NEW YORK (AP) — A top aide in Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration said Monday she was going on leave after her son's arrest capped a string of damaging disclosures about her personal life, sparking friction between the mayor and rank-and-file police.
Rachel Noerdlinger said she was taking an indefinite, unpaid leave from working as chief of staff to de Blasio's wife to spend more time with her teenage son and to avoid distracting the administration. But she and de Blasio also decried what they portrayed as unfair scrutiny of a public official's private life, with de Blasio saying it bespoke a "systematic effort to undermine certain work" of his administration and comparing it to 1950s-era political witch hunts.
"She's a hardworking public servant who's tried to do good throughout her life," de Blasio said, adding that "a lot of really nasty stuff was done here" but declining to elaborate.
Noerdlinger had become a lightning rod for politically charged questions that have swirled around de Blasio's administration, particularly its close ties to the Rev. Al Sharpton, Noerdlinger's former boss. Sharpton is a vociferous police critic, and police unions complain about his influence at City Hall. The mayor also has faced questions about first lady Chirlane McCray's prominent role in the administration, and about declaring an aide's personal life as off-limits after his own family played a major role in forging his political image.
"It just feeds into all the concerns that people have about the administration," said Jeanne Zaino, a political science professor at Iona College. "Clearly, this had become an enormous distraction."
Noerdlinger was appointed in January to her $170,000-a-year job for McCray, whose public duties include heading a mayoral charity fund. In September, news reports divulged that Noerdlinger's boyfriend, Hassaun McFarlan, pleaded guilty to manslaughter 21 years ago and mocked police as "pigs" on Facebook.
The city's Department of Investigation found in October that Noerdlinger hadn't disclosed during her background check that McFarlan lived with her. The agency didn't recommend discipline. De Blasio declared, "Case closed."
Days later, news reports revealed that Noerdlinger hadn't disclosed a tax lien and that she and her son were riding in her car, with McFarlan at the wheel, when he got pulled over in New Jersey and arrested on a marijuana possession charge. Noerdlinger was given a summons for letting someone drive a car without a license.
Some newspaper columnists and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the city's rank-and-file police union, called for her firing.
Then her 17-year-old son, Khari Noerdlinger, was arrested Friday on misdemeanor trespassing charges. Police said he was hanging out in an upper Manhattan apartment building, couldn't tell authorities whom he was visiting and lacked identification. A judge agreed to dismiss the teen's case if he completes a day of community service and avoids rearrest.
His lawyer, Jeffrey Einhorn, noted Monday that the charge was minor.
The city is looking to fill Noerdlinger's job; she could return to another post. PBA President Patrick Lynch said the city should seek "someone who appreciates the critical role that police have in making this city a viable place to live and who will not bring an anti-police bias to the table."
Noerdlinger said in a statement she could handle criticism of herself, "but increasingly, my son has been subjected to attacks that have nothing to do with the public interest and everything to do with derailing this administration."
De Blasio said he respected her decision but the attention to her personal life was "far, far overblown." It's fair to scrutinize public servants' own conduct, but not their loved ones' actions, he said.
"Would you all like to have that discussion about yourselves?" he asked reporters.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report. Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @jennpeltz.