Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Rev. Al Sharpton offered an impassioned defense Saturday of his former aide whose prominent role at City Hall has come under intense scrutiny, claiming that the criticism has been fueled by a movement to curb his own influence with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The civil rights leader and fierce NYPD critic said he warned his then-spokeswoman Rachel Noerdlinger in January when she accepted a position to be chief of staff to powerful first lady Chirlane McCrary.

“I said to her then: `Don’t think now that they aren’t going to put a target on your back,”’ said Sharpton at his weekly rally at the National Action Network in Harlem. “They’ll dig to find something. If not, they’ll make it up. They’ve been doing it to me for 30 years.”

Police unions and some newspaper columnists have called for Noerdlinger’s dismissal after a series of damaging revelations, including that she did not disclose during her background check that her live-in boyfriend Hassaun McFarlan was a convicted killer who taunted police on Facebook.

De Blasio has steadfastly supported her.

Sharpton has been a longtime ally of de Blasio and helped set the stage for his election by defying conventional wisdom and declining to endorse the mayoral race’s one black candidate, William Thompson.

De Blasio has a strong base of support in the city’s African-American community, and frequently consults with Sharpton and gave him equal footing with Police Commissioner William Bratton at a City Hall forum convened in the wake of the death of an unarmed Staten Island man after he was placed in a chokehold by police. That infuriated the police unions, one of which took out a full page ad in The New York Times to suggest that de Blasio’s policies and relationship with Sharpton were making the city less safe.

Sharpton has not been shy to boast about his access to de Blasio, scoffing Saturday at the suggestion that he needed to “put” Noerdlinger in City Hall to have a channel to the mayor.

“Like I need a deal to talk to the mayor,” he said. “I call the mayor on his cellphone. I don’t need someone in the office.”

Sharpton said he has not discussed Noerdlinger’s future with de Blasio.

A Department of Investigation probe confirmed last week that she made a number of key omissions during her background check, but did not recommend any disciplinary action be taken against her. De Blasio declared the “case closed” but more revelations came to light Friday, including that Noerdlinger did not disclose a tax lien and that she and her son were passengers in a car that was being driven by McFarlan and reeked of pot smoke. He was arrested for marijuana possession.

During an angry takedown of media coverage of the case, Sharpton thundered Saturday that McFarlan’s behavior should not be held against Noerdlinger or, if the coverage continues, that others at City Hall be held to similar standards.

“Let’s get the name of everybody at City Hall,” he said, “and see who’s been around anybody who’s been busted, including Room 9 where the reporters are.”