Mayor Bill de Blasio’s weekly radio appearance ought to have been a sleepy affair on a grindingly humid Friday morning at the tail end of summer.
It was not to be. For about 10 minutes, the WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer hit Mr. de Blasio with a barrage of questions about secrecy and transparency, pressing him on his stance on police disciplinary records and his refusal to divulge certain emails and texts with outside advisers.
The questions came after a lawsuit filed by organizations challenging the de Blasio administration over its denial of access to those communications.
The radio exchange and the lawsuit, filed in state court on Wednesday, marked the boiling over of months of simmering tension for the mayor, a Democrat who championed transparency and police accountability as a candidate and now finds himself accused of failing to deliver on his promises.
Exhibit A for critics is New York City’s Law Department, which is fighting multiple court battles to maintain the secrecy of city records of officers’ past misconduct and that of Mr. de Blasio’s own communications with outside advisers.
“On the police records, I have a clear position that I want to see the state law changed and I want us to be able to release those records,” Mr. de Blasio told Mr. Lehrer, referring to a 1976 state law that protects police personnel records.
Defense and civil rights lawyers have long complained of attempts to extend the state law, Section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law, to shield all manner of law enforcement actions from public scrutiny.
In federal court, city lawyers have gone so far as to request that an attorney’s letters be sealed or redacted, even after the settling of a case, if there was even the briefest mention of an officer’s disciplinary history. In state court, the city filed appeals to stop the disclosure of a summary of disciplinary records in the case of Daniel Pantaleo, the Staten Island officer who placed Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold in 2014, and also in the case of a Queens officer, Jason Maccaron, involved in a violent arrest.
Joel Berger, a former city lawyer who represents plaintiffs with lawsuits against the police, said he detected a new approach. “The city has been doing it all along, but they’ve been doing it even more strenuously in this administration than in the previous one,” he said. (City officials denied any change.)
The issue emerged for Mr. de Blasio last month after the Police Department’s decision to change a decades-old policy of posting certain disciplinary information on a clipboard in its public information office at Police Headquarters. The change, reported by The Daily News, coincided with the filing by the Legal Aid Society of a Freedom of Information Act request.
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SOURCE: NY Times, J. David Goodman