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Kelly goes solo on power trip

May 21, 2004

So it's cultural differences between the Police and Fire Departments that are preventing Mayor Michael Bloomberg from implementing a disaster relief plan for another terrorist attack?

Not quite.

You can change the culture of institutions. The systemic corruption the NYPD tolerated for 100 years began to change in the early 1970s following the disclosures of the Knapp commission. The feeling that crime could not be controlled better was changed in the mid-1990s by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.

No, the main reason the mayor has no detailed plan for another terrorist attack has nothing to do with culture.

It has to do with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who wants to control all aspects. And Kelly has extraordinary influence with the mayor.

Kelly is the 700-pound gorilla of the Bloomberg administration. "Now in every firehouse across the city Kelly is sneeringly referred to as the fire commissioner," a former top fire official said. "Who was on the scene at the recent arson fire in Brooklyn in which five people died, holding the news conference? Not fire commissioner Nicholas Scopetta. It was Kelly."

By any judgment, Kelly is extraordinary. He is the city's first and only police commissioner to hold the job twice. In between, he served as Undersecretary of the Treasury and Commissioner of Customs. In his second term as police commissioner, he has been bold, imaginative, iron-willed, intimidating, sensitive to criticism and refusing to allow anyone else in the department to make decisions.

In fact, the man he has come to resemble is Giuliani.

As might be expected, the two despise each other.

"Kelly has never forgiven Giuliani for firing him as police commissioner when Giuliani took office," says a former top NYPD insider.

When Kelly commissioned the McKinsey report on the city's response to 9/11, Giuliani was never interviewed.

Here now is a list of others Kelly has feuded with:

  • Bratton. Kelly has never forgiven Bratton, who replaced Kelly. When Bratton visited the city recently he sought to meet with Kelly, says a Bratton aide. Kelly rebuffed him.
  • Bernard Kerik. When Bloomberg announced Kelly as police commissioner in 2001, Kerik, then commissioner, offered Kelly a full police detail. When Kelly became commissioner, he rescinded the promotion of a second-grade detective on Kerik's detail.

  • The FBI. Kelly has in effect called the FBI incompetent. Earlier this year, an FBI official told Newsday that Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen refused to share intelligence information on terrorism with the bureau.

But Kelly remains extraordinarily close to Bloomberg.

When the Police Department conducted its fatal "no-knock" raid on Harlem grandmother Alberta Spruill, the mayor apologized with Kelly, sparing Kelly questions about his inactivity after learning of similar unwarranted raids six months before.

When City Councilman James Davis was shot to death, Bloomberg took responsibility, exonerating Kelly for the department's lax security.

Now comes Bloomberg's disaster plan that shifts authority from the Fire Department to the Police Department for such things as oil or hazardous-waste spills.

Instead of delineating responsibility, it talks about multiple responders and says Emergency Management Commissioner Joe Bruno will decide which agency will take the lead.

"The biggest problem is that it is so vague in who assigns control that it creates more confusion," said former OEM Commissioner Jerome Hauer.

Asked who would be the first responder to another World Trade Center-like attack, Hauer said: "I assume fire. But police might say it's them because hazardous fuel is involved."

Hauer, who is close to Bratton, says Kelly "has been a great police commissioner.

"Crime has gone down and he has brought the Police Department to the next level in terrorism preparedness. But in preparing a city for a terrorist attack, you need to take a more holistic view. You need more than just law enforcement."

Staff writer William Murphy contributed to this column.

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© 2004 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.