Neither De Blasio's Dithering nor Cuomo's Meddling Will Fix the Rikers Crisis
Andrew Cuomo just jammed his thumbs in Bill de Blasio’s eyes — again. This time the mayor had it coming.
The state Commission of Correction — one of those obscure but potentially powerful administrative bodies that march to the governor’s drummers — last week barred the transfer of upstate inmates to Rikers Island.
Too dangerous, said the commission, which has overseen New York prisons for more than a century. Though its powers are rarely tested, they are very real — so City Hall would be wise to view the non-transfer order as a harbinger.
On its face, the order marks another round in the pitiful one-up war between Albany and City Hall. The governor and mayor have squabbled over everything from subsidized housing to a dead deer in a Harlem park, with Cuomo usually picking the fight and de Blasio responding with eye-blinking befuddlement.
This time, the core issues are real enough. And de Blasio, as usual, is coming up short.
Rikers Island, never a garden spot, devolved into a seething snakepit after the mayor settled a federal suit in 2015 by effectively stripping corrections officers of the ability to maintain order in coherent, predictable ways.
It’s no secret that inmates often have at least as much control over lockups as their nominal keepers — who can’t be everywhere and who are willing to cede some power to inmate leaders in return for relative quiet.
De Blasio’s consent decree largely unravels that understanding by depriving correction officers of the ability to protect inmates, to say nothing of themselves, from attacks by prisoners. When one disputed swing of a guard’s baton could result in an officer under arrest, why intervene?
Thus has Rikers arguably become the most dangerous spot in New York City.
The Correction Officers Benevolent Association last month filed a federal suit of its own, alleging inmate violence is up 18 percent since de Blasio’s decree and street gang members in custody are organizing against guards, who have been “punched, kicked, slashed, splashed with urine, feces or saliva, stabbed, held hostage, beaten severely or sexually assaulted by inmates.”
De Blasio’s response has been, well, eye-blinking befuddlement. In addition to the consent decree, he hired progressive Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte, who has been in the news for using a city car and credit card for overly frequent, extended trips to his home state of Maine.
City Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters said Ponte spent 90 days there last year, running up thousands in gas and toll bills, and was absent from the city during 27 violent incidents at city jails — including three guard slashings and an inmate escape.
This came “at a time that we are trying to bring order to Rikers,” said Peters. “You can’t do that when the most senior people in the city’s jails are not following the rules.”
Ah, but Ponte “never intended to do anything wrong,” says de Blasio. The Department of Investigation is making too much of it. As far as the mayor is concerned, the matter was closed.
Apparently not. Peters’ office alleged Monday that Ponte’s own investigators have been spying on DOI for some time. It’s a truly shocking charge, and while there’s no telling where the story will go, two things seem clear: On this one, de Blasio seems more negligent than befuddled, and Cuomo’s Commission of Correction likely will be heard from again. Soon.
Progressive New York’s response to the overall crisis at Rikers is, unsurprisingly, another evasion: Don’t reacquire control of the jail, but instead close it. Unresolved is precisely where to put the predators now wreaking havoc at the jail complex.
All in all, then, it’s hard to fault Cuomo’s take: “Rikers Island is one of those long-term injustices and abuses that every New Yorker should be outraged about . . . The situation is intolerable.”
Except for this: Beyond his standard hyperventilated rhetoric, he has no plan either.
One might argue that it’s not his job to have a plan. That’s true. But most of the de Blasio ducks that Cuomo poaches are none of the governor’s business either — at least not operationally.
New York is the safest big city in America, and yet Cuomo has state troopers standing guard in Grand Central Terminal and zipping up and down the West Side Highway dispensing speeding tickets — tasks the NYPD is well-equipped to handle.
And he does this for no apparent reason other than to get up de Blasio’s nose.
At first this was a curiosity. Then it became an annoyance. Now it seems to be an obsession — and it seriously undermines public confidence in the governor’s stability.
Rikers Island is a shipwreck. It deserves sober attention from serious people, which it’s not getting. Blame de Blasio, but Cuomo, too. They both need to grow up.
This piece originally appeared on the New York Post
Bob McManus is a contributing editor of City Journal. He retired as editorial page editor of the New York Post in 2013 and has since worked as a freelance editor, columnist, and writer.
This piece originally appeared in New York Post