New York’s incoming mayor just made history by appointing a Black woman to run the nation’s largest police department, and already there are attempts to undermine her authority.
Mayor-elect Eric Adams kept his promise to hire a woman, and threw in a bonus by selecting a Black woman with roots in Queens.
Keechant Sewell, who grew up in the Queensbridge Houses, said she had “come full circle” in becoming the first woman commissioner and third Black commissioner in the NYPD’s 176-year history.
“The Queensbridge Houses is part of my story,” Sewell, 49, said last week after she was introduced to the city.
“I wish my parents were here to point out the building and the apartment where they began to give me a strong sense of purpose, commitment and confidence. To all the little girls within the sound of my voice, there is nothing you can’t do and no one you can’t become.”
Not that people won’t try to derail you along the way. Sewell has yet to even sit at her desk and critics are already trying to sabotage her selection.
The talk goes something like this: Adams wants to appoint a deputy mayor to oversee public safety. Under that scenario, Sewell, who is currently the chief of detectives for the Nassau County Police Department, won’t be the “real commissioner,” a lackey for someone else — a man, presumably — who’d be really pulling the strings.
Don’t bet on it.
“She’s stepping into a very difficult job,” said Dennis Walcott, a deputy mayor under former Mayor Mike Bloomberg. “We need to be respectful of her role and not try to undermine it. People need to take a step back and talk about her strengths.”
Among those is her connection to the community. Adams said she has an “emotional intelligence” that separated her from all the other candidates.
Walcott said it’s all about the “sanctity of relationships.”
Walcott, president of the Queens Public Library, was once on the other side of a similar dynamic. He was Bloomberg’s deputy mayor for public education while Joel Klein was city schools chancellor.
He said they never got in each other’s way.
“I was very clear about my lane,” Walcott said. “I don’t think there was ever a question that I was trying to undermine Joel, or that he was trying to undermine me.”
He said it’s also important that the roles are clearly defined before anyone gets started.
After Adams, a retired NYPD captain with 22 years on the force, introduced his new police commissioner, the two hustled over to Brooklyn, where detectives were investigating the murder in Flatbush of a 20-year-old deli worker during an armed robbery Tuesday night.
There, Adams was asked if Sewell will report to him.
“My commissioner is not going to report to a whole series of people,” Adams said. “My commissioner is going to have a direct link to Eric Adams. What my deputy mayor of public safety is going to do is he or she is going to look at all of our law enforcement entities and connect them with our other city services.”
It’s a no-brainer that a mayor who is a former cop would take a hands-on approach whether he hired a man or a woman. And if he wants to do that with a deputy mayor, so be it.
Adams says he’s ‘changing the ecosystem of public safety.”
Let’s give them a chance. The other way isn’t working.