Besides taking responsibility for the involuntarily manslaughter of the beloved Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day last year, New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio needs to start taking responsibility for his reputation. Kidding aside, the Mayor has a serious set of daisy-chain, agenda-distracting problems surrounding police relations’ with the communities they serve and his devolving relationship with the police department itself. Can de Blasio win back the faith of New York City’s finest? Personally, I am not so sure.
New York City’s powerful police union seems to think that just one man, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, can mend relations between de Blasio and 50,000 New York City cops. Can the man who freed two imprisoned journalists from North Korea back in 2009 now help the embattled Mayor win back the police force? Ehh, maybe.
Clinton or no Clinton, the Mayor needs to start off by adopting a “thinking before speaking” communications mantra. What he thinks and believes personally is not always in the best interests of the Police Department or public safety. He needs to be less of an ideologue and more of a pragmatist when it comes to managing sensitive issues like these. That means knowing what he should and should not comment on. His downward spiral began with his remarks on the Eric Garner case and worsened with his public support for the protestors.
If I was his communications chief, I would advise him to draft and post an open letter addressed to New York City with a very public apology for his past remarks with a very specific plan on how he and Commissioner Bratton will help ease tensions between the Police and the public. His plan should be as detailed as possible and include any third parties or partners he will engage with to be part of this process. As part of his letter, he needs to overstate his enthusiasm and support for the NYC Police Department and cite the positives over the negatives.
He then needs to have a very tight set of pro-Police messages that he will use around any/every police-involved incident and event, and he should be seeking the counsel of communications pragmatists in advance of speaking.
And finally, in the same way that former Mayor Michael Bloomberg rode the subway to and from work every day, de Blasio should commit to doing weekly “ride alongs” in police cruisers to experience first-hand what it's like to be a cop.
Aaron Kwittken is chief executive and global chairman of Kwittken, the New York and London communications agency.