The choice of who will be New York City’s next mayor is about more than the candidates. With a recent ruling placing the future of stop-and-frisk in the hands of the next mayor, many voters also see Tuesday’s vote as an opportunity to do away with the city’s controversial policing policy.
The race was largely dominated by stop-and-frisk. Candidates Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota are on opposing sides of the debate. De Blasio built his campaign around dismantling the program and Lhota defending it. All seemed settled, however, when a judge ruled in August that the NYPD’s policy of stopping and questioning people had been carried out in a way that violated their Constitutional rights.
Presiding judge Shira Scheindlin wrote that officers had violated the rights of tens of thousands of people and wrongfully targeted blacks and Latinos with the program. She appointed an outside monitor to oversee changes in the policy, training of officer and supervision of police practices. The city appealed the findings almost immediately, however, and on Thursday the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals delivered an October surprise by ruling to block Scheindlin’s decision and remove her from the case.
Both sides seem to be hoping that sentiment around the issue will be strong enough turn out their voters Tuesday. Just a day after the most recent ruling, Lhota released a one-minute video attacking de Blasio for his defense of Scheindlin’s decision.
“The entire premise of the de Blasio campaign collapsed on Thursday with the stop, question and frisk ruling by the second highest court in our country,” Lhota said in the video. “I have always stood by the NYPD and Commissioner [Ray] Kelly because the safety of my fellow New Yorkers is the highest priority. Not surprisingly, Mr. de Blasio stood with a judge who was found to have violated her oath of office and today she was removed from the case.”
The de Blasio campaign, which is far ahead in the polls, has not addressed the ruling directly since it came down. Still, many watching the race believe it is a boon for de Blasio, serving to mobilize his voters — many of whom are black or Latino.
“Stop-and-frisk was my primary issue because it’s one of humanity and also important to race and class relations,” says Neale Clunie, a stockbroker and de Blasio supporter. “Everyone I know has strong feelings in opposition to the law on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional and unfairly applied… They’ve all been galvanized by it.”
Clunie says other issues like jobs and city finances are important to him but none weighed as heavily in his decision to support de Blasio as stop-and-frisk. The same is true for Jean Matthews. The retired mother of two says her support of de Blasio was reinforced by news of the recent court decision.
“I already knew that I was voting for Bill de Blasio but it really lit a fire under me to know that if he’s not elected we could end up with years more of harassment by the police in our neighborhoods,” she says. “I called everyone in my family and told them to vote. I’ve been telling it to anyone that will listen. It’s make or break right now.”
Indeed, the future of the policy now lies in the hands of whoever will be elected the next mayor. De Blasio, who is expected to win the election, has said he would drop the appeal if given the chance, while Lhota has pledged to continue it. As of now, the policy hangs in limbo with reforms on hold until the city’s appeal is heard in court next year.
Follow Donovan X. Ramsey at @iDXR.