. It wasn't just that the McCabe/Thompson connection started to surface then, it was that Thompson's relationship with City Hall was simultaneously undergoing an overhaul.

In 2004, Thompson decided not to run against Bloomberg in the 2005 election, a race he had toyed with briefly. Instead, Thompson endorsed Democrat Fernando Ferrer, but became so helpful to Bloomberg that his foot-in-each-camp dexterity was mocked in news accounts. When Thompson made his endorsement that August, he was asked to name three specific things Ferrer would do as mayor that Bloomberg hadn't, and he demurred, forcing the reporter to see if he could name one or two. "You'd have to ask Freddy the question," said Thompson, who had gone out of his way to praise Bloomberg the day before the press conference and the day before that. Ferrer raised questions about the rising reading and math scores that Bloomberg was trumpeting, and Thompson told reporters he had no intention of auditing school achievement claims, saving that for his own campaign in 2009. In fact, during the 2005 campaign, Thompson did not host a single press conference revealing a critical audit of any Bloomberg agency. The Bloomberg camp understood that Democrat Thompson had no choice but to endorse Democrat Ferrer, especially since he was trying to build an alliance with Latinos for his own planned 2009 run, but a Thompson political adviser now acknowledges that the mayor "was quite happy" with Thompson's 2005 performance.

So, no doubt, was Elsie. The city increased its annual operating grant for the museum from $62,700 to $417,800 in the budget adopted that June. The Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) says the hike was a "one-time commitment from the mayor and the City Council," coinciding with the calls to Shaw and Miller (Miller's father was a Thompson appointee on the New York Public Library board). In fact, although the 2005 grant was the museum's largest ever, its operating subsidy remained at $192,000 the next year and continues at roughly that level, three times its pre-2005 average.

The day after Thompson's lukewarm endorsement of Ferrer, EDC's executive committee approved the discounted sale of the four city-owned parcels to the museum. Thompson joined Bloomberg at a press conference announcing a minority-hiring program shortly before the election, and two days after Bloomberg crushed Ferrer, the full EDC board approved the property sale to the museum for $200,000 less than the appraised price. The ultimate discount was far greater since EDC stuck with its 2005 appraisal when the sale finally closed in 2007, though it had the legal right to update it, a substantial potential savings for the museum and its condo partners, who are building lavish apartments overlooking the park 14 stories above the three-story museum.

To reiterate, Bloomberg steered between $43 million and $51 million to Thompson's wife's museum, including $2 million in city money during Thompson's inept campaign against Bloomberg in 2009 and $700,000 of his own money - after Bill Thompson conveniently failed to audit the "biggest theft in the history of the City of New York", the CityTime project, and otherwise acted as a very Bloomberg-friendly city comptroller.

As Arsenio Hall used to say, things that make you go hmmmm...

Barret concludes:

The city charter was rewritten in 1989 to enhance mayoral power. It is the soul of the city and depends upon an independent comptroller and Council as the constitutional counterpoints to mayoral excess. Yet that is hardly what we've had in Bloomberg's first two terms. He has driven this project so far that the public funding, including the state grants he sparked, exceed by far the $38 million cost of the museum's core construction. There is no way for us to know if the city's museum largesse was a motive for Thompson's obsequious oversight of the Bloomberg era, or simply a consequence of the intertwine between them. He was no doubt more mayoral understudy than overseer. There is also no way to know if the Council's museum generosity had anything to do with why Thompson never noticed its bogus slush-fund budget documents, or even audited its discretionary expenditures after the scandal blew. Bloomberg can smell an edge on the ground from the private plane he used to fly Thompson to ball games in, and he's milked this one for years, perhaps all the way to re-election. Quinn might have exploited it, too, though she says she's usually "the last to know" gossip like who Thompson was dating.

Bill Thompson, the city's newly discovered media hero, seems so understated and reassuring that he deflects attention from the mess his private life has always been. He took a favorable mortgage and credit line in 2008 from a bank his office had done billions in business with, getting a letter from the bank saying the transaction was proper rather than doing what thousands of low-level city employees do every year, seek an opinion from the Conflict of Interest Board. When he worked as an investment banker in the '90s, he failed to take key securities tests six times in three years, operated without a license, and broke a half-dozen securities regulations. No one has noticed, amid Andrew Cuomo's pension fund prosecutions, that Thompson was functioning in the '90s as an unlicensed placement agent, before anyone knew what that was and before comptrollers like him started banning them from their offices.

Read the entire Barrett piece from 2010 and you'll see why Bill Thompson should not win your vote if you're a progressive looking for a change from Bloomberg or an honest steward of New York City following the Bloomberg years.

The connections Thompson has to Kurron Shares of America, Bloomberg, Tisch, and D'amato, the conflicts of interest Thompson has had throughout his career, the calls he has made to his friends in high places for personal favors, his wretched tenure as city comptroller, and his cynical pivot on stop and frisk are some very good reasons why Thompson should not win your vote.

He is a political hack extraordinaire, quite literally a walking conflict of interest who has used his political connections to enrich himself and help his wife's professional interests.

That my union, the United Federation of Teachers, saw fit to endorse this hack and crook for mayor speaks much to the expediency and hackery of the UFT leadership.

I, however, will not be endorsing Bill Thompson for mayor.

I'll take a look at the other potential ABQ ("Anybody But Quinn") candidate, Bill de Blasio,in the near future.

My prime prerequisite for an Anybody But Quinn candidate is that the candidate should be at least one step up from Christine Quinn on the ethics scale.

Quite frankly, Bill Thompson is not that candidate.

After a closer look at Thompson's political record and associations, he is no less a crook and a hack than Quinn herself.

And to be honest, I'm not so sure he isn't worse than Quinn.

4 comments:

  1. Vote for John Liu!

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    1. Alas, he is languishing at 6% or so in the polls. I am not a huge fan of political expediency, but I think in this matter, I must exercise some - Liu cannot win. I like him, I wish him well, I cannot endorse him.

      Delete
  2. Very shortly the PBA will endorse Bill Thompson for mayor.

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    Replies
    1. Guess they think his stop and frisk speech was just camoaign rhetoric too.

      Delete