Bloomberg defends police reaction to O.W.S., links surveillance to Jewish-school shooting in France

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Bloomberg and Janette Sadik-Khan. (Dan Rosenblum)
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Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the NYPD's response to Occupy Wall Street protestors in Zuccotti Park over the weekend, where attempts to set up camp on the six-month anniversary of the original protests resulted in at least 74 arrests and allegations of police violence.

“You want to get arrested, we’ll accommodate you, you know, but if you want to express yourself, that’s not the best way to express yourself,” Bloomberg told media assembled on a small street in Flushing, for a press conference on potholes.

“You’d be better off just going out and saying your piece and giving people the opportunity to listen to you and see whether they agree and whether they have merit or not," he said. "But just trying to cause chaos doesn’t do anything to advance anybody’s cause, doesn’t make society better and doesn’t give you the chance toif you have something really to say, that would be a great contribution," he said. "Nobody can hear you when everybody’s yelling and screaming and pushing and shoving. But it makes great theater.”

Bloomberg said the park was barricaded again for crowd control.

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“You have a right to protest, you have a right to go in the park, you don’t have a right to set up tents, end of story,” Bloomberg said.

After prodding by a reporter from the Village Voice, Bloomberg said the decision to make the arrests was the NYPD’s.

“They keep us safe,” he said. “And next time you walk by a police officer, say ‘thank you, sir,’ because your right to ask this question is protected by that man or woman," the mayor said.

This morning, a group of 110 groups including civil liberties and muslim advocacy groups sent a letter asking Attorney General Eric Holder for a justice department investigation of the police department's surveillance program targeting Muslim individuals and institutions. Bloomberg defended the police and the city.

“We are in compliance with all the laws as far as we can tell,” he said. "Everybody’s got a right to write a letter.”

He added that polling showed people approved of the practice.

“Overwhelmingly, people say yes," he said. "Now that doesn’t make it right, but does it mean that a hundred small institutions writing a letter is indicative of what most organizations think or what most organizations would like to do?”

Before taking questions from reporters, Bloomberg extolled the Department of Transportation’s new pothole filler, which the department says will speed pothole repair and help keep roads clear. Before it commits to the machines, the city is spending $25,000 to rent the Canadian-made machine, called the Python Pothole Patcher.

So far, it’s been used to fill more than 100 potholes, including a newly patched one behind him. Bloomberg said the city also resurfaced 650 miles of road, and hopes to do 1,000 by the end of June.

He stood with transportation commissioner Janette Sadik Khan watching as the bright orange Python slowly filled in a hole. Over nearly ten minutes, the machine spit hot tar onto 37th Avenue then slowly raked it.

Some reporters seemed skeptical the machine was quicker than a shovel-wielding crew, but Bloomberg defended the pilot.

“It is very difficult to automate something that people do by hand in some cases and the human mind and the human extremities, whether it’s using your feet or your hands and the human eye, make it easy to do some things that we take for granted," he said. "But when it comes to automating them, they are very difficult to do."

He said the machine would normally be used in the middle of a big highway instead of a small road.

“It’s a pretty compact operation,” said Sadik-Khan. “It lets the driver put down the hot asphalt, do the raking and also not have to step out of the vehicle and not block lanes, which is of course very important in a congested city like New York.”

During the question-and-answer session, Bloomberg declined to get involved in the congressional primary between assembly members Grace Meng and Rory Lancman and City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley to fill the vacancy left by retiring congressman Gary Ackerman. A reporter pointed out that if elected, Meng would be the first Asian-American in member of Congress from New York.

“Somebody’s ethnicity is not something that I personally would consider when I vote," the mayor said. "I don’t vote in this district and I don’t vote in Democratic primaries, so I really can’t help you.”

Bloomberg plans to travel tomorrow to Singapore and Vietnam where he will accept the Lee Kwon Yew World City Prize for sustainable development and announce a private donation to anti-smoking efforts. 

Before he left, Bloomberg offered a sympathetic reaction to reports that a gunman killed four people at a Jewish school in France, and linked it with the NYPD's out-of-state surveillance efforts.

"It’s easy to sit here and say New York City should just take care of New York City," he said. "We are taking care of New York City by having police officers around the world and we’re gonna continue to do that and keep us all safe.”