NEW YORK -- New York City's front-running mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio faces political and legal dilemmas now that a judge's ruling critical of the police department's stop-and-frisk tactic has been blocked.
The federal judge's summertime rebuke of the department's stop-and-frisk policy as discriminatory to blacks and Hispanics was a ringing affirmation of one of Mr. de Blasio's major campaign themes, helping propel him from also-ran to Democratic nominee nearly 40 points ahead in the polls days before the election.
But Thursday, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the ruling and took the extraordinary step of booting the judge off the case for "running afoul" of the judicial code of conduct.
The decision arms Republican nominee Joe Lhota with a new line of attack as he insists that a de Blasio victory would handcuff law enforcement and return the city to its crime-filled past. Mr. Lhota, a deputy in former Mayor Rudy Giuliani's administration, has been a staunch defender of stop-and-frisk, and he released an online video Friday saying "the entire premise of the de Blasio campaign collapsed" with the appeals court decision.
It is unclear how the federal case will proceed if Mr. de Blasio, the city's public advocate, wins Tuesday's election.
Previously, Mr. de Blasio said he would drop the city's appeal of U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruling, which ordered a broad set of overhauls to the police department's use of the tactic for stopping, questioning and sometimes frisking people. But he could choose to settle with those urging the overhauls, eliminating federal oversight and allowing him to manage the police department as he sees fit. He reiterated Friday that he wasn't going to pursue the appeal, but added: "We don't know what the next steps are in the legal process."
During the past decade, there have been nearly 5 million stops, mostly of minority men. Only about 10 percent of the stops result in arrests or summonses, and weapons were found about 2 percent of the time.
Even if Mr. de Blasio chooses to dismiss the appeal, the case may not be over. Police unions filed motions to become parties in the case and could take it up should the city drop out. "The sergeants want to make sure that they have a seat at the table as the case progresses, both at the district and appellate level," said Anthony Coles, who represents the Sergeants Benevolent Association.