A union representing rank-and-file New York City police officers is spending more than $416,000 in support of Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who is fighting off a progressive primary challenge.
The union, the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York (NYC PBA), which endorsed President Donald Trump’s reelection in 2020, is using the money to attack state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi over her support for heavily limiting cash bail and her past comments disparaging police.
Biaggi is taking on Maloney in the Aug. 23 primary for New York’s redrawn 17th Congressional District in the lower Hudson Valley.
“Alessandra Biaggi is a privileged New York City radical who has spent months trying to trick voters from Long Island to the Hudson Valley into giving her a ticket to Washington,” NYC PBA President Patrick Lynch said in a statement.
“She doesn’t care about these communities. She just wants a national platform from which to spread her extreme ideology,” Lynch added. “She has a history of demonizing cops and supporting policies that have made our neighborhoods less safe. Voters in the 17th Congressional District deserve to know who she really is.”
Biaggi is calling for Maloney to renounce the group’s spending, citing his status as head of the DCCC, the House Democrats’ campaign arm.
“As chair of the DCCC, Maloney must immediately condemn pro-Trump Super PAC interference in our Democratic primary,” she said in a statement to HuffPost. “If the Democratic Party wants to rebuild trust with the American people, its leaders must stand up to election interference from pro-Trump organizations.”
Asked by HuffPost, Maloney’s campaign said he does not plan to condemn the NYC PBA’s ad blitz attacking Biaggi.
“The Senator seems surprised that police unions were offended by her saying they have no souls,” Maloney campaign spokesperson Mia Ehrenberg said in a statement. “It is the height of hypocrisy for Alessandra Biaggi to solicit over $100,000 in PAC and dark money support, and then attempt to deny others the same right to be heard.”
Biaggi has solicited the support of outside groups with a “red box” flagging items that she wants super PACs to highlight. The Working Families Party, a progressive group, has spent $100,000 in support of Biaggi.
This is NYC PBA’s first independent spending in a federal election since it attacked then-New York Mayor Bill de Blasio during his presidential run in 2019.
Despite the NYC PBA’s spending against Biaggi, which effectively benefits Maloney, the police union is not officially endorsing any candidate in the race, a spokesperson for the NYC PBA told HuffPost.
Maloney released an internal poll in July that showed him leading Biaggi by 34 percentage points, and he enjoys a massive fundraising advantage over her. As of earlier this month, Maloney’s campaign had $2.4 million in cash on hand, while Biaggi had just under $270,000.
But Maloney’s allies ― and Biaggi’s opponents ― are evidently not taking any chances.
The union’s involvement is part of a larger escalation of outside spending in the Democratic primary in New York’s 17th District. The National Association of Realtors has spent more than $45,000 to elect Maloney, and Our Hudson PAC, a super PAC also partly funded by the National Association of Realtors, has spent over $93,000 on his behalf. (As Maloney noted, the WFP has countered with its own spending on Biaggi’s behalf.)
But the NYC PBA’s intervention stands out because of the right-leaning group’s reputation for opposition to police reforms and embrace of incendiary rhetoric. The makeup of the union’s leadership has also elicited scrutiny for skewing whiter and more conservative than the rank-and-file members it serves.
A TV spot that the NYC PBA is funding against Biaggi is in keeping with the union’s image as a brash, right-leaning political force. The 30-second ad, which calls Biaggi a “Bronx politician” and an “anti-police extremist,” intersperses images of Biaggi framed by broken glass, with footage of violent crimes.
“In Albany, Biaggi voted to release violent criminals without bail back onto our streets while calling to defund the police who keep us safe,” the narrator of the ad says.
By dubbing Biaggi a “Bronx politician,” the NYC PBA ad uses misleading language to amplify criticism of Biaggi’s decision to move to New York’s 17th District. Biaggi has represented parts of the northeast Bronx and lower Westchester County since 2019, after she ousted state Sen. Jeff Klein, a former leader of a breakaway faction of Democrats that aligned with state Senate Republicans. She lived in Westchester County throughout that period.
In January, New York Democrats approved a congressional district map that put the sliver of Westchester County where Biaggi lived in the same open seat with communities on the North Shore of Long Island. Biaggi launched a bid for the Democratic nomination in that district in February.
But a state court struck down that map, and a court-ordered map finalized in May put Biaggi’s home in the district of Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a progressive ally of Biaggi. She announced a run against Maloney instead, after Maloney decided to run in New York’s 17th District. Maloney, whose home was drawn into New York’s 17th, angered many progressives with his decision to run there rather than in the 18th District, which he currently represents more of in Congress. Biaggi has subsequently moved to Bedford, which is in the 17th District.
Although NYC PBA only represents police officers in New York City, it has been an outspoken critic of progressive state lawmakers for the passage of a 2019 law dramatically restricting the use of cash bail. New York Democrats hoped to limit circumstances in which low-income people who are arrested would await trial in jail simply because they could not pay.
The number of pretrial arrestees released into the community pending trial has actually declined since 2019. And the uptick in violent crime in cities and states without bail reform suggests that New York’s law is at least not the sole culprit for an increase in violent offenses in New York City.
But law enforcement officials, conservative groups and conservative media outlets have led a steady drumbeat condemning bail reform, provoking some public backlash. New York Democrats have responded to rising public pressure by curtailing the law’s provisions twice ― in 2020 and again in 2022.
Biaggi’s campaign clarified that she voted against that amendment because she opposed an unrelated ethics provision that the amendment contained, not the bail reform clauses. Though Biaggi does not believe that the 2019 bail reform law contributed to the increase in crime, she supports some of the changes adopted in 2022 because it gave judges clarity about the discretion already at their disposal, according to her campaign.
Finally, there is the question of Biaggi’s rhetoric about policing. In the aftermath of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, Biaggi accused police officers of being “soulless” and endorse the call to “defund the police.”
As a candidate for Congress, Biaggi has distanced herself from that kind of language, pointing out that she never once voted to reduce funding for law enforcement. In a February interview with The Washington Post, she acknowledged that the phrase “defund the police” does not capture what she meant in embracing it, which is support for investment in social programs that prevent violence. “The reason I dislike the phrase is because it doesn’t define the solution to the problem that we’re facing regarding public safety, and it really has scrambled people’s brains,” she told the Post.
But she also said that she did not regret using the phrase because it was an “act of solidarity” with people in pain over police misconduct.
Maloney sees Biaggi’s use of the phrase “defund the police” and opposition to rollbacks of the 2019 law as evidence of fundamentally different approaches to policymaking that speak to both his superior judgment and greater viability in a general election against a Republican.
“While Biaggi was a vocal leader of efforts to defund the police who tweeted that police have no souls, Rep. Maloney worked with local police to get them the tools they need to keep our communities safe and ensure accountability and transparency in policing,” Ehrenberg said.
HuffPost asked whether Maloney’s criticism of Biaggi’s stances on policing are consistent with his past comments that Democrats should not give credence to Republican accusations that Democrats want to “defund the police.”
“There is an enormous difference between highlighting a difference in their records during a forum and running negative ads attacking someone,” Ehrenberg said. “Rep. Maloney has focused on policy and kept his campaign positive and substantive, unlike his opponent.”