Overlooked in the controversy surrounding Mayor Bill de Blasio's ill-fated roundtable discussion over Eric Garner's death is the role of Rachel Noerdlinger, the Rev. Al Sharpton's former longtime spokeswoman.
De Blasio hired her as wife Chirlane McCray's chief of staff at an annual salary of $170,000. McCray did not attend the roundtable, but Noerdlinger sat among a panel of more than a dozen clergy and politicians on July 31 that de Blasio convened to discuss the chokehold death of the 6-foot-3, 350-pound Garner as officers tried to arrest him in Staten Island on July 17 for selling untaxed cigarettes.
When Sharpton arrived at the roundtable -- 20 minutes late -- Noerdlinger raced out to greet him and escort him inside. After the event, she appeared in the City Hall rotunda with Sharpton as he held a brief news conference. Police officials declined to discuss the roundtable publicly. Instead, some rolled their eyes.
Police sources said it appeared that Noerdlinger had set up the post-roundtable news conference for Sharpton.
"It's 100 percent erroneous to say I set up a mini news conference for Rev. Sharpton," Noerdlinger wrote in an email. "I arrived at it as Rev. Sharpton was speaking, so that would be a flat out lie. And yes I walked him . . . I would call it proper etiquette, since he was invited to City Hall as a guest of the mayor."
Rebecca Katz, a special adviser to de Blasio, wrote in an email that Noerdlinger "is a member of the mayor's senior cabinet and has two decades of experience with community relations. She was at the roundtable at the mayor's request."
Noerdlinger was a crackerjack spokeswoman for Sharpton -- not that he needs help with publicity. Her skills contrast with many of those around de Blasio, none of whom apparently alerted the mayor that positioning Sharpton directly to his left and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to his right might exacerbate de Blasio's already precarious relationship with police. Or perhaps de Blasio didn't listen. Sharpton then turned Bratton into a piñata with his criticisms of the department, while he and de Blasio remained silent.
The mayor's plans to hold another forum to improve relations between police and the community -- hosted by Cardinal Timothy Dolan -- appear to be a lame response to the uproar that emanated from the last one.
So who arranged Sharpton's seating? Noerdlinger, in an email, said it wasn't she.
Jacky Johnson, a spokeswoman for Sharpton, said her boss had nothing to do with it. "His name card was already there," she said. "He did not make any requests."
Said Katz: "We make decisions collectively and in consensus with senior leadership." That explanation is a reflection of de Blasio's judgment problems as perceived by the police, the media and much of the public.
Sharpton, meantime, continues his self-promotion, with or without Noerdlinger. According to WCBS-TV, Sharpton said last week "he feels he made de Blasio mayor" and "claimed he has the right to dictate police policy because he and his supporters 'won the election.' "
Sharpton actually didn't endorse a candidate in the 2013 mayoral primary.
"I'm the guy that let Bratton come to Harlem, to my headquarters, when he was first appointed," Sharpton told reporters.
Sharpton's planned Aug. 23 demonstration on Staten Island, where Garner died, is also infused with self-promotion.
Sharpton says he selected the date to commemorate the death of Yousef Hawkins, a 16-year-old black youth who was shot to death on Aug. 23, 1989. He and three friends were attacked by a white mob in Bensonhurst, one of whom shot Hawkins. In January 1991, while preparing to lead a demonstration through Bensonhurst, Sharpton was stabbed by a white youth.
So is the Aug. 23 demonstration to commemorate Garner and Hawkins, whose death was not police related? Or is it to commemorate Sharpton?