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Handicapping Kelly's field

January 21, 2002

It's been three weeks since Ray Kelly became police commissioner, and he says it will be at least another two until he names his top staff.

Why the wait?

Is Kelly - who has few, if any, confidantes in the department - waiting for a commitment from someone from the outside? Or is he preparing to run the department himself? To help him along, One Police Plaza offers a synopsis of what's at stake.

Chief of Department. Its current chief, Joe Esposito, has been the department's highest uniformed officer for the past year and a half and was the only top cop Kelly did not ask for a letter of resignation. Body language between him and Kelly, however, suggests a lack of chemistry and a sense that their relationship is strictly professional, not personal.

Chief of Patrol. Rumored candidate for this recently vacant position is Manhattan North borough commander Nick Estavillo. He's a former marine, which seems to count for something these days. He'd also become the first Hispanic officer to hold a three-star rank. But he was cited for poor supervision of the Puerto Rican Day Parade in 2000, after which numerous women were attacked while some police did not intervene. Former Police Commissioner Howard Safir said Estavillo's negative performance resulted in a "letter of instruction" - whatever that is - in his personnel file, along with one for his nominal superior that day, Manhattan South Borough Chief Al Hoehl.

Chief of Detectives. Current Chief William Allee fended off an attempt by former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to replace him and now says he has no plans to retire. OK, but is there anything to rumors of Staten Island Patrol Borough Chief Anthony Marra's replacing him? And what, if any, role will be played by Guy Molinari, with whom Marra is said to be close? Under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the former Staten Island borough president doubled as the department's unofficial chief "rabbi," or fixer. Molinari also arranged Kelly's 11th-hour effort in 1994 to keep his commissioner's job by arranging an interview with the newly elected Giuliani, who rebuffed him and selected Bill Bratton.

Chief of Internal Affairs Bureau. Current Chief Charlie Campisi is a straight shooter with no hidden agendas. The knock: He hasn't been pro-active enough in his investigations, or more accurately, that Kerik didn't allow him to be more pro-active as Kerik short-shrifted the bureau.

Clearly, Campisi lacks the presence of former Internal Affairs Chief John Guido, who took over the job after corruption scandals in the 1970s and declared in 1986 when he retired that within five years of his departure, the department would face another corruption scandal. He was right, and Kelly, then serving as first deputy to his predecessor Lee Brown, learned first-hand how that came about.

Chief of Transit. Most talked about candidate: Mike Scagnelli. In 1999, two-star chief Scagnelli pledged his loyalty to the department over Giuliani - and was forced into hiding for two years because of it. After Lt. Don Henne of the City Hall security detail stopped him at the Yankee Day parade celebration, as Scagnelli escorted the widows and children of slain cops, Scagnelli uttered the fateful words: "You work for us, not the mayor." If that's not worth a third star, what is?

Chief of Housing. Current head Douglas Zeigler is not important enough to discuss.

First Deputy Commissioner. If the past is prologue, this could be Kelly's most interesting, if least meaningful, appointment. Rumored in-house candidates: current Deputy Commissioner of Legal Affairs George Grasso. He's a department loyalist and hardnose. For that, he's been criticized by a black officer's group and called "insensitive" by a homosexual group of officers.

Candidate Number Two: James Lawrence, the gentlemanly chief of personnel. Lawrence's appointment would bring a black to the department's second-highest rank. But if Kelly treats him as he did his former first deputy, John Pritchard, it might appear that Lawrence is a token. Pritchard is also black, and department insiders say he had zero responsibilities.

A Mighty Fall.
Former detective Tibor Kerekes is again a detective. Kerik appointed his life-long friend deputy commissioner of administration, and when Kerik left, so did Kerekes' commissionership. But Kerik didn't desert him. Although bounced back to a detective, Tibor is bouncing around the country as a Giuliani bodyguard.

Notes From Buff-Land.
Secretly promoted by Kerik last month: The Finest Foundation's Dennis [Let's Make a Deal] Schnur from honorary chief of personnel to honorary chief of department. [Honoraries get to carry special police badges and identification cards.] Was Schnur's "promotion" related to The Finest's $150,000 gift to the families of the 23 slain officers in the World Trade Center attack or from the gym equipment Schnur gave Kerik?

Staff writer Sean Gardiner contributed to this column.

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© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.