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OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

New spokesman’s first duty to NYPD or mayor?

Phillip Walzak was named deputy commissioner for public

Phillip Walzak was named deputy commissioner for public information for the NYPD in March 2018. Above, he's introduced as Mayor Bill de Blasio's press secretary in 2014. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

When James O’Neill became NYPD commissioner in 2016, he was known as a “cop’s cop.” With his recent appointment of Phillip Walzak as the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of public information, he seems more like the mayor’s cop.

Walzak, who served as Bill de Blasio’s press secretary and worked in his mayoral campaigns, has been described by some as a City Hall operative.

PBA president Pat Lynch said Walsak’s appointment “is the clearest sign yet that the de Blasio administration thinks the NYPD’s primary mission is to serve as a political tool . . .”

Lynch’s characterization may be over the top, however. Virtually all NYPD spokesmen and women in the last three decades have come from City Hall. Some, like Alice T. McGillion, who served in the Koch administration, and Tom Kelly, who served under Rudy Giuliani, were outstanding.

McGillion became an advocate for transparency. She also protected Commissioner Ben Ward from the prying eyes of reporters so that they learned little of his personal demons. He had a drinking problem that became known six months after he disappeared for three days during the 1984 Palm Sunday massacre in East New York.

Kelly juggled the competing interests of Giuliani and Bill Bratton, amid Bratton’s maneuverings to land himself — rather than the mayor — on the cover of Jan. 15, 1996, issue of Time magazine as the face of the city’s dramatic crime reduction. Giuliani fired Bratton three months later.

But neither McGillion nor Kelly — in fact, no NYPD spokesman or woman in the past 40 years — has been a top aide to a mayor, as Walsak has been to de Blasio.

“Even though there is no impending campaign, will he use the platform for the greater promotion of Bill de Blasio to the national spotlight or secondarily to help his wife achieve whatever her goals are?” asked a former official who served as DCPI and who asked not to be identified to speak freely about the hire. “On the other hand, Walsak is a communications professional. He can use his skills to help the city and the department. It could be just fine. We will have to watch and see.”

The NYPD announced Walsak’s appointment in a single-spaced, full-page news release that listed his accomplishments, including having served as director of strategic communications at the Department of Homeland Security.

Perhaps inadvertently, the release omitted any mention of Walsak’s role in de Blasio’s campaigns.

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