Some Politicians See A Kelly Candidacy in ’09

New York clearly demonstrated its confidence in Mayor Michael Bloomberg by handing him an overwhelming victory in Tuesday’s election. But it is Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly who enjoys widespread credit for reducing crime, especially in conservative corners like the Manhattan Institute, the think tank that led Rudolph Giuliani to the light of zero tolerance.

According to a NY1/ Newsday poll released on Monday, 43 percent of New Yorkers believe that the city’s drop in crime is due to Mr. Kelly—almost double the number of those who credit Mr. Bloomberg. And while many Republicans see Mr. Kelly as the heir apparent to Mr. Giuliani’s tough-on-crime legacy, Democrats—smarting from Tuesday’s thrashing and suffering from a dearth of promising Mayoral contenders—have begun talking about recruiting the Police Commissioner as the possible successor to Mr. Bloomberg.

But in the left-right tug of war over Mr. Kelly, the conservatives seem to have scored first.

At the end of October, a right-leaning crowd that included members of the Ayn Rand Institute gathered at that Grand Hyatt to watch Mr. Kelly accept an award from the Manhattan Institute. Dressed in a dark pinstripe suit and salmon tie, Mr. Kelly offered echoes of the former Mayor’s hard line, saying things like “we are by no means soft on violators of any kind,” and “we’ve turned a corner in New York and we are certainly not turning back.”

But when did Mr. Kelly turn the corner?

Back during his first stint as Police Commissioner under Mayor David Dinkins, the conservative Manhattan Institute used to slam him for his belief in community policing, which it dismissed as mere “social work,” a “flop” and a waste of precious police time. (“That might have had more to do with the fact that he was working for me,” Mr. Dinkins joked.)

They railed against the U.S. intervention in Haiti, which the snub-faced Mr. Kelly spearheaded, and just this summer Heather Mac Donald, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, criticized Mr. Kelly for not adopting racial profiling as part of the Police Department’s war on terror. “It will apparently take another strike on U.S. soil to wake up NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and the rest of the American law-enforcement establishment that public safety comes before political correctness,” Ms. Mac Donald wrote.

But none of these complaints were raised on Tuesday. Instead, Lawrence Mone, president of the Manhattan Institute, said that credit for the city’s precipitous drop in crime “belongs in full measure to Ray Kelly’s extraordinary leadership.”

So what’s changed?

Well, Ray Kelly, for one, along with the once-fashionable idea of neighborhood-friendly community policing, a notion that the policy wonks and pundits at the Manhattan Institute helped to bury. In bestowing an award on Mr. Kelly, the people who drafted the “squeegee theory”—and who boast gushing endorsements from Mr. Giuliani—claimed victory over Mr. Kelly’s beginnings in the Dinkins administration and staked a hopeful claim to the Police Commissioner as their ticket to renewed relevance in the non-ideological Bloomberg administration, which has relegated them to the academic sidelines.

“Under Mayor Dinkins, Kelly did speak about the need to fight root causes to fight crime,” said Ms. Mac Donald, a critic of the root-causes school of criminal justice. “I haven’t heard that kind of analysis from him lately. I can’t speak to his inner state; what matters to the Manhattan Institute is that he is getting the job done.”

Associates of Mr. Giuliani are also thrilled that Mr. Kelly has been converted so entirely to the computerized crime-tracking system known as CompStat.

“It signals a change in Kelly,” said one former official in the Giuliani administration. “The early-1990’s approach to policing was clearly not working. It appears to me that the commissioner has learned from that experience. He has maintained and perpetuated Giuliani’s focus.”

Mr. Kelly has so kept that focus that some polls and many Giuliani supporters believe that it is he, not Mr. Bloomberg, who deserves credit for the plummeting crime rates and is the true bearer of the former Mayor’s legacy. In fact, there is already chatter about the possibility of Mr. Kelly running for Mayor in 2009, when Mr. Bloomberg will have to relinquish the office because of term limits. While that notion makes some civil-liberties groups wary, it brings a smile to the face of Mr. Giuliani’s supporters.

“Is he the guy carrying on Giuliani’s legacy? I think he is,” said Howard Koeppel, a close friend of Mr. Giuliani.

But there’s a touch of irony in the notion that Mr. Kelly is carrying Mr. Giuliani’s torch. After all, Mr. Giuliani replaced Mr. Kelly as Police Commissioner, bringing in William Bratton. In his inaugural address, Mr. Giuliani announced that “the era of fear has had a long-enough reign.”

The newly elected Mayor publicly considered keeping Mr. Kelly on as commissioner before deciding to go with Mr. Bratton. But Mr. Kelly equated the process to a shell game.

“I think there was a commitment on the part of the Mayor-elect to have a new person,” Mr. Kelly said at the time. “I think that commitment was made probably before the election … which is his prerogative.”

If some Giuliani allies consider Mr. Kelly to be their man’s heir, some of Mr. Kelly’s supporters aren’t so sure that’s a compliment. Mr. Dinkins, the man who made him Police Commissioner the first time around, applauded the work that Mr. Kelly has done in both his own and the current administration, noting that crime had begun to drop under his watch.

“It’s not a Giuliani legacy; he doesn’t do things the way Rudy did,” Mr. Dinkins said of Mr. Kelly, whom he calls “Colonel” in a nod to Mr. Kelly’s time in the Marine Corps. “It does a great a disservice to Ray Kelly or Mike Bloomberg to say that they are carrying on the legacy of Giuliani.”

Mr. Dinkins said that both Mr. Kelly and Lee P. Brown, Mr. Dinkins’ first Police Commissioner, “promulgated” community policing. “I think he thought it worked,” Mr. Dinkins said.

But some police experts said that it has become hard to define exactly what constitutes “community policing” in recent years. Groups like the Manhattan Institute have alternated between denigrating the concept and applying it to describe more assertive tactics.

“A consensus around the best policing practices has emerged,” said Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission, a law-enforcement watchdog group. “The concept of what constituted community policing changed. By the early to mid-90’s, people had begun to recognize that CompStat was a very effective crime-fighting tool. It led to accountability in policing that had not been present before. That’s how the paradigm shifted.”

According to George Kelling, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a creator of the broken-windows theory of crime-fighting, innovations in policing have led to significant changes in how urban government is run. “CompStat and problem-solving have become part of the parlance of governing in American cities,” said Mr. Kelling, adding: “It wouldn’t hurt in many communities to have police commissioners move into mayoral positions. I could see that as a possibility. I could see Kelly interested in becoming Mayor.”

Of course, the job of Police Commissioner changed on Sept. 11, 2001, during the last months of the Giuliani era. Mr. Kelly took over the NYPD in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. Suddenly, the Police Commissioner’s mandate broadened: Global terrorism, as well as traditional street crime, became a pressing issue.

Mr. Kelly’s anti-terrorism task force, believed to be among the most sophisticated in the world, has made him a star in the public eye. At a recent speech to the Citizens Crime Commission, he defended the city’s response earlier this month to a perceived threat to the subway system. Mr. Kelly seemed perplexed by the Department of Homeland Security, which seemed to downplay the threat.

“They’re not here to protect the city—we are,” Mr. Kelly told reporters after the speech. “It’s difficult to understand what they saw their role as here.”

That straightforward approach has helped to spread talk of a possible Mayoral candidacy for Mr. Kelly.

“I think, in some ways, people think it’s the logical thing to do,” said Mr. Aborn. “He has fought well the dual challenges of terror and crime.”

A Matter of Degrees

Mr. Kelly also has a lot of awards and degrees to fill out his resume. He holds a B.B.A. from Manhattan College, a J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law, an L.L.M. from the New York University Graduate School of Law and an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He has served as commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service, was a vice president at Interpol, was director of the International Police Monitors in Haiti and has served in practically every police command in the city.

“Kelly is, in his own way, a competent politician,” said Fred Siegel, author of The Prince of the City, a book about Mr. Giuliani. “He has been on this path forever.”

Some lawmakers already see him as the most essential part of the Bloomberg administration.

When weighing whether or not to cross the political aisle and endorse Mr. Bloomberg, Peter Vallone Jr., a Democratic City Council member who chairs the Public Safety Committee, called Mr. Kelly this month to make sure he intended to stick around if the Mayor was re-elected.

Mr. Vallone said he received that assurance, and added that Mr. Kelly “doesn’t seem to have any interest in his own political career. I think he would be very formidable should he decide to do that [run for Mayor].”

The thought makes some First Amendment and civil-liberties activists shudder. They take issue with Mr. Kelly’s 2002 court battle to legalize searches inside private organizations, including mosques, and with the NYPD’s handling of protests over the war in Iraq and during the Republican National Convention last year. Under Mr. Kelly, they say, scores of people were arrested for seemingly little cause.

“There have been many serious civil-liberties violations by the police,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Under Ray Kelly, the city has developed an obsessive, compulsive preoccupation with videotaping every political protest that goes on. It is intimidating and chilling.”

But these are not the sorts of grievances that are likely to give the Manhattan Institute and Giuliani diehards pause, especially since the think tank is desperate to latch onto a city-government star.

As Mr. Kelly prepared to go onstage, he stopped to express his gratitude to the institute and to explain his change in policing policy. “It’s an evolutionary process for both of us,” he said, before a woman interrupted him.

“I just love you,” she said. “When are you going to be President?”