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Like Mounties, Rudy always gets his man

August 21, 2000

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's selection of his former bodyguard and driver Bernard Kerik as police commissioner and the Machiavellian manner in which he announced his selection shows us, once again, the mayor trusts virtually no one.

First, the mayor ignored the recommendation of Howard Safir, the man he has begun calling "the greatest commissioner in the history of the city." Safir had recommended Chief of Department Joe Dunne, a hard-line, 31-year veteran who is supported by the department's top brass and is well regarded by minority officers and citizens.

Instead, the mayor waited until Safir had literally walked out of One Police Plaza for the last time on Friday, and at that very moment told reporters he would announce his selection the next day.

Safir's usefulness to him was over.

By selecting Kerik, the mayor also showed his true feelings towards the Police Department.

A former top police official called his bypassing of Dunne, a "slap," reflecting the contempt and distrust the mayor harbors towards the department and its top brass.

"They still don't understand the police culture," says a former chief. "They don't understand that department loyalty is in-bred. They don't understand that you are loyal to the person who gives you a high-level job."

A former top police official in the administration of former Police Commissioner William Bratton says a constant refrain from City Hall was that the commissioner must be under its control. Mayoral Counsel Denny Young "was always bringing up Ben Ward, saying Ed Koch couldn't control him," the official said of the former police commissioner and the former mayor.

Giuliani hinted at this when he said the day before announcing Kerik: " The Police Department is a mayoral agency, and it's like the military. Civilian control of the police is important. So the mayor being in control of the Police Department is important. The police commissioner being in control of the Police Department is important."

In announcing Kerik, the mayor also sounded like the Bourbon kings of France, of whom it was said they forgot nothing and learned nothing.

He again blamed the media for the department's poor relationship with non-white communities, taking no responsibility for the officials in his administration whom he allowed to present the department's story.

The loyalty of Safir's spokeswoman, Marilyn Mode, was not to the department but to Safir. Safir implicitly acknowledged her ineptitude last year when he tried to change his image by bringing in Deputy Chief Tom Fahey, who had served under Bratton's spokesman, John Miller.

 

But Safir still kept Mode on, instead firing her police subordinate. Yesterday, two days after Safir departed, Mode was seen packing boxes in her office. For now, we'll have to draw our own conclusions about that.

As for the mayor's spokeswoman Sunny Mindel, not for nothing is she referred to in this column as "Sunny the Silent." Lost in this is that Kerik is a man of not inconsiderable abilities.

Kerik, a former detective, served as Giuliani's bodyguard, advance man and driver in his 1993 mayoral campaign. Like many officers in the campaign-most notably the leadership of the Hispanic Society-Giuliani rewarded him by giving him a high-level, high-paying job outside the department. He became Commissioner of Correction, where by virtually all accounts, he performed superbly.

Unlike his predecessor Safir, who looked as though he'd just bitten into a lemon, Kerik radiates confidence and good-will. And unlike Safir, who listed a degree on his resume he never had, Kerik appears comfortable with the fact that he lacks a college degree, a requirement for officers above the rank of lieutenant.

Kerik's spokesman at Corrections Tom Antenen, whom City Hall may or may not permit him to bring to One Police Plaza, is professional and self-effacing.

Kerik's problem is that as an unknown and a commissioner identified with Giuliani, he has no relationship with the city's minority community, and his first mistake could prove fatal.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney was able to diffuse a potential disaster there when his officers were videotaped beating and kicking a black suspect while in custody. Timoney had established relationships with minority community leaders. Kerik has no such luxury.


Setting the Record.
After the mayor praised Safir as the greatest commissioner in city history, saying crime declined more under him than under any other commissioner, former Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple pointed out that crime fell more steeply during Bratton's two years than during Safir's four.

Under Bratton, says Maple, who spoke off the cuff as he has crime figures implanted like a computer chip in his brain, aggregate crime fell 27 percent and by slightly less under Safir.

Homicides fell from 1,946 in 1993, the year before Bratton became commissioner, to 1,171 in 1995, Bratton's last full year, a drop of 775.

Between Safir's first year, 1996, and 1998, when they bottomed out before rising slightly last year, homicides fell to 633, a drop of 542.

And contrary to popular belief that homicides can't go lower, Maple points out that in 1961, there were only 380.

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© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.