- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2020

First he encouraged New Yorkers to go out on the town in the early days of coronavirus pandemic. Then he urged them to snitch on each other for getting too close to one another.

In between, he took flak for going to the gym and having his staff drive across town so that he and his wife could take a walk in Prospect Park.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came under fire Wednesday for what critics described as the latest example of his inconsistent and sometimes infuriating approach to social distancing after he led a Tuesday evening crackdown on a Hasidic funeral procession where police made 12 arrests.

As Jewish leaders pointed out, Mr. de Blasio had no public reaction hours earlier when thousands of onlookers, some of them in violation of the six-foot rule, gathered to watch the Blue Angels flyover.

“Literally the same day, you had thousands of New Yorkers all over the city failing to social distance for a flyover,” said Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council. “It’s targeted enforcement.”

Mr. de Blasio later issued a half-apology for a tweet singling out “the Jewish community” that threatened arrests for “those who gather in large groups,” although he said he had no regrets about breaking up the crowd lining the sidewalks for the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Mertz in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg area.

“I regret if the way I say it in any way gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way — it was not my intention,” Mr. de Blasio said at his daily coronavirus press briefing. “It was said with love, but it was tough love.”

For New Yorkers, however, Mr. de Blasio’s message might be easier to swallow if he were a bit more scrupulous about following his — and the state’s — rules. A statewide stay-at-home order has been in effect since March 22.

The Democratic mayor and first lady Chirlane McCray have been caught by photographers at least twice strolling in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, an 11-mile drive from Gracie Mansion, even though they live within walking distance of Central Park.

Last weekend, they were filmed by sharp-eyed Darren Goldner, who posted a video Saturday showing the masked couple walking with security and staff members after driving to the park in what he described as a four-SUV entourage.

“Seriously, you guys have a park. You live in the middle of a park. You don’t need to non-essentially travel to Brooklyn,” Mr. Goldner says in the video, which was picked up by the New York Post.

The mayor kept walking but said, “C’mon, guys, give it a break,” prompting Mr. Goldner to retort, “I’m not going to give it a break.”

“This is selfish behavior,” he told the mayor. “This is so terribly selfish. You call yourself a progressive, but you chauffeur yourself to Brooklyn. You force people to drive you.”

This isn’t the first time Mr. de Blasio has been called out for his Prospect Park treks. Another New Yorker posted a photo March 28 of the first couple walking there, prompting City & State New York to observe that the “mayor doesn’t really believe in leading by example.”

City Hall press secretary Freddi Goldstein defended the walk, noting that the mayor has encouraged residents to “get out and exercise to keep your spirit, just do it safely and appropriately distance,” although critics say that isn’t the point.

“Most New Yorkers, who do not have a chauffeured SUV to transport them at public expense, must currently forgo trips to far-away parks they may happen to prefer, since they have been advised by the city and state governments to ‘stay home to stop the spread of coronavirus’ and to ‘stay at home as much as possible,’” said City & State’s Jeff Coltin.

The mayor also took plenty of guff for having his chauffeur drive him to the YMCA on March 15, hours before the state closed all gyms, and telling New Yorkers on March 16 to hit the bars for one last drink. As late as March 11, he urged urbanites to dine out, telling Eater.com that if “you’re not sick, you should be going about your life.”

Since then, Mr. de Blasio has embraced the social-distancing requirements with the fervor of the recently converted.

In an April 18 video, he urged New Yorkers to snitch on neighbors who break social-distance barriers, unveiling a text hotline for would-be narcs to send in photos of “people who need to get the message” and promising a police response.

To nobody’s surprise, the line was soon overwhelmed with photos of people flipping the bird, Hitler memes and genitalia images, as well as shots of Mr. de Blasio’s most embarrassing moments, such as the time in 2014 when he dropped a local groundhog, Staten Island Chuck, who later died.

Mr. de Blasio explained his decision to descend on the Hasidic funeral — he accompanied the police officers — by saying that “people’s lives were in danger.”

“I could not believe my eyes. It was deeply deeply distressing. Again, this is a community I love, this is a community I’ve spent a lot of time with working closely. If you saw anger and frustration, you’re right. I spoke out of real distress. People’s lives were in danger before my eyes.”

Certainly New York City has been harder hit than any other jurisdiction by the novel coronavirus, recording more than 162,000 cases and 12,500 deaths in a metropolis of 8.4 million, including 1.1 million Jewish residents.

“I understand when people are going through mourning they’re in real pain, but we have to understand what it means to hold a large gathering in New York City today,” said Mr. de Blasio. “It means unfortunately that people who go to that gathering, some will be sick with this disease. It’s just a fact. We know this. Some will spread the disease to others. People as a result will die.”

The New York Police Department commissioner said that “several thousand” Hasidic Jews, many wearing face masks, gathered for the funeral, although Mr. Gestetner of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council said it was more like several hundred.

He said the problem was the double standard.

“He executed targeted enforcement on Hasidim, he placed an outsized focus on Hasidim for doing what everyone else has been doing, and he generalized 1.1 million for the act of a few hundred,” Mr. Gestetner said of the mayor.

Conservatives who criticized Mr. de Blasio for releasing 1,500 inmates to reduce the prison population in response to the virus — some of whom later committed other crimes — were quick to decry the discrepancy.

“Mayor de Blasio is a complete disaster,” said Chicks on the Right’s Amy Jo Clark. “First, let’s let all the criminals out, and then let’s criminalize people who aren’t criminals. You’re an idiot.”

The mayor’s reference to “the Jewish community” also drew rebukes from the Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt as well as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Brian Schatz of Hawaii.

“Would DeBlasio have sent this identical tweet with the word ‘Jewish’ replaced by any other religious minority? If not, why not? Laws should be enforced neutrally w/o targeting religious faith,” Mr. Cruz tweeted.

There are about 72,000 Jews living in Williamsburg, he said, and mostly teens attended the procession for the rabbi, who died at age 73 of COVID-19.

“He [de Blasio] should go lambast the thousands of New Yorkers who failed to social distance for a flyover they can see five times a year, and give a break to people who joined a onetime funeral, if he wants to call out everybody equally — which he hasn’t done,” Mr. Gestetner said.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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