January 9, 2009
Maverick City Hall blogger Rafael Martinez-Alequin has won his battle to get the NYPD to give him an official press card, the DN's Frank Lombardi reports.
“It’s done,” said the gadfly journalist after receiving his press credentials Friday morning at NYPD headquarters, where he was accompanied by his lawyer (and public advocate candidate) Norman Siegel.
Similar press cards were issued to two other independent journalists who had joined Martinez-Alequin in filing a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the city’s system of granting credentials through the NYPD.
The others are: Ralph E. Smith, reporter and publisher for GuardianChronicle.com and David Wallis, editor of Featurewell.com.
One wrinkle: The crendentials are "identification" cards, which offer less access than those issued to "working press." The latter allow the bearer to cross police lines.
Martinez-Alequin and Siegel said the three would continue their federal suit despite being granted press credentials.
"This is an important first step, but only a first step," Siegel said. We still need to address the constitutional problems in the system of granting press crednetials in new York City that has run amok and needs to be changed immediately, so the lawsuit continues."
Siegel said he would prefer to see the city Department of Consumer Affairs handle press credentials, calling it inappropriate for a high-profile agency like the police department to have the final word on who is a journalist.
The civil rights attorney hopes to determine during the discovery phase of his lawsuit whether the NYPD has been using press passes to punish reporters who have been more critical of the government by denying or revoking their credentials while going easier on those perceived as more "pro-establishment."
Martinez-Alequin has a Web site - New York City Free Press - that reprints news stories by mainstream publications and also features commentary by its writer, who, until recently, also had a part-time job with former Sen. Efrain Gonzalez Jr.
The site delights in negative coverage of Mayor Bloomberg and his administration.
Martinez-Alequin had been a fixture around City Hall under several prior mayors, and always had an NYPD press pass until 2007, when the NYPD refused to renew it on grounds that he wasn’t “a full-time employee of a news gathering organization covering spot or breaking news events on a regular basis.”
Known for shouting out barbed questions in the Blue Room, where Bloomberg much prefers reporters to raise their hands and wait for him to acknowledge them, Martinez-Alequin was banned from mayoral press conferences at City Hall after he lost his press credential.
While the mayor has since lifted that ban, he has studiously refused to accept questions from Martinez-Alequin. Recently, even Council Speaker Christine Quinn has joined in giving him the silent treatment.
This isn't the only lawsuit Siegel has brought against the city in which Martinez-Alequin is a plaintiff. He's also a party to the attorney's slush fund suit, which is still pending.