Editorial: Kelly’s the Man

Ray Kelly should be the next secretary of Homeland Security.

His departure as police commissioner after a dozen years would be a loss for the city, but the entire country would benefit if he were advising President Obama on everything from terrorist threats to storm preparation.

There’s a vacancy in Homeland Security because Janet Napolitano has resigned after five middling years in the post. She has moved on to become president of the University of California.

Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat, was among the first to float Mr. Kelly’s name to succeed Ms. Napolitano, but it’s safe to say that the commissioner would enjoy support from Republicans and Democrats alike. That’s vitally important—while Homeland Security policy certainly should be subject to robust debate, Mr. Kelly’s presence as director would command confidence and respect, qualities that Ms. Napolitano was never quite able to earn.

As commissioner under two mayors, David Dinkins and Michael Bloomberg, Mr. Kelly’s place in the history of the New York Police Department is assured. He has presided over continuous drops in violent crime and, in the aftermath of 9/11, he retooled the NYPD to make it a global leader in counterterrorism. And he did all of this even as the NYPD’s head count dropped from a high of 41,000 in 2001 to less than 35,000 now.

Because of his leadership in the shadow war against Islamic terrorism, Mr. Kelly is a known and respected commodity among our allies, from Europe to the Middle East to Asia. And his military background—he served in the Marines as a colonel in Vietnam—would give him added credibility with the Pentagon in the new twilight struggle against terrorist enemies at home and abroad.

Equally important, Mr. Kelly has strong experience in the more prosaic but equally vital role of coordinating emergency response to natural disasters—a task that has become a critical part of the Homeland Security portfolio. Mr. Kelly played a key role in the city’s response to Superstorm Sandy and, a year earlier, to Hurricane Irene. If Homeland Security is going to continue to play a leading role in preparing for and responding to natural disasters, Mr. Kelly’s experience fits the bill.

If we were certain that Mr. Kelly would continue to serve as police commissioner after Mr. Bloomberg leaves office, we might not be as enthusiastic about volunteering his services to President Obama. But it appears likely that the next mayor will appoint somebody new to head the NYPD, in which case, Mr. Kelly’s days as commissioner are numbered.

At 71, Mr. Kelly still has plenty to offer the nation—a unique skill set, not to mention his reputation for candor, personal honesty and effectiveness.

He is the perfect choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Let’s see if the president has the wisdom and judgment to bring him to Washington.