Kelly for Mayor?

The Republican Party has been on the winning side of the past five mayoral races, which means that a generation of New Yorkers has come of age without realizing that there was a time not so long ago when Republicans routinely nominated sacrificial lambs for the city’s highest elective office.

As the mayoral campaign of 2013 approaches, there are signs that the Republican Party has no desire to return to the old days, when it was a nonplayer in municipal affairs. That no doubt explains the recent chatter concerning the party’s admiration of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

News reports indicate that the GOP would be more than happy to have Mr. Kelly’s name on the top of its ticket next year. And why not? The commissioner’s long tenure at 1 Police Plaza has not been without controversy, but Mr. Kelly has demonstrated extraordinary judgment and competence over the past 11 years. He is, no doubt, an appealing figure, as former Mayor Edward Koch pointed out the other day. (For the record, Mr. Koch is supporting Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a fellow Democrat.)

When asked about all this speculation about his future, Mr. Kelly said all the right things. He loves the job he has now (who can doubt that?), he is focused on getting the job done, he is flattered by the Republican Party’s attention, etc. Those sound like the words of a man who could be persuaded to join the campaign.

He should think about it. The Democrats clearly do not command the hold they once enjoyed in mayoral elections. The prospective field of candidates for the Democratic nomination is, for the most part, underwhelming. Mr. Kelly has name recognition, an enviable record of accomplishment and a clear-eyed understanding of city politics.

The city deserves a legitimate mayoral election next year, not a mere coronation after what may well be a lackluster Democratic primary. Mr. Kelly’s presence on the Republican line would ensure that the Democratic nominee will be able to take nothing for granted.

In the end, Mr. Kelly may choose not to run. If so, the Republicans owe it to themselves and to the city to find and fund a legitimate alternative. This is no time to return to the bad old days of sleepy one-party rule in New York City.