Only one police commissioner in New York history had great success in electoral politics after leaving the crime beat. His name was Theodore Roosevelt. Before becoming governor, vice president and, finally, president, Roosevelt was superintendent of the city’s Police Commission from 1895 to 1897. His managerial skills and talent helped propel him to Albany in 1898, and to Washington in 1900.
Mayor Bloomberg’s police commissioner, Ray Kelly, may not have TDR’s national ambitions, but there is talk that he may consider running for mayor in 2009. Mr. Bloomberg, who will have to leave office at the end of 2009 because of term limits, appears to be publicly encouraging Mr. Kelly to consider a campaign.
Mr. Kelly would be an ideal candidate on many levels. Most important, he has helped keep the city safe, and that is job No. 1 for any mayor. Crime in New York fell by 5.3 percent last year, continuing a trend that began in the 1990’s. But while Mr. Kelly presided over another significant drop in crime, the rest of the nation saw a 1.3 percent increase in crime. Skeptics, take note: New York is not simply benefiting from larger national trends. In fact, in continuing to cut crime, New York actually is bucking larger national trends.
Of course, in the post-9/11 era, keeping New York safe is a far more complex job than it was before. Mr. Kelly must concern himself not only with street thugs but with global terrorists. Under his leadership, the NYPD has developed a world-class antiterrorism unit with contacts throughout the world.
Mr. Kelly, the only person to serve as police commissioner twice (under David Dinkins, from 1992 to 1994, and under Mr. Bloomberg, from 2002 to the present), has demonstrated great sensitivity and outreach during both of his tenures. His reputation for candor and his willingness to listen to civilians is reflected in his personal popularity ratings. In a recent poll, 64 percent of voters approved of his job performance, including 49 percent of African-Americans and 57 percent of Hispanics.
Mr. Kelly’s record and personality indicate that he is a social liberal who is not looking to impose his personal ideology on the city. He is a problem-solver and a manager, not a raving ideologue or an ambitious career-builder.
The mayoral election of 2009 promises to be a tumultuous affair, especially on the Democratic side. City Comptroller William Thompson, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and Council Speaker Christine Quinn figure to be in the race, perhaps along with Representative Anthony Weiner. All of them merit careful consideration.
Mr. Kelly apparently is considering a run as a Republican, which might make for an easier path through the primary season (just ask Mr. Bloomberg). But if Ray Kelly runs for mayor, he will run not as a partisan, but as a competent and experienced manager.
That approach has worked for New York in the recent past. There is no reason to believe it will not continue to work in the future.