Poorly handled press relations created a PR flap for newly-minted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The mayor scored points soon after taking office in January when he announced plans to undertake a major initiative to reduce traffic-related fatalities, especially pedestrian deaths. The city has seen several pedestrian deaths recently that have grabbed headlines.
Among the things Mayor de Blasio announced as partr of his plan were stricter enforcement of traffic laws, fines for jaywalking, and a proposal to reduce the speed limit on city streets from 30 to 25 mph.
Imagine the embarrassment when a WCBS-TV crew happened to catch video of the mayor's entourage speeding through a residemntial neighborhood and blowing through at least two stop signs. Of course, the station ran the clip, which went viral and was shown on other stations, not only in New York but nationwide. The story hit the newspapers as well, in New York and beyond.
At a news conference about education a day or two later, a reporter asked about the incident. The mayor scolded the reporter and told him the quetion is not "on-topic" so he would not respond. Instead, the police commissioner addressed the issue, a bit vaguely, by responding that his officers did nothing wrong and there would be no investigation or discipline.
As the issue lived on over the next few days, becoming known as "Speedgate," de Blasio told reporters he would not address it since his police commissioner already had.
The media in New York City -- especially the political and police reporters -- are not easily blown of, and they persisted with questions. As the issue got more exposure, a group of parents and families of traffic victims held their pown news conference and chided the mayor for his "insensitivity" and "lack of concern" for traffic laws.
Finally, yesterday, he addressed the issue with the media, telling reporters he respects traffic laws and knows that everyone -- himself and his police detail included -- are not above obeying those laws. But he begged off by saying driving decisions by his security detail are the responsibility of the police, and he would not "cross that line" to interfere.
To me. it seemed like a lame explanation, where a real apology and mea culpa would have done the trick and likely satisfied the reporters. He does, in fact, have a legitimate excuse. He was not driving and, most likely, he was not even paying attention to how the car was being driven as he was probably on the phone, talking to an aide in the car or by phone, or checking messages.
What he should have said was just that, and that he would expect his driving and security detail to use their sirens and lights if they felt the need to go faster and/or go through stop signs and lights. That would have put the issue to rest, rather than creating a very visible blemish on the mayor's first months on the job.
Next time, listen to your PR people, Mr. Mayor. (And if they didn't give you advice like this, then perhaps you should look for some other PR advisors.)