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Mayoral hopefuls eye top Philly cop

July 17, 2000

The eyes of New York are on Philadelphia--in particular on its police commissioner, John Timoney. How Timoney handles the crisis caused by the videotaping of his cops' beating a robbery suspect may determine whether he returns to New York as police commissioner under the city's next mayor.

Already the incident is resonating in the mayoral race. Last week, Public Advocate Mark Green, who appeals to a liberal constituency, appeared to distance himself from Timoney. Over the past year, Green began cozying up to Timoney and former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, under whom Timoney served as first deputy. Their common ground was their dislike (to put it mildly) for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir.

Last November, Bratton spoke critically of Giuliani and the NYPD at a Green-sponsored hearing on police brutality. Timoney-whom Giuliani passed over for Safir when the mayor forced Bratton out-was also invited.

Green aide Richard Schrader was quoted at the time as saying that Green and Bratton spoke regularly. "Mark is very impressed with him and his ideas," Schrader said. No one from Green's staff objected when this column suggested that with Green as mayor, Bratton might become a deputy mayor for law enforcement and Timoney police commissioner.

Earlier this year, Green attended Timoney's party at Elaine's restaurant on the Upper East Side, celebrating a cover article in Esquire magazine calling him America's Top Cop. Green then said a few words indicating that if elected, he would indeed appoint Timoney.

But now things have changed. First, Bratton is considering running for mayor. (He said last week he would definitely appoint Timoney police commissioner.) And second, Green has become the mayoral front-runner. Polls say his support comes largely from black voters. This makes him especially vulnerable to a black candidate. Says a Democratic political consultant: "If The Rev. Al Sharpton gets into it, Green is dead."

While Timoney has reached out to minority groups in Philadelphia (he delivered part of his inaugural address there in Spanish), there's been no communication between him and Sharpton since the first week of the Giuliani administration, when the reverend was blocked from attending a summit conference at One Police Plaza following a near-riot outside a Harlem mosque. The Giuliani administration has always tried to marginalize Sharpton by ignoring him.

As Bratton put it, "The first thing John did in Philadelphia was to reach out to the black leadership. That's why he's getting so much local support down there following the videotaping incident. All that had been missing in New York City - from Sharpton on down." One of the people Timoney called last week was Sharpton, who says he's going to Philly today. "He has a closed-door policy in New York and he calls me in Philadelphia?" Sharpton said of Timoney. " He'll have to explain that." Will he meet with Timoney? "We'll see," said Sharpton.

Said Timoney: "Sure. I'll meet with him." Meanwhile, on Friday Newsday ran a front-page story about the videotaped beating, with an article by Your Humble Servant on Timoney that included Green's speech at Elaine's, supporting him as police commissioner.

That same day, Green's press secretary Steve Sigmund telephoned. He wanted to point out that Green didn't really mean what he'd said at Elaine's. "It was a joke when he Green said it," Sigmund explained.

"His position is he hasn't made any announcement about who he would consider."

The long good-bye. In announcing the retirement of Patrick Kelleher last week, Police Commissioner Howard Safir described him as "the greatest first deputy in the history of the department." Forgetting for a moment how Safir could possibly know this, what he perhaps meant to say was that in the history of the department, Kelleher was the most obedient.

From nodding his head whenever Safir spoke to defending his every misguided policy (which space prevents us from enumerating), Kelleher acknowledged but one misstep: the failure "to get our message out." Translation: Police Department spokeswoman Marilyn Mode has been such a failure at articulating department policies that it has been necessary to bring in Kelleher's best bud, Deputy Chief Tom Fahey, to run Mode's Public Information office.

Kelleher also claimed he privately had been able to voice frank disagreements with both Safir and the mayor. If that's true, perhaps he can explain why he did not tell Safir that the Public Information office's problem was Mode, not Fahey's predecessor, Insp. Michael Collins, who was sacrificed while Mode was permitted to remain.

(from Lt. Stephen Biegel of the public information office, who was said to have held Mode's dog at a fatal Upper East Side fire two Saturdays ago): "I never touched that dog. I never even gave that dog a saucer of water. "

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© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.