By Edith Honan and Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Leading New York City mayoral contender Bill de Blasio, a longtime critic of the police stop-and-frisk tactic would drop the city's legal challenge of court-ordered reforms to the program if elected, a person close to the campaign said on Friday.
That would make Thursday's move by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to freeze court-ordered reforms to the controversial program a fleeting victory for outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has defended the practice, saying that it has led to a steep decline in crime.
A federal court judge two months ago ruled that the program amounted to "indirect racial profiling" that resulted in the disproportionate and discriminatory stopping of blacks and Hispanics.
New York City appealed that decision, leading to Thursday's appeals court ruling that the judge who found the police tactic unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, had "ran afoul" of the judicial code of conduct and froze her ruling from taking effect.
The ruling did not address the merits of the case. Instead, the judges faulted Scheindlin for failing to appear impartial in public statements and media interviews in which she answered critics of her ruling.
On Friday, the De Blasio campaign declined to address specific questions about what his strategy will be if he is elected mayor on November 5, as is widely expected, and assumes leadership of City Hall in January.
"Bill de Blasio has made it abundantly clear that on day one as mayor he will work to end the overuse and misuse of stop and frisk," said Eric Koch, a spokesman for the Democratic candidate, in a statement. "The stop-and-frisk-era has eroded the trust and relationship between communities and police officers, making it harder for cops to do their jobs and keep neighborhoods safe."
Recent polls have de Blasio leading his Republican opponent Joe Lhota 68 to 23 percent.
Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights - which is suing the city over the program - welcomed the comments and said he is open to a settlement of the matter "as long as it's consistent with the findings of the trial."
"Any step towards constitutional policing that's consistent with the findings of the court and the evidence that we put forth at trial would be deeply welcomed. The big obstacle now is that the city and the plaintiffs are in court arguing as opposed to sitting around the table," Warren said.
De Blasio, the city's public advocate, made his position on the stop-and-frisk case clear when he filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs saying a "careful and deliberate policy planning process" involving a court-appointed monitor, the police and others was the best way to bring about reform.
The November 5 election was clearly on the appellate judges' minds when it heard arguments on Tuesday. One of the judges, Jose Cabranes, called it the "specter that haunts this appeal."
(Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson)