NEW YORK (AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to take questions Friday about the latest revelations surrounding an embattled top aide who has become a flashpoint in his strained relationship with the rank-and-file in the New York Police Department.
De Blasio didn’t break stride as he walked past waiting reporters into City Hall after attending a memorial service for fallen NYPD officers. But controversy continued to swirl around Rachel Noerdlinger, a highly visible face of the administration, and what she revealed on background checks when she was hired for the $170,000-a-year position as chief of staff to first lady Chirlane McCray.
The Department of Investigation found that she declined to disclose that she was living with her boyfriend, Hassaun McFarlan, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a 1993 shooting when he was 15 and later served time for drug trafficking. The news website DNAinfo reported that McFarlan’s Facebook page, now taken down, had several posts referring to police as “pigs.”
The DOI probe concluded without recommending that Noerdlinger be disciplined. De Blasio, who has repeatedly defended her, has snapped at reporters asking about the aide’s future, declaring on Monday that it was “case closed.”
But two more damaging stories appeared Friday.
DNA info reported that she and her underage son were in the car with McFarlan when he was pulled over in 2011 for driving the wrong way on a one-way street. The officer smelled pot in the car, and McFarlan was arrested for marijuana possession. Police in Edgewater, New Jersey, confirmed the arrest and said Noerdlinger was given a summons for allowing someone to drive a car without a license.
Additionally, the New York Post reported that Noerdlinger left a $28,000 tax lien off her Conflicts of Interest Board disclosure form. De Blasio aides said she later updated her form.
Though the mayor remained silent, his spokesman voiced support for Noerdlinger later Friday.
“Rachel Noerdlinger is a valued member of our team,” said Phil Walzak, who praised her experience “fighting for social justice and equal rights.”
The rank-and-file police union has called for Noerdlinger to be fired. But it’s not just her association with her boyfriend that has made her a source of ire for many officers.
Before assisting McCray, the most prominent first lady in city history, Noerdlinger used to be a top aide to the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been a fervent critic of the NYPD for decades. He took center stage again this summer by leading protests over the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed man who died after being placed in a police chokehold.
Noerdlinger helped shape the city’s response to the Garner case, which the police unions felt sided with Sharpton. The head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association threatened a job slowdown — which did not occur — and took out a full page ad in The New York Times blasting de Blasio’s leadership.
And all the police unions — which are working on expired labor deals and are in active negotiations with the city — have denounced the fiery rhetoric that de Blasio, a Democrat who took office in January, used to criticize stop-and-frisk. The crime-fighting tactic allowed officers to stop anyone they deemed suspicious, but a judge ruled that it sometimes discriminated against minorities.
The mayor’s staff, while pointing out that crime continues to fall, has strongly disputed that de Blasio’s leadership of the NYPD has been compromised. And the mayor himself has taken pains to praise the department.
“On behalf of all 8.4 million New Yorkers, I thank all the men and women of the NYPD for their service, their tireless and dedicated service to this city,” said de Blasio in concluding his speech at the NYPD memorial service.