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Don't discount a second wind

September 3, 2004

Since the World Trade Center attack, a law-enforcement background has become the hottest political credential.

And resume reinvention has become its coin of the realm.

It's not just our commander in chief, who appeared on an aircraft carrier in flight regalia despite his spotty National Guard service. Or John Kerry "reporting for duty" with a salute during the Democratic National Convention despite his anti-Vietnam war stance.

Rudolph Giuliani was slumping in the polls until Sept. 11. Now the former prosecutor is considered a future gubernatorial or presidential candidate.

Sept. 11 has also been the making - or remaking - of two city law enforcement officials: former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and his successor, Ray Kelly.

Kerik was with Giuliani at the trade center the morning it was attacked.

A year later, the White House sent Kerik to Iraq to train local police. On Monday he delivered a testimonial to President George W. Bush at the Republican National Convention. On Tuesday, Kerik told the Associated Press he wanted to run for governor of New Jersey but was barred because of a residency requirement.

Asked by Newsday about a run for mayor of New York City, Kerik said he supported Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2005, but added, "I will keep all my options open in the future."

As for Kelly, his signature "community policing" program in his first run as commissioner under Mayor David Dinkins was scorned as "social work" by his successors under Giuliani. As first deputy, he was also criticized - some feel unfairly - in a governor's report for allowing the Crown Heights riots to escalate.

Since 9/11, he's reinvented himself as a terrorism fighter, and is now being discussed as a mayoral candidate, perhaps when Bloomberg leaves office.

"Law enforcement figures have become our heroes," says Howard Rubenstein, a public relations guru. "They are seen as the protectors of our homes and our families. It is now a natural springboard for a successful law enforcement person to go right into politics."

While Kelly has told people he is not interested in elected office, political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said: "Ray Kelly has rehabilitated himself from Crown Heights. And he is extremely popular, especially in minority communities."

George Artz, a political consultant, says: "Law enforcement people are a very electable commodity right now. 9/11 changed politics, as well as everything else in the land. Kelly is a serious law enforcement guy. He doesn't hang out at Elaine's. He has impressive credentials beyond law enforcement. He could come out of this with a bigger bump than Bush."

No big deal. Federal officials appear to be less enthusiastic than Kelly in describing the case against two Staten Island men arrested last week for conspiring to blow up the 34th Street subway station.

Kelly spoke at length about the arrests on the eve of the GOP convention, even suggesting that Shahawar Matin Siraj and James Elshafay also may have been targeting three police stations on Staten Island.

A federal official whose office is involved in the case told Newsday his office sought to downplay it. "We don't believe it's a big deal," he said. "It's two knuckleheads."

The official noted that the complaint is based on information from a confidential police informant. The complaint states that the defendants "never had possession or control of any explosive devices during the course of events."

The defendants also stated that "they wanted to cause economic harm and disruption but that they wanted to avoid killing anyone," the complaint says.

Unlike Kelly's outing of Joint Terrorist Task Force detective George Corey, which prompted a rebuke by the FBI here, Kelly's public description of the case against Siraj and Elshafay stirred little response.

"I don't feel we were excluded," said FBI spokesman Joe Valiquette. "We don't have any heartburn over it. The truth of the matter is the investigation was begun by the NYPD a year ago. The JTTF only became involved in the last two or three weeks.

"As the press release indicated, the informant was operated by NYPD's Intelligence Division. We think the NYPD deserves all the credit," he said.

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© 2004 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.