A bullet-riddled stroller stained with the blood of a 1-year-old child stands as a challenge for the sorry bunch vying to become the Democratic candidate for the next mayor of New York.
All of them have spoken strongly against the stop-and-frisk tactics the NYPD credits with drastically reducing the number of shootings but a federal judge has found to be in significant violation of the Constitution.
None of the candidates has offered an alternative that promises to minimize the risk of other kids being killed by a stray bullet, as little Antiq Hennis was on Sunday evening as his father pushed him in a stroller down a Brooklyn street.
The father was the intended target, and the killer either was waiting for him or just happened to see him. Both scenarios suggest the killer had been on the street with a gun long enough to risk being caught if he had been stopped and frisked.
That has become less of a worry for New York’s bad guys since the court ruling. And it may cease to be a worry at all if the avowed opponents of stop-and-frisk have their way.
Bill Thompson was the sole candidate who visited the scene of Sunday’s shooting. He sounded much like Mayor Mike Bloomberg as he declared, “We have to get guns off the street and drive down the level of violence.”
But where Bloomberg points to stop-and-frisk as a primary tactic in minimizing shootings, Thompson failed to say exactly what he would do instead. One of Thompson’s campaign ads has him saying in a single sentence, “I’ll end stop-and-frisk and get illegal guns off the street,” as if there were some connection between the two.
Thompson was reminded at the televised mayoral debate on Tuesday that he had only mumbled the faintest opposition to stop-and-frisk back at the start of the primary race. He had since discovered that he did not have the black vote in his pocket simply because he is black, and he had suddenly announced that the NYPD’s tactics were akin to what led to Trayvon Martin’s death.
“I have been consistent,” he told the debate panel as evenly as if it were true.
A truth he could not deny after the visit to the murder scene then compelled him to add, “I also realize we have to get guns off the street.”
Thompson cited the slain 1-year-old and sounded almost like a mayor as he declared that such a horror cannot be tolerated.
“We can’t allow that in our communities,” he said.
But he again offered no specifics about how he would prevent it. He and the other candidates were asked if they would be willing to pledge to resign as mayor after one term if crime went up post-election. He had another mayoral moment as he made the vow, while frontrunner Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, and one-time frontrunner Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker, both ducked it. De Blasio said the mere suggestion of such a pledge was ridiculous.
“I intend on keeping crime down,” de Blasio declared as if he were saying something, as if others might say they intend to let crime go up.
He promised only, “We will fight crime aggressively, but we will make this city more fair.”
He did not address the question of guns or specifically how he proposed to keep them out of the city and off the streets. He was very specific about how he would raise taxes on the rich to fund full-time preschool education for all, as that proposal embodies the populist message that has helped propel him to the lead.
De Blasio had gotten his first big boost with the now famous commercial featuring his 15-year-old son, Dante. The son’s most distinguishing characteristic was his afro, but his manifest decency and devotion to his dad were really what made the ad so effective. Here was worthiness by association, a father judged by the virtues of the son.
And the elder de Blasio had since sought to suggest virtues of his own by invoking an image of New York before so many of its citizens gave credence to the saying that a conservative is a liberal who got mugged. Bloomberg had made New York the safest of big cities. De Blasio spoke in the debate of making it once again the most progressive.
“I fight for the people,” he announced.
His opponents insisted that he fights only for de Blasio. They sought to sully him by saying he had taken contributions from slumlords and had flip-flopped on term limits when it suited his political self-interest, and that he was generally a guy who talked out of both sides of his mouth. But he just shook it off and kept talking about the power of the people and the need for fairness.
Quinn did not help herself by twice noting that she had been endorsed by The New York Times. She does not seem to understand that the Times is widely viewed as part of the status quo that Bloomberg perpetuated by circumventing term limits with her assistance. And the citizenry has become so accustomed to the remarkable changes in public safety that it takes them for granted and has grown increasingly impatient with what has not changed. Bloomberg is a billionaire and most the rest of the city is struggling.
The latest Quinnipiac poll puts de Blasio at 43 percent, ahead of Thompson among blacks and ahead of Quinn among women. De Blasio once worked for David Dinkins, New York’s first black mayor. He now is leading in a race that marks a further evolution in social equality: people are not necessarily voting on the basis of race or gender.
Maybe for the very reason none of the candidates are so captivating as to rouse pride in your own particular kind, voters are choosing whichever candidate of whatever persuasion seems most likely to make a real difference.
As the primary fast approaches, de Blasio seems to be that guy, and the debate was not likely to change it. He might do well to remember what happened to his old boss, Dinkins, whose election had seemed such a resounding victory for equality. Dinkins had then proved unable to control escalating gun violence. Four youngsters were killed by stray rounds in just nine days.
“DAVE DO SOMETHING,” read a New York Post headline.
De Blasio and the others need to be much more specific about what they will DO absent stop-and-frisk. The death of little Antiq—who was not old yet enough for preschool—on Sunday evening is a reminder that the danger is still there. And it is a disgrace that only one of the candidates went to the scene on Monday when they were just a few blocks away, preparing to march in the West Indian Day Parade.
The big image out of the parade was of de Blasio dancing along with Dante, as well as his daughter and his wife, whom he met while they were both working for Dinkins. That outweighed any damaged de Blasio may have suffered by being accused in Tuesday night’s debate of dancing around the issues.
But the image that stands as a challenge and a warning is of that bloody, bullet-riddled stroller.