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Tensions at the very top

December 18, 2000

Four months after Bernard Kerik was sworn in as police commissioner and Joe Dunne as his first deputy, there appear to be strains between them.

Whether the strains reflect the difficulty of strangers thrown together under high-profile circumstances or something deeper, only time will tell.

The strains became visible last month when Kerik returned a list of promotions-sent to him by Dunne and his protigi Chief of Department Joe Esposito-saying he wanted "no contracts."

Kerik has not said publicly what contracts he was referring to, but his spokesman, Tom Antenen, said he was not referring to September's promotion of Judy McGinn to deputy chief when Kerik had been commissioner but a month.

McGinn, who served under Dunne and Esposito in Brooklyn Patrol Borough North, was promoted despite being on limited duty and the subject of an investigation into a car accident last July in which she hit five parked vehicles before crashing through a Brooklyn body shop.

The strains were further evident last month in Kerik's dismissal of Joe Wuensch, deputy commissioner for management and budget for the past 13 years.

Kerik sacked Wuensch, supposedly for allowing the department's building facilities to languish. Police sources say Kerik never consulted or informed Dunne, to whom Wuensch reported.

Two weeks ago, Dunne ordered scores of uniformed officers from Brooklyn North off patrol to attend a ceremony at his alma mater, St. Francis College in Brooklyn, in which his former boss, Howard Safir, received an honorary degree.

Police spokesman Deputy Chief Tom Fahey denied there was an order, indicating Kerik may not have known of it. Kerik did not attend the ceremony.

The state of the relationship between Kerik and Dunne has prompted rumors at One Police Plaza that Dunne may seek a job in the private sector.

Both men acknowledged the rumors last week when honored by the New York Law Enforcement Foundation. Dunne began his remarks by joking, "For the record, I am here for the duration." Imitating him, Kerik began his remarks with, "For the record..." and then praised Dunne.

In the best of circumstances, the first deputy is selected by the police commissioner based on ability and compatibility.

Former Commissioner Bill Bratton felt so comfortable with his First Deputy John Timoney he allowed Timoney to, in effect, run the department. His successor Safir selected Patrick Kelleher as his first deputy. They appeared to work well together.

Kerik, however, did not select Dunne. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani did-after Safir had lobbied him to appoint Dunne, then chief of department, as commissioner.

Instead, Giuliani chose Kerik, a mere third-grade detective whom Giuliani had met during his 1993 mayoral run when Kerik served as his advance man, bodyguard and driver.

Giuliani subsequently appointed him commissioner of corrections, where by all accounts he did a bang-up job.

Rather than resign in a huff as Timoney did when Giuliani passed him over for Safir, Dunne agreed to serve as Kerik's first deputy.

At a news conference at City Hall in August, Dunne said: "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. But I'm a cop. I love this job...I would have stayed on if they made me dog-catcher."

Dunne didn't return a call last week.

Kerik said, "For the record, Joe Dunne is the best."

Do the Right Thing.
It turns out that one of the two officers who failed to follow procedure in responding to the fender-bender accident involving police union trustee Walter Liddy is probationary and can be fired without a hearing.

But, says a police official, "It's probably not a termination case- provided they all tell the truth."

Liddy, the Patrolmen Benevolent Association's Manhattan South trustee, rear-ended a Jeep last month, became abusive when the officers arrived, shouting "Do you know who I am?" then drove off. The officers filed an accident report but failed to notify a superior, as is required when an officer is involved in an off-duty incident.

"It's the worst nightmare for the union when someone is on probation," says PBA trustee John Loud of the incident. But, says Loud, "Liddy is known as a stand-up guy. He's a man of his word. He's told people the truth to their face."

Another PBA official said: "Everyone says cops are held to a higher standard. If you're on the PBA board, you're held to an even higher standard."

IAB has questioned the two responding officers. Liddy's next.

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© 2000 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.