NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The Rev. Al Sharpton’s planned march across the across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in response to the police-custody death of Eric Garner has fueled a round of finger-pointing and pass the buck rarely seen in the annals of New York City.
As CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, Mayor Bill de Blasio has declined to get involved in the controversy over the planned march, which critics said would create a traffic disaster.
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said Thursday there are a number of concerns associated with the possible march. But he said the immediate decision to allow the march is up to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority or Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which own and operate the bridge.
“It has not been done, I think as you’re aware, other than for a bicycle race and the marathon each year,” Bratton told WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb. “There are significant safety issues on the bridge, if I understand it — expansion joint issues — and a very significant cost to prepare a bridge for a march that’s never happened in the past.”
Bratton said the MTA would also be responsible if something went wrong during the march.
“The liability is on them,” he said. “If there were to be an injury, et cetera, that’s ultimately a cost that would be borne by the state or the authority.”
But the MTA said it is not actually responsible for making the decision.
“The MTA closes the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to traffic only twice a year, when New York City requests to use the bridge for special events,” the agency said in a statement. “If New York City requests that the MTA closes the bridge to accommodate this event, the MTA will be cooperative.”
Some Staten Island elected officials have raised their voices Thursday in opposition to the planned march and demanded that someone make a decision to stop it. Sharpton announced plans Wednesday to lead the Aug. 23 demonstration.
City Council Minority Leader Vincent Ignizio (R-51st) and Councilman Steven Matteo (R-50th) have called on the MTA and the NYPD to block the march over the bridge, which has no walkway. Marching over the bridge would require shutting down some lanes of traffic.
“This is about shutting down the artery to my borough, which would cause chaos – traffic chaos. You just cannot close the bridge on a Saturday,” Ignizio said. “The administration – particularly Mayor de Blasio – should intervene here.”
Ignizio told WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane the demonstration should be held somewhere else where it “won’t impact the whole borough.”
“Who decides what content-based marches or demonstrations would be allowed to happen on the bridge?” Ignizio asked.
“We’re concerned about the negative impact on Staten Island, safety concerns, how much it will cost for the bridge to be shut down,” Matteo told the New York Observer. “And we’re not saying don’t protest, we’re just saying we don’t believe the Verrazano Bridge is a suitable location for any kind of protest. We don’t think that shutting the Verrazano Bridge is something that should be allowed for any protest.”
U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) — who represents the district where the bridge is located — wrote a letter to Mayor de Blasio expressing opposition to the march.
“Staten Island already bears the burden as the traffic and pothole capital of the country, not to mention having the most exorbitant toll in the nation,” Grimm said. “To close our only direct passage to the rest of the City on a summer travel weekend is a recipe for total disaster. There’s a reason the bridge has rarely been closed in its 50-year history; because the major disruption and safety risks are massive: our small businesses — already coping with the outrageous tolls — would bear an even greater financial burden, families would be severely impacted, and the Staten Island Expressway would be a parking lot… FDNY and EMT facilities in southern Brooklyn that serve Staten Island’s north shore neighborhoods would be cut off in the event of an emergency, and that is unacceptable.”
“The fact remains: the people of New York elected Bill de Blasio — not Al Sharpton — and it’s time for the Mayor to stand up, show some true leadership, and deny these permits to close the Verrazano bridge,” he added.
Staten Island Borough President James Oddo also expressed opposition to the march via Twitter.
“We should be building bridges in our community, not marching over them,” he tweeted.
On Wednesday, Westechester County Executive and Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino called on his Democratic rival Gov. Andrew Cuomo to deny closure of the bridge, saying it would have a “catastrophic impact on the safety, traffic and livelihood of thousands of New Yorkers.”
And Kramer reported the controversy could become a bridge over troubled political water for Mayor de Blasio, as Staten Island residents have castigated him for declining to take a stand.
“The mayor should stop it, and if he don’t stop it, he’s not getting my vote in four years. He ain’t getting my vote,” said Al Felline.
“Who’s running this city? Is Al Sharpton running this city?” said Bill d’Ambrosio. “Well, if Al Sharpton’s running the city, I’m ready to move.”
“I would think the mayor should stop him, but this mayor, he’s not going to stop him. He’s just not going to do that,” said Len Hickey. “He doesn’t want to get involved with all the politics and the insanity of it. He won’t do it. He won’t have the cops to do it. He’s not Giuliani.”
Elected officials and Staten Island residents said they support Sharpton’s right to hold a march. But they said shutting down the bridge, and diverting traffic in both directions – affecting ambulances and fire trucks – is just bad municipal policy.
Meanwhile Thursday, the New York Daily News reported that an order to crack down on the sale of loose cigarettes that prompted Garner’s arrest came directly from police headquarters. Garner died while being arrested for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. Prior to Garner’s death, Chief of Department Philip Banks sent a sergeant from his office to Tompkinsville, Staten Island, to investigate complaints about the sale of untaxed cigarettes, according to the report.
In cellphone video of the incident, an officer is seen placing his arm around Garner’s neck and then taking him to the ground after Garner refuses to be handcuffed.
Garner, who weighed at least 350 pounds suffered from asthma, is heard saying repeatedly in the video, “I can’t breathe!”
Chokeholds are banned by the NYPD, but allowed under state law.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who placed Garner in the apparent chokehold, was stripped of his gun and badge pending the investigation. Another officer was placed on desk duty. Two paramedics and two emergency medical technicians were suspended without pay.
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