Mayor Bill de Blasio was forced on Monday to address reports that he was a passenger in a wrong-way crash three years ago, which the NYPD allegedly covered up out of concern that it would undermine his Vision Zero credibility. As it happens, the mayor does not recall the details of the incident.
"I don’t remember that at all," de Blasio said of the 2015 collision during an unrelated (and heckle-filled) press conference at Trump Tower. "When I’m in the car I’m usually on the phone, reading emails, reading papers. I don’t remember the specifics. I remember a very minor incident."
That very minor incident involved an NYPD detective, Edgar Robbels, driving the mayor's SUV on the wrong side of a Harlem street with its sirens and lights flashing, then crashing into a boiler truck, according to an accident report obtained by the Daily News. De Blasio was reportedly in the backseat of the vehicle at the time, and was quickly ushered away from the scene by two other detectives. There were no injuries reported.
According to text messages obtained by the tabloid, the commanding officer of the mayor's Executive Protection Unit, Inspector Howard Redmond, quickly sought to keep the public from learning of the crash because of "optics." Sources close to the investigation told the News that Redmond intentionally obscured who was driving the SUV to make it seem as though the mayor was traveling in a different car. The NYPD did not file a report with the Department of Motor Vehicles, and refused to release the collision report from the scene.
Asked about the alleged cover-up on Monday, de Blasio said the NYPD's investigation "needs to be followed through on," adding that "no public employee is above the law." But the mayor also said it was up to the police department to disclose "if they think things were handled appropriately or not."
An NYPD spokesperson told Gothamist that the driver of the SUV was "verbally instructed" after an investigation determined that he was at fault in the incident. "Far from a cover-up, this in fact shows the exact opposite—the NYPD took this incident seriously," said Sergeant Jessica McRorie. She did not respond to follow up questions about the allegations of a cover-up, why the department did not file a report with the DMV, or what exactly the detective was verbally instructed not to do.
Asked by a reporter if he'd considered telling his security not to drive on the wrong side of the street, de Blasio replied, "I don't really remember times when they did that. So if it's happened from time to time because of a specific security situation, that's up to them. I trust the NYPD to make the right decisions, but I have not witnessed or been aware of something like that." (Except, presumably, that one time in 2015 that resulted in a crash and subsequent investigation, but was otherwise "very minor" and unmemorable.)
In recent months, de Blasio has faced criticism from safe streets advocates for excusing dangerous behavior from motorists, while at the same time ramping up enforcement against the "growing safety problem" posed by delivery workers on electric bikes.
During his weekly appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show this past Friday, the mayor reiterated his support for the crackdown on e-bikes, before seeming to suggest that reckless driving—cruising the wrong way on a busy street, for instance—was not as serious of a problem.
"If you’re in a truck, a car, a motorcycle, you are following the rules of the road, you’re not going wrong way on a street without real consequence, you’re not going through lights, you’re not going up on the sidewalk," de Blasio said. "The problem with e-bikes is we’ve all seen this reckless behavior. We’ve seen them going the wrong way, weaving through traffic, going up on the sidewalks, all the things that many, many New Yorkers find dangerous and unsettling, and they can reach very high speeds."
The throttle-controlled e-bikes have maximum speeds of around 24 miles per hour. We've asked the NYPD and the Mayor's Office how fast his SUV was traveling when it was involved in the wrong-way crash—we'll update if we hear back.