'Trump of NYC politics' leaves police union leadership with few friends amid federal probe

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Word of Ed Mullins’ sudden resignation as head of one of New York City’s powerful police unions was still circulating through the city when Mayor Bill de Blasio fired off a bitter parting shot.

“Ed Mullins dishonored his uniform, his city and his union more times than I can count,” de Blasio tweeted just after Mullins resigned Tuesday as head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, or SBA, amid a federal corruption investigation. “It was just a matter of time before his endless hatred would catch up with him. That day has come.”

That de Blasio would publicly kick Mullins while he was down speaks volumes about the fraught relationship the mayor had with the outspoken and polarizing leader of a union that represents 13,000 active and retired New York City police sergeants and controls a $264 million retirement fund.

But de Blasio is not the only New York City leader who had problems with Mullins.

During the 20 or so years that Mullins headed the SBA, he managed to antagonize de Blasio’s predecessors, as well as New York City Police Department leadership, with his strident opposition to almost any police reform, as well as his bare-knuckle and very personal public attacks on city leaders and other critics.

“He has been a thorn in the side of four commissioners,” William Bratton, who served as the police commissioner under de Blasio and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, told New York Magazine last year. “He has always been a pain in the ass.”

Using the union’s Twitter account, Mullins ripped de Blasio’s daughter as a “rioting anarchist” after she was arrested last year for taking part in a protest against police violence following the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police. He also called former New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot a “bitch” with “blood on her hands” after she allegedly argued with NYPD leadership over mask distribution early on in the pandemic.

“Ed Mullins is essentially the Donald Trump of New York City politics,” U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., who was born and raised in the Bronx borough, told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes the same day Mullins stepped down.

Mullins had called Torres a “first class whore” in a since-deleted tweet last year after the lawmaker called for an investigation into an alleged police work slowdown.

Torres, who is gay, denounced Mullins' tweet as homophobic.

“He has a long-standing pattern of embracing conspiracy theories, trafficking in racism and sexism and homophobia,” Torres said of Mullins. “He’s done it with impunity.”

In a subsequent statement, Torres' spokesperson, Raymond Rodriguez, said Mullins “has a long history of bigotry that permeated the entire union he led.”

“For the most part, the law enforcement unions oppose any sort of oversight or accountability measures. That’s the way they operate.”

But Stephen Nasta, a retired NYPD inspector who now lectures at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and has met Mullins several times, said the ex-union boss is no bigot. He recalled how Mullins made a point of reaching out to Black ministers as part of a crime-fighting effort.

“I don’t buy that he’s not for minorities,” Nasta said. “He’s for helping crime victims whatever color they are.”

Former NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill called Mullins a “keyboard gangster” after the union boss ripped him in 2018 for not cracking down hard on people who had been dousing police officers with water and tweeted “O’KNEEL must go!”

The SBA head also said then-Chief of Department Terence Monahan should “consider another profession.”

Image: Ed Mullins (Luiz C. Ribeiro / New York Daily News/TNS via Getty Images file)
Image: Ed Mullins (Luiz C. Ribeiro / New York Daily News/TNS via Getty Images file)

When he wasn’t lashing out over the internet, Mullins used his frequent appearances on conservative news outlets such as Fox News and Newsmax to attack city leaders.

During a July 2020 interview with Fox News' Neil Cavuto, a mug with the imagery of QAnon, the Trump-supporting group that has spread dozens of bogus conspiracies, including some that have resulted in violence, could be seen in the background.

Mullins was also a frequent guest on right-wing radio and in 2019, he upset the family of Tessa Majors, a Barnard College student who was slain, by suggesting — with no evidence — that she was in Morningside Park to buy marijuana when she was killed.

Investigators later determined Majors had been fatally stabbed during an attempted robbery. Mullins later apologized and insisted his comments "were taken out context.”

Mullins resigned from the union just hours after the FBI raided the SBA headquarters in lower Manhattan and his home in Port Washington, Long Island, on Tuesday as part of the federal corruption investigation. He did not respond to NBC News' email seeking comment about the developments or his leadership of the fifth biggest police union in the country.

“Ed will not be making any statements,” SBA lawyer Andrew Quinn said in an email.

The SBA's bylaws require Mullins to continue working as a police sergeant and he was paid $133,195 by the city last year, though his full-time job was running the SBA, which pays him an additional salary. The union paid Mullins $88,757 in 2019, according to the SBA's most recent paperwork, which listed him as a trustee.

He has been placed on modified duty and stripped of his badge and gun while the FBI and the public corruption unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York investigate.

Federal investigators have not provided any details about the investigation. But in a statement confirming that Mullins was stepping down, the SBA said that “it is clear that President Mullins is apparently the target of a federal investigation.”

Mullins was able to keep a tight grip on the SBA because under his leadership, the union successfully negotiated contracts with the city that resulted in 40 percent wage increases.

He is also in the midst of an NYPD disciplinary proceeding for violating departmental guidelines by tweeting out Chiara de Blasio’s mugshot and personal details after she was arrested in May 2020.

The son of a longshoreman and a stay-at-home mom, Mullins and his three siblings were raised in Greenwich Village and he joined the NYPD in 1982, according to his official biography.

He was elected president of the SBA in 2002. And, along with Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch, whose organization represents about 24,000 of the NYPD’s 36,000 officers, they became the public faces of police opposition to reform of the department by City Hall.

They were also outspoken supporters of Trump, with both unions endorsing him in the 2020 presidential election.

Mullins staked out “a reactionary position” on social media, said Wilbur Chapman, who was the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of training when he retired in 2011.

“There is a lot of tribalism occurring in society right now and the police department is a reflection of society,” he said. “When I was coming up, there wasn’t the same political activism you see now in policing. People had their political opinions, but they kept them to themselves.”

Chapman said Mullins first landed on his radar when he noticed that the SBA’s first vice-president was attending sergeant promotion ceremonies instead of him.

It is customary for the heads of the police unions to attend these kinds of ceremonies, Chapman said, but from 2007 to 2011, Mullins was often a no-show “because of his differences with then-Police Commissioner (Ray) Kelly.”

“He was conspicuously missing,” Chapman said.