The Prospect Park YMCA has only one bench press machine, and Mayor Bill de Blasio just sat there in his lime green t-shirt working his phone for a good 10 minutes when somebody else could use it.
But that was understandable if you considered that he was most likely texting or emailing about a standoff on Staten Island between cops and a gang leader who had just shot a firefighter.
Some would think it inappropriate for de Blasio to have come to this Brooklyn gym for his regular workout on Friday morning as if all was well in the city.
But his supporters would no doubt argue that the NYPD had the situation well in hand and there was nothing de Blasio could have done.
There was still something startlingly detached about what someone who was in the gym says de Blasio did when he finally rose from the machine.
As cops in Staten Island were simultaneously seeking to convince the gunman to surrender and steeling themselves to face him if he decided to do battle, de Blasio stepped over to the gym’s scale.
The Mayor of the City of New York then proceeded to weigh himself.
At that moment his focus was not on the cops or their worried families or the shock that somebody had shot a city firefighter for the first time in 21 years.
The scale is one of those old school doctor’s scales and de Blasio was concentrating on nudging the small weight across the horizontal beam until the arrow at the end matched up with the little line. De Blasio took due note of how much de Blasio weighed.
He had been accompanied to the gym by his wife, Chirlane McCray. She had recently begged off a summons to jury duty, saying she was too busy.
“They regularly go together,” a spokeswoman later said.
But McCray was exercising in another area of the gym as de Blasio returned to the lone bench press machine. He resumed working his phone, no doubt getting updates on a crisis that had begun after U.S. Marshals and cops went to make an early morning arrest of Bloods leader Garland Tyree. They encountered smoke inside his apartment's front door and summoned the FDNY. Tyree had shot one of the responding firefighters.
“Today I die,” Tyree had posted on Facebook.
Along with getting updates, de Blasio also may have been texting an aide. She brought his suit in from the official car parked outside the YMCA.
Usually, de Blasio departs his regular workouts via the building’s front entrance, but this time he went out the back, apparently to avoid the members of the press who had begun to gather outside.
By ducking out and slipping away, de Blasio was acknowledging that at least some in the city would find his visit to the gym to be ill timed.
But at an afternoon press conference outside the hospital on Staten Island, he bristled when asked about the workout.
Reporter: “Mayor, there are reports that you were at the gym during this entire process. Can you give any sort of…”
Mayor: “We’re briefing you all on a very serious situation, and that’s just not a serious question.”
By then, de Blasio had paid a hospital visit to the wounded firefighter, Lt. Jim Hayes, whose spirit seemed to have made a considerable impression on him. The mayor was roused to seemingly heartfelt praise.
“An extraordinary man,” de Blasio said. “I talked with some of his colleagues, some of the firefighters from Engine 158. And the clear respect they had for their lieutenant to begin with, that was obvious. But the fact that their lieutenant was the one to make the tough decision to go in to what was obviously a dangerous situation, that only added to the respect of the men who he leads.”
The mayor spoke of the moments after the first gunfire erupted.
“They told a story after they heard the shots ring out of helping with other police personnel to get the lieutenant out of that situation and get him to safety. By the way, everyone who helped get Lieutenant Hayes to safety put themselves in harms way in the process. And they all are to be commended for their bravery and their quick thinking.”
De Blasio now further marveled, “Lieutenant Hayes—a very, very impressive guy. Cool, calm, collected—was making light of his injuries. Thank God—thank God his injuries were as limited as they are. And that really is extraordinary given the situation he was in. We spent time together, including with his wife, his brothers, his son and daughter—a wonderful family. And someone we should be profoundly proud of—he didn’t hesitate to serve this city and to go into harms way.”
Even as the mayor was at the hospital, the standoff at the scene of the shooting had ended with Tyree charging out of his basement apartment in a bulletproof vest, clutching an AK-47 with a 30-round magazine. De Blasio now also extolled the efforts of the cops who sought to prevent that outcome.
“The NYPD really went the extra mile here, sending a helicopter to bring the mother of this individual up to try and diffuse this situation, having the finest hostage negotiators anywhere around,” de Blasio said. “The NYPD showed extraordinary restraint and care in this situation. Thank God no members of the NYPD were hurt, no surrounding residents of the neighborhood were hurt. That was all because of the quality of the work that was done here today.”
The head of the NYPD’s Hostage Negotiating Team, Lt. Jack Cambria, was on hand at the press conference to describe the long hours that had preceded the final moments.
“Well, I think it was a textbook scenario of how we presented ourselves,” Cambria said. “You know, we start with the basics, trying to develop a rapport. I think we did so very early on. He was cooperative with us throughout the process—the four hours negotiating. Every time we would call him on his phone—his cell phone—he would pick it up."
Cambria went on, “At one point, the reception was not so great, so we offered to bring him another one of our phones—a phone that we could talk to him in more direct contact. We had it brought to the door with a robot, but he did not want to take it. He was concerned about taking it.”
Cambria continued, “So we continued the dialog—and again, very cooperative up to the point when his mom came. And very sweet with the mom, and mom was very sweet with him. And he said, coming out now, momma. He said I love you—I love you back—put the gun down.”
In the next moment, Tyree had suddenly stormed up the steps with his assault rifle. The police had been left with no choice but to fire.
Cambria was now asked whether this was a case of suicide by cop.
“The only one that can really answer that—whether it was a suicide by cop phenomenon, is him,” Cambria said.
Cambria noted that Tyree had been wearing body armor.
“You know, it might be counter intuitive because he did come out with a vest,” Cambria said. “So, if he was looking to — if he’s bent on committing suicide by cop, maybe the vest might not have been a factor. He knew what he was facing, however. He knew there was many heavily armed police officers outside.”
Cambria ended by saying, “So, it’s hard to determine that because of that vest, for me at least.”
The outcome would have been the same whether or not the mayor had gone to his regular workout, the important people at such moments being cops such as Cambria and firefighters such as Hayes.
And if de Blasio did first make time to work out and even stop by his favorite patisserie, he had still made it to the hospital to speak with the wounded lieutenant and his engine company as well as family. You can be sure that the mayor did not say something like “I would have gotten her sooner, but I hit the gym.”
Now it was all done, De Blasio did manage to sum up the incident just right.
“There’s a lot to be proud of today in the way our first responders handled something you just can’t be fully prepared for,” he said. “It was a very challenging and dynamic situation, but this proves, once again, that we have the finest police, finest firefighters, the finest EMTs anywhere in this nation.”
But it was still hard to shake off the image of de Blasio stepping up to that gym scale while this dynamic and challenging situation had been playing out.
The image that stays in the mind is of Mayor Me nudging that little weight to see how much Mayor Me weighs.
In pounds anyway.