Credit: Instagram

Given the withering attacks from the media and the NYPD that have formed a cascade of allegations of wrongdoing, it was only a matter of time before Rachel Noerdlinger would have to relinquish her position as chief of staff for the city’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, some of her supporters said. On Monday, after meeting with Mayor Bill de Blasio and others, Noerdlinger said she would be taking a leave of absence.

“These past two months have been extremely difficult for both of us,” she said in a statement, referring to her 17-year-old son, who was charged with a trespassing misdemeanor, “and his arrest on Friday heightens the need for me to devote my full attention to Khari, my number one priority.”

She added that the unpaid leave of absence will also allow her to resume “fighting for social justice,” which she had been doing as communications director at the National Action Network before taking on the $170,000 a year job back in January.

“I can handle criticism and scrutiny of me, even when it’s mean-spirited,” she continued. “That comes with the territory when you take on the status quo. 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.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, for whom Noerdlinger was a spokesperson, had warned her about the possible attacks because of her association with him. The criticism began after it was disclosed that she hadn’t indicated on a background form that she lived with her boyfriend, Hassaun McFarlan, 36, who was convicted in the shooting death of a man in 1993. There soon followed a string of charges that she had a number of unpaid parking tickets—at least, they were under her name—and that both her son and boyfriend had posted anti-cop messages on social media outlets.

De Blasio was deeply upset by the situation, stating that something is wrong when an employee’s boyfriend is “fair game.” He compared it to the witch hunts of McCarthyism. “We had this in the 1950s … if someone wants to smear people and use that for political purposes, there’s a pretty easy playbook for doing it.”

Among the first responses in defense of Noerdlinger came from Sharpton, who said, “I remember in late 2007 when 10 of my staff members and consultants were awakened by IRS and FBI agents investigating outrageous claims that I had phantom employees, kickbacks from staff members and forced [them] to work political campaigns.” He went on to explain how all of these claims and others were cleared up and the extent to which his IRS debt is being paid off.

“My point in sharing this … is don’t let outrageous smears deter you from your goals, and don’t be so defensive that you do not do what is necessary to move forward in life,” he added. “I spoke with Mayor de Blasio and assured him that I will continue to work with him and the administration on the political progressive agenda we both agree on and disagree with him when it becomes necessary.”

Tamika Mallory, who worked with Noerdlinger during her tenure at NAN, said the de Blasio administration will “temporarily lose a bright light for social justice and the progressive agenda in New York City with Rachel’s decision to take a leave of absence. As a single mom, I know well the challenges of raising a teenage son … It is a shame that the news media and others have targeted her son to such an extent that she had to take time away from working to better the lives of New Yorkers.”

Assemblyman Karim Camara of Brooklyn was equally disturbed about the circumstances surrounding Noerdlinger’s departure, while also commending her recent work at City Hall. “She has been a tremendous asset to the mayor’s administration on issues that people within the district I represent care about the most,” he said in an email. “I understand and applaud the difficult decision she has made to concentrate on her son, Khari.”

Noerdlinger expressed her concern about being a distraction to the administration, believing that the work they had to do was too important, and that she remains part of the city’s progressive agenda. The mayor said her leave will be indefinite, though there appears to be a bit of finality to her brief tenure since plans have already been mentioned of a new chief of staff for the first lady.