New York City Republican mayoral hopeful Joe Lhota defended the NYPD’s broad surveillance of Muslims and attacked the Associated Press’ Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting during a wide-ranging interview with BuzzFeed.
BuzzFeed Lhota dismissed the AP’s reporting as based on “supposition” and “missing a big point.” Lhota also denied, despite reports based on documents and sources, that the NYPD had ever spied on a Muslim establishment without following a target.
“When you look at the facts they don’t willy-nilly go there because of the people there,” Lhota said. “I have yet to see any place where they have gone where there was not at least one, if not two people that they were focused on that brought them to that mosque. The mosque didn’t come first.”
The NYPD did, however, spy on establishments like restaurants without a target to surveil, according to the documents published by the AP’s Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo. Through a task force known as the the Demographics Unit, a part of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, a system of “rakers” would attend establishments owned by Muslims, usually to feel a local businesses out and write reports on goings-on. If a patron, business owner, or employee mentioned reading radical literature, it would find its way into a report. If a patron spoke sympathetically about United States enemies, it would probably make its way into a report.
Lhota added such behavior was not different from tactics already employed by the FBI, using the example of the Boston bombing to explain why such information gathered could be useful alluding at one point to the Zazi plot to bomb the New York City subway system. Lhota also said they were similar tactics employed in the fight against organized crime.
Lhota said the AP and its reporters said such programs were unconstitutional, but they write in their book’s epilogue “the NYPD says it’s all been legal. And it might be right.” Like Lhota, Goldman and Apuzzo cite the Handschu agreement and Justice Department not opening a civil rights investigation.
In 1994, Lhota joined the administration of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, where he held several positions over Giuliani’s two terms. He first served as chief of staff to the deputy mayor for finance and economic development and that year was quickly was promoted to New York City finance commissioner. In 1995, he was selected as director of the office of management and budget. In 1998, Giuliani appointed Lhota to deputy mayor for operations.
Lhota served as Mayor Giuliani’s liaison to the White House, United States Congress, governor of New York, New York State Legislature and New York City Council. Additionally, he was responsible for oversight of the City’s relationships with the public employee unions and development of collective bargaining agreement strategies. As deputy mayor, Lhota served as the highest-ranking member of the Mayor’s core management team. On this team, Lhota developed and implemented the strategies and initiatives that accomplished the successful “turn-around” of New York City, which had been plagued by a high crime rate, sense of fear among citizens, reduction in social services, and high tax rates.