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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Bob Gangi wants to challenge Mayor Bill de Blasio. But first he needs a place to meet

Bob Gangi will officially announce his mayoral

Bob Gangi will officially announce his mayoral campaign next week -- but first he needs to find a place to meet with his staff. Photo Credit:

It’s not easy being mayor, but it’s not easy running for mayor either.

Bob Gangi, executive director of the Police Reform Organizing Project, is at the beginning of his longshot candidacy and was looking for a meeting space Wednesday. That’s harder than it sounds.

Gangi was set to meet two soon-to-be-paid campaign workers outside Hunter College, where the staffers are studying political science. They tried going onto Hunter property, but were rebuffed by security. Shakespeare & Co. bookstore a few blocks away didn’t have Wi-Fi. So they settled on Gregorys Coffee, and found two tables in the back next to the shop’s bathroom.

The meeting happened over the occasional sounds of patrons struggling to open the bathroom door. Such are the challenges of challenging a sitting mayor and starting a political campaign from scratch.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is riding high with strong fundraising, no equally prominent or experienced opponents and no indictment in long-running campaign finance inquiries. But there are a few challengers on the right and left who see room to expose the holes in de Blasio’s first term. For Gangi, that’s primarily about policing.

Longtime advocate, recent candidate

Gangi, 73, a lifelong New Yorker who grew up in Flatbush and now lives in Manhattan, has been a longtime critic of broken-windows policing — which focuses on quality-of-life crimes to discourage more serious ones. He has spent years doing court-monitoring projects through PROP to demonstrate how this style of policing falls most heavily on minority communities.

His antipathy to broken windows is a message that some criminal justice reformers thought might have been embraced by the de Blasio administration. But the mayor has been a supporter of quality-of-life policing, combined with a number of reforms that don’t go far enough for Gangi.

At the coffee-shop meeting, Gangi was focused on the more granular questions of how to get a campaign up and running. Finding a podium for the official launch on Wednesday. Making business cards. Adding content to the campaign’s website, designed by his adult son, plus a Facebook page and Twitter account, which had been the victim of an attempted hacking.

Gangi’s newly minted “campaign coordinators” may be lacking in professional experience, but aren’t totally new to politics. Maesha Meto’s experience was limited to an unsuccessful run on a slate for student government a few semesters ago, but she appeared practiced and efficient at bringing Gangi’s attention to certain practical details when he wandered off on tangents or voiced repeated concerns about whether the website’s donate button was working yet.

“Bob, you should be regularly tweeting,” Meto, 21, said.

“Yeah, tweet every day,” said her new colleague, Alicia Bella, 23. “No cursing,” she added.

They discussed such practicalities as planning the looming signature-gathering operation to get Gangi on the ballot. Also getting Gangi’s contact list copied over to his new campaign email address, and deciphering Gangi’s doctor-like scrawl when he wrote out the email address of the waitress he’d encountered at dinner the night before, eager to be put on his campaign list.

Making a statement about policing

While Gangi and his aides plotted their run, de Blasio was holding a news conference announcing reforms to the city’s jail system, including jobs to help former felons re-enter society, and more programming while they are behind bars.

It’s the kind of reform that exemplifies both the difficulties for challenges from the left like Gangi’s, and also the rationale for such a run. Gangi said his campaign might support such jail reforms, but that overall they address the “back end” issue of people already in the system as opposed to the “front end” problem of making broken windows arrests. In his view, de Blasio reforms only at the edges.

De Blasio’s campaign spokesman said in a statement: “Mayor de Blasio ended the overuse of stop-and-frisk and brought crime to record lows while improving relations between police and the communities they serve. That’s a record we are happy to compare with anyone.”

Regarding his issues with the NYPD, Gangi says “it’s not the personnel, it’s the policy.” A Gangi mayoralty might shift police resources from nuisance abatements, say, to policing as it appears on “cop shows,” he said — focused entirely on serious crimes.

Still, Gangi, the old criminal justice gadfly, acknowledges that officers might not take so kindly to him being in charge. He often calls NYPD practices “racist” and says individual officers sometimes behave “like racists.”

That’s a departure from the usual political obeisance to the NYPD. But there are some in New York who think de Blasio’s police reform hasn’t gone far enough and who will be looking for a real contest of ideas in the primary.

Those ideas drew Gangi’s first two staffers, at least. Meto, who is an immigrant from Bangladesh and was raised in the South Bronx, says tension with the NYPD isn’t anything new in her community, but she questions why that relationship couldn’t change.

Before the meeting wrapped up so they could get back to class and part-time jobs, Meto and Bella told stories of being struck by police interactions with homeless people sleeping on the subway; and the simple fact that police were dealing with those people, rather than the city making more of an effort to find them homes. Gangi nodded approvingly.


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