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The cops have got Zuckerman's back

January 7, 2005

Sometime in November, Mortimer Zuckerman discovered he was being followed. He also told people he had been getting threatening phone calls.

Like any sensible citizen, he called the NYPD.

Unlike any citizen, Zuckerman - the owner of the Daily News and real estate mogul extraordinaire - did not dial 911 or contact his local detective squad, which in Zuckerman's case would have been in the 10th Precinct, where the News is located, or in the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side, where he lives.

Rather, Zuckerman called David Cohen, deputy commissioner of the Intelligence Division, according to police sources.

Intel, as it is known, has become the cornerstone of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's fight against international terrorism. Kelly and Cohen, a former top CIA official, have stationed detectives around the globe and sent them across the country, investigating possible terrorist plots. And as in the past, intel continues to provide security for dignitaries and public officials. But why would intel provide security for a private citizen like Zuckerman, especially if, as Zuckerman's spokeswoman, Irene Murphy, says, he felt the matter was business-related?

Some say the reason is that Cohen and Zuckerman have known each other since their Boston days and are tight as ticks. Others say the department might have perceived the threats to be terror-related as Zuckerman is a well-known supporter of Israeli causes. Says Murphy: "That's not as far-fetched as you might think." Still others say that even intel's stated mission of fighting international terrorism can include providing special treatment to local bigwigs.

Whatever the reason, Cohen dispatched a team of intel detectives to tail the men following Zuckerman, former NYPD cops said.

The men trailing Zuckerman turned out to be private eyes. And guess what? At least two are retired NYPD detectives, one of whom is a former intel detective.

During one tail, the private eyes led the intel detectives toward New Jersey. Knowing they could legally enter another state only on official police business, the intel detectives called their supervisor who told them to break off the tail. According to an intel source, Cohen "hit the roof," decrying the supervisor's timidity.

Sources told Newsday that the intel boys "scared the hell" out of the private eyes. According to Zuckerman's spokeswoman Murphy, the department "satisfied him that he was not in any danger and that there was nothing for him to worry about."

Cohen, Zuckerman and the department's Public Information office remained mum on the subject last week.

But questions remain. First, who were Zuckerman's pursuers working for? Second, what did they hope to learn about Zuckerman by tailing him? And third, why did one of the Police Department's top officials assign key resources to a private matter at a time when the city's terrorism threat remains code red?

A bit of history. Perhaps some historic perspective might provide some insight into why Rudy Giuliani appointed Bernie Kerik police commissioner, an appointment that shot Kerik to stardom but ultimately doomed him.

Despite the then-mayor's micromanaging the NYPD - so much so that many called him the city's real police commissioner - each of his three police commissioners came from outside the NYPD.

Giuliani's first appointment followed his election victory in 1993. Then Commissioner Ray Kelly met with Giuliani at the Tudor Hotel, trying to persuade Giuliani to keep him. Instead, Giuliani chose an outsider to the NYPD, Bill Bratton. Herman Badillo, who served on Giuliani's selection committee, pointed out that Giuliani had run against David Dinkins on a platform of reducing crime and that Kelly represented the Dinkins regime.

Bratton lasted but two years. His problem was that he hogged the limelight, culminating with his picture on the cover of Time magazine, with Giuliani barely mentioned in Time's story. When Giuliani forced him out, he rejected Bratton's preferred successor and 20-year NYPD veteran, First Deputy John Timoney, and selected his old federal government friend and then-NYC Fire Commissioner Howard Safir.

Safir remained four years. Giuliani called him "the greatest police commissioner in the history of the city." But Giuliani rejected Safir's recommended successor, 30-year veteran and Chief of Department Joe Dunne.

Instead, he chose Kerik, his former driver and bodyguard, whom Giuliani had appointed corrections commissioner when Safir became police commissioner.

The rest is history.

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© 2005 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.