Mayor de Blasio continued his defense of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte a day after Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called on him to step down — bizarrely comparing the freewheeling commissioner’s misuse of a city car to Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
“All people want to talk about is the God-forsaken cars,” de Blasio vented to WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Thursday. “I feel like when Bernie Sanders said in that debate, ‘Enough with the damn emails!’ The car isn’t the issue — the issue is has he made our correction system better?”
De Blasio argued that more important than Ponte “accidentally” using the car for personal business were the commissioner’s results — insisting Ponte had reduced violence “in a host of ways.”
But the department’s stabbing and slashing statistics tell a different story.
There have been 44 slashings and stabbings through March this year, up from 36 for the same period last year. For the fiscal year, from July 2016 through March of 2017, there have been 133 stabbings and slashings, up from 101 for the same period in fiscal 2016.
Asked about rising violence at Rikers at an unrelated Brooklyn press conference later that afternoon, de Blasio, now in his fourth year in office, blamed his predecessor.
“What you’re talking about is a guy who inherited a mess,” de Blasio said.
Ponte has been in hot water for weeks after the Department of Investigation revealed he repeatedly drove his city car to Maine on personal business, putting more than 18,000 miles on the car and spending more than $ 1,500 in gas and tolls on the city’s dime.
The Department of Investigation also uncovered that Ponte was out of state more than 90 days last year, during which there were 27 inmate-on-inmate stabbings, three slashings of officers, the on-duty death of a staff member, an inmate death and an escape.
The mayor argued Thursday “that time was essentially weekend and vacation time.”
But 35 of the days Ponte spent out of state were during the work week, and he only took time off for six of them — meaning he spent 29 days billing the city for an 8-hour workday out of state.
The mayor insisted he didn’t care where his jails boss worked from: “I have one standard: Do you produce? Do you produce?”
Ponte was grilled by the City Council last week, where he insisted two former department officials told him it was OK to use his car. Those officials denied ever doing so — raising the question of whether Ponte told the truth while he was under oath in the Council hearing.
“I am convinced that he is a person of integrity,” de Blasio said when asked about the testimony, going on to say Ponte will face discipline and pay back the mileage. “I’m just not going to fixate on this.”
The mayor’s strident defense comes as others in the city have turned on Ponte, including Mark-Viverito. The mayor said he’d offered the speaker “his point of view” — and mentioned Kalief Browder, the teenager who was held for long stints in punitive segregation, or solitary confinement, while incarcerated at Rikers for years awaiting trial for stealing a backpack on charges that were later dismissed. Browder’s ordeal drew national attention to Rikers, and he died by suicide after being released.
De Blasio argued Ponte’s policies would have saved Browder.
“The one person who changed the reality that would have I think more than anything saved Kalief Browder’s life was Joe Ponte,” he said. “Because Joe Ponte got rid of punitive segregation.”
With Reuven Blau