A Democratic mayoral candidates forum in Manhattan Beach turned into a smackdown as two candidates clashed over the police department’s controversial monitoring of Muslims in Brooklyn.
Tempers flared when former Bay Ridge Councilman Sal Albanese accused former Comptroller Bill Thompson of flip-flopping on the New York Police Department’s policy of planting informants in mosques. Albanese claimed the Bedford-Stuyvesant native had denounced the program at a May 5 Muslim-American forum in Manhattan, but then changed his position to pander to the audience at the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center on May 29.
Albanese’s attack came after Thompson said he supported the infiltration of Muslim houses of worship if the police had reasonable suspicions of terrorist activity within, but that he opposed targeting any group just because of its religious beliefs.
“If they have legitimate leads, absolutely they should follow up on those leads,” said Thompson. “But when it comes to targeting a single community because of who you are and what you believe, we are not going to do that under my administration.”
Albanese pointed to Thompson’s denunciation of the program at the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian forum at New York University just a few weeks earlier. At that event, our sister publication, the New York Post, reported that the ex-comptroller called the measure “disgraceful.”
“To single a group out, to follow people, to infiltrate mosques and bookstores, to be able to do all of those things — is it right? Absolutely not. Should it be done? Positively not. Would I allow it? Definitely not,” the Post reported Thompson as saying.
Albanese alleged that Thompson was trying to give the Muslim community the impression that he was against spying, and give the Orthodox Jewish community the sense he was for it.
“You have to say the same thing wherever you go,” Albanese said.
Thompson fired back immediately, yelling that the retired councilman had failed to listen to what he had said.
“You need to pay better attention at these panels!” Thompson said. “I said the exact same thing there I said tonight!”
But Albanese’s statement on the issue was hardly any different from the one Thompson gave that night, saying he would require the police to adhere to the guidelines of the Handschu Agreement, which bans indiscriminate spying by the NYPD, allowing monitoring only in cases of suspected criminal activity, and only with a warrant.
“In my administration, we’re going to follow the law,” said Albanese.
The controversy over the NYPD’s monitoring of mosques first broke out in 2011, when the Associated Press reported that the department was photographing and recording Muslims throughout the tri-state area, and was paying moles to report on activities in bookstores and mosques. The program failed to turn up any leads, but police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg defended the practice.
Thompson isn’t the first politician to be accused of flip-flopping on the police department’s tight to monitor of mosques depending on where he was talking. Last October, state Sen. Marty Golden told a mostly Muslim audience he was opposed to the practice — just months after signing a letter praising Kelly’s anti-terror efforts.Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderma