May 27, 2021 By Allie Griffin
A city council candidate who held a public meeting on crime with NYPD officers in his campaign office last week has come under fire for allegedly using public employees to promote his campaign.
Brent O’Leary, who is running for city council in District 26, hosted a meeting for Spanish-speakers in his Sunnyside campaign office Thursday where he brought in officers from the local 108th Precinct to discuss crime.
O’Leary said that residents and local tenant groups had asked him to organize a meeting with police officers who speak Spanish, so that they could have their safety concerns heard.
He said that he has known the officers from the 108 Precinct for years and that he was providing a much-needed community service.
However some residents felt the meeting — which was promoted with flyers that had O’Leary’s campaign logo and face on them — was taking advantage of the NYPD and that the precinct should not have sent officers to a campaign office.
Émelia Decaudin, a Democratic District Leader representing the 37th Assembly District, spotted flyers for the meeting around her home in Sunnyside and stopped by the meeting briefly.
She said the flyers—which were in Spanish only— raised alarm bells. She felt it was inappropriate for uniformed on-duty NYPD officers to participate in a candidate’s event at their campaign office.
“I was surprised to see that the NYPD would be showing up at a campaign event,” Decaudin said. “As someone who’s worked in government, it’s drilled pretty heavily into you that you’re not supposed to attend those kind of events.”
Decaudin said four NYPD officers were present at the meeting and argued that they broke department regulations by being there.
The NYPD patrol guide prohibits officers from endorsing political candidates, or publicly expressing personal views and opinions concerning the merits of a candidate for office.
She said even if a formal endorsement wasn’t made, residents may take the officers’ participation in a meeting at O’Leary’s campaign office as an endorsement.
“I think it’s really important to remember that the appearance of being with a candidate in a campaign space is often enough regarded as an endorsement,” she said.
She added that O’Leary was wrong for involving the officers in his campaign.
A spokesperson for the NYPD, however, said that the four officers made no endorsement of O’Leary’s campaign and were present only to speak with residents about their concerns.
“The officers were present to discuss crime trends in the Precinct,” Sergeant Edward Riley said. “They did not endorse any candidate for public office.”
O’Leary said he has worked with officers from the 108 Precinct for years and asked them to come to the meeting at the request of the Latinx community leaders.
He said that as a part of canvasing the district, his team has been knocking on doors in the neighborhood and asking potential voters what issues they care about.
“We keep hearing safety especially from the Latino community and residents of NYCHA,” O’Leary told the Queens Post. “A number of the tenant leaders from the Latino community asked if we would be able to set up a meeting with the police so that they could express their concerns to the police department.”
He said that the tenant organizers created and distributed the flyer with his campaign logo on it and that the police officers didn’t see or approve the flyer beforehand.
O’Leary said about 50 people joined the meeting in person and even more joined online via Zoom.
He maintained that it was a meeting for community members to voice their concerns and not an endorsement from the officers.
“I think that my job as a community leader or as an elected official is to bridge the gap between the community and the government so that their needs are responded to,” O’Leary said.
He said that it was not a campaign event, but a meeting that the community asked for.
“I didn’t speak about my campaign. I let the community members have access to their police officers,” O’Leary said. “It was done at the request of Latino community leaders for their community in Spanish, so I was not promoting it as a campaign event. I was responding to their request to set it up.”
He added that it’s important that government serve constituents in the languages that they speak.
“It’s important that people whose first language is not English can access their government services and be responded to in the language that we need to serve them in.”