Politico

De Blasio cites 'unity' in pushing out top doctor, but defends critical police commissioner


NEW YORK — Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed out his health commissioner, Oxiris Barbot, after a series of private disagreements throughout the coronavirus pandemic, saying he needed an “atmosphere of unity.”

But the mayor offered another vote of confidence Wednesday in his police commissioner, Dermot Shea, who has publicly called a police reform law the mayor signed “insane,” labeled the budget de Blasio negotiated a “bow to mob rule,” and referred to city leaders as “cowards.”

When asked about the contrast, de Blasio said he required “communication” and “team work” from all of his agency heads, and does not believe Shea has violated those standards.

“There’s nothing he has said that I took personal offense to,” de Blasio said.

“We have talked constantly. When he has a concern, he raises it forthrightly. When it’s something that I understand he thinks is important to talk about publicly, he and I talk about it first,” he said. “And we come to an agreement on the right way to address things and handle things. So it’s been a very collegial dynamic. He has also, to his credit, really put a focus on working with other agencies.”

Critics have seen a double standard in de Blasio’s treatment of the white, male police commissioner and the Latina health commissioner.

“I am disappointed that women in leadership like Dr. Barbot are pushed out after speaking their mind, while people like NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, who has publicly clashed with the Mayor, disagreed with him, and has completely failed in handling the City’s response to this summer’s protests, remains in his position without even the slightest bit of critique from his boss,” said City Council Member Carlina Rivera.

“Today’s decision will leave many aspiring women across New York City questioning whether they should pursue a career in New York City government under this administration,” she added.

Council Member Brad Lander agreed. “When it was most urgent, NYC forfeited the leadership of its first-in-class public health dep’t b/c BdB could not respect @NYCHealthCommr @DrOBarbot,” he said in a tweet. “Sexism & racism harm women & people-of-color most directly. But they also harm us all.”

De Blasio did not answer when asked Wednesday whether he has received implicit bias training, which is now required for all NYPD officers, to ferret out any of his own unconscious biases. He did say he has discussed the issue with his wife Chirlane McCray, who is Black.

The mayor said he had no regrets about how Barbot was treated in his administration. She issued an apology for saying she didn’t “give two rats’ asses” about NYPD cops during a heated argument in March after police attempted to commandeer 500,000 N95 masks, which had been designated for hospitals.

“I have a lot of respect for Dr. Barbot, and I appreciate what she did for this city. The bottom line is if someone, anyone says something that wasn’t the right thing to say, it’s important to just clear the air and move forward, and that’s what happened,” de Blasio said.

He said he believed he was doing the “gracious” thing by giving Barbot the chance to resign after settling on her successor, Dr. Dave Chokshi.

“Everyone’s mature adults. Some things just don’t work out. Sometimes it’s time for a change in leadership,” he said. “And that’s the point we got to this weekend. And I think, always the gracious thing to do is to ask someone if they would prefer to do something in term of a resignation.”

He declined to name anything she had done wrong. “I determined that it was important to have new leadership,” he said.

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