Combative President of New York Police Union to Bow Out After 6 Terms
Patrick J. Lynch, the head of the police officers’ union in New York City — the nation’s largest — announced on Tuesday that he will leave the position at the end of his term.
Mr. Lynch, 59, served under four mayors and seven police commissioners during nearly a quarter century as the irascible president of the Police Benevolent Association, which represents nearly 50,000 active and retired police officers.
After serving six terms beginning in 1999, Mr. Lynch said on Tuesday he would not be seeking re-election when his current stint expires in June. The announcement came just days after the union negotiated an eight-year tentative contract with the city that includes a 28 percent pay raise.
Mr. Lynch said he was leaving while “our union is in the strongest position we have seen in years.”
Dressed in a suit or his trademark blue department windbreaker, with his slicked-back hair and thick Queens accent, Mr. Lynch was a staple at police funerals and news conferences for slain or wounded officers. He was known to some as a blue bulldog, a nod to his reputation as a strident fighter for his members. The position often made him a thorn in the side of the city’s mayors when he perceived a lack of support for officers in terms of money or morale.
A wily politician given to strategic bursts of outrage, Mr. Lynch could be seen finger jabbing to make his points to news cameras, and his tactics were sometimes received as coarse and abrasive.
“He infuriated some politicians because he was sticking for his cops,” said John Driscoll, who teaches law and policing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “He was a brilliant speaker and an outspoken leader for his cops. Anything that ever happened, he was out front sticking up for his members. Some might say he was abrasive, but who else was going to speak up for them?”
The end of Mr. Lynch’s tenure was hastened by two clashing timetables: If he were to run again and win, he would have to step down before serving a full term because of the department’s mandatory retirement age of 63. That in turn could leave the union’s leadership in question during the next contract negotiations.
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“A rider cannot switch horses in the middle of a battle, and the P.B.A. must not change leadership in the middle of a contract fight,” Mr. Lynch said in a letter to members. “To remain true to my principles, I must allow the change to begin now.”
Voting for Mr. Lynch’s successor begins next month.
Mr. Lynch, who grew up in Queens and still lives in the borough’s Bayside neighborhood, was the youngest of seven children in an Irish Catholic family. His father was a subway motorman on the city’s subways, and Mr. Lynch was a conductor briefly before joining the Police Department in 1984.
His sons, Patrick and Kevin, are both New York City police officers.
Mr. Lynch was first elected at age 35 as a reform-minded candidate with impeccable credentials. He was a photogenic Irish American with several relatives who had served in the department.
New York City officers had undergone several years without wage increases, a situation that they derided as “zeros for heroes.”
Mr. Lynch solidified his popularity by overseeing steady salary increases and by further raising the profile of the P.B.A., one of the country’s most vocal and visible police unions.
He became known for his antagonistic personality, which some critics called a distraction and detrimental to the interests of the rank and file. From his early days, Mr. Lynch was known for picking fights with city leaders, including Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
In 2004, he called for the resignation of Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly after Mr. Kelly questioned the shooting of a Black teenager by a white officer on the roof of a Brooklyn housing project.
That same year, with the union and the city locked in a contract dispute, Mr. Lynch led a noisy protest after midnight outside Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s Upper East Side townhouse.
The worst of Mr. Lynch’s wrath was reserved for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was critical of police tactics while running for mayor.
Mr. Lynch called on police officers to sign petitions barring the mayor from attending their funerals if they were killed on the job.
He criticized Mr. de Blasio, saying he did not support officers, and in 2014, when two were fatally shot in Brooklyn during Mr. de Blasio’s first year in office, Mr. Lynch protested his hospital visit by leading other officers in turning their backs on the mayor in a hallway. He told news crews that Mr. de Blasio had “blood on the hands.”
In defense of his rhetoric, Mr. Lynch said he was simply looking out for his members.
“I don’t have opinions,” he once said. “My members have opinions.”
In 2015, Mr. Lynch won more than 70 percent of the vote to beat two challengers to win a fifth term.
He recently told delegates he would support the union’s treasurer, Pat Hendry, to succeed him, rather than Corey Grable, a union financial secretary who has announced a run to become the first Black president of the union. In a statement Tuesday, Mr. Grable said he was disappointed that Mr. Lynch “attempted to put his finger on the scale of the race to replace him on his way out the door.”
“The men and women of the N.Y.P.D. are desperate for new leadership,” Mr. Grable said, “and we must make sure they will not be subjected to more of the same.”