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NOTE. Beginning next month, this column will return to Mondays. The next column will be January 9th. Happy New Year.

Not a Terrorist Was Stirring ...

December 30, 2005

On the night before Christmas Police Commissioner Ray Kelly decided to stroll down Fifth Avenue.

William Bratton, Kelly’s successor in 1994, had memorialized the stroll when, with his sidekick Jack Maple, he set out from the Plaza to see how many New Yorkers recognized them “for having single-handedly created the greatest drop in crime in city history,” as Bratton modestly put it.

Bratton’s successor, Howard Safir, attempted the stroll in 1996 but quit after a block because nobody recognized him.

In 2001, Kelly’s predecessor, Bernie Kerik, considered taking the stroll but found himself too preoccupied with his publisher Judith Regan at the Ground Zero apartment he had been loaned, supposedly to recover from working 20-hour days after the World Trade Center attack.

Following the end of the transit strike, Kelly took his stroll down Fifth Avenue. With him was Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne, known as The Vicar for his religious-like fervor in praising Kelly.

Kelly, however, told Browne to keep a few paces behind him so Kelly could be left alone to ponder new ways of keeping New York safe from terrorism.

“Commissioner,” said Browne as he stepped back, “No one has done a better job keeping the city safe from terrorism than you.”

“O.K., Paul,” Kelly answered. The Vicar Browne had served Kelly since 1992 or thereabouts when Mayor David Dinkins had appointed Kelly police commissioner, but sometimes Browne’s prattling became tiresome.

“Who else but you could have reduced the crime rate?” Browne continued. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Despite what people say about Bratton and Giuliani.”

“O.K., Paul,” Kelly repeated. Bratton and Rudy Giuliani were the last two people Kelly wanted to think about, whether on Christmas Eve or any other time.

Kelly despised both of them – Giuliani for firing him when he became mayor, Bratton for taking the job Kelly felt was rightfully his.

When Bratton – now Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department – came through town, Kelly refused to take his call. When Mayor Michael Bloomberg discontinued Giuliani’s detective detail, Kelly transferred the detectives to assignments as far from their homes as humanly possible – until Giuliani interceded with Bloomberg and Kelly had to back down.

Wearing a pin-striped suit with a power-red tie and no coat or hat, Kelly set off from the Plaza, looking neither right nor left. But as he crossed 57th Street, he felt a chill on the back of his neck.

“Ray Kelly,” he heard a voice say. Kelly looked up but saw no one.

“Ray Kelly,” the voice repeated. “You have been guilty of the sin of pride. You must stop trying to prove you are smarter than everyone else. You must stop trying to run every aspect of law enforcement when it comes to terrorism. And you must stop harming people who bear you no ill-will.”

A lesser man might have paused. Not Kelly. He had been a marine in Vietnam. He had survived quadruple bypass surgery. Sometimes, he felt a higher hand than Mayor Bloomberg’s had chosen him police commissioner this second time.

Placing his hands on his hips and staring up at the voice he could not see, Kelly said, “I am smarter than everyone else. Didn’t Paul Browne tell you I was first in my class at the Police Academy? Didn’t he tell you I also attended Harvard?”

With that Kelly turned and walked on. Am I missing something here? he said to himself.

But just outside the University Club on 54th Street, he felt another chill, this time across his forehead. He stopped and looked around. Again, he saw nothing.

“Ray Kelly,” said another voice, more strident than the first. “What about your taking credit for things you didn’t do, Ray Kelly?” The voice sounded familiar, not unlike that of Pat D’Amuro, the former head of the FBI’s New York office.

“Like what?” Kelly shot back. He had had little use for D’Amuro while he was in the bureau. He had even less now that he gone to work for Giuliani Partners.

“When the FBI arrested the radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamsa al Masri in London in 2004,” said the voice, “You held a news conference to single out NYPD Detective George Corey. You knew, Ray Kelly, that Corey was only one of more than 100 detectives and FBI agents on the Joint Terrorist Task Force whose work led to the arrest. Yet you gave out so many personal details about Corey that his wife on Long Island became hysterical and demanded he return from London immediately, and he didn’t testify against al Masri.”

Kelly frowned. He looked for the Vicar Browne, who was standing across 55th Street, lecturing a group of tourists from Nebraska that Kelly was the greatest police commissioner in the history of New York City.

Kelly felt another chill, this one passing across his left cheek. He heard another voice cry out, “Remember how you treated the detectives on your own detail, Ray Kelly. The police commissioner’s detail was considered the most prestigious in the department, until you returned as commissioner. Since then, no fewer than 16 detectives have bailed out. They don’t want to work for you, Ray Kelly.”

Kelly tried to wave the voice away. Before he could complete the gesture, the voice uttered two more words: “Manny Lopez.”

“Manny headed the detail during your first term as commissioner,” the voice continued. “He was so loyal he refused to remain on it when Bratton succeeded you. But when a housing cop fatally shot Timothy Stansbury, a black teenager, on the rooftop of his apartment building in the middle of the night, you forced Manny off the detail because he didn’t awaken you until the next morning to inform you about it. Then when he tried to retire, you started an investigation of him for supposed overtime abuse.

“Do you really wonder why your detectives don’t want to work for you, Ray Kelly? They say you’ve forgotten the word, ‘loyalty.’”

“Paul!” Kelly shouted to Browne. “Get over here! Now!”

“What is it, commissioner?” The Vicar Browne shouted, rushing over. He had never seen Kelly so agitated.

Kelly walked on. But outside Rockefeller Center, he felt yet another chill. He heard another voice. This time, Kelly thought he saw a face with the voice. It resembled that of Richard Neri, the housing cop who had shot young Stansbury.

”Commissioner, you sold me out. Before the investigation was completed, you said the shooting was not within departmental guidelines. You said that to please the editorial writers and to improve your image.

“It was a terrible tragedy but the grand jury ruled the shooting was accidental and I was not indicted. Maybe you’re not so smart after all, commissioner.”

With that Kelly began shouting and waving his arms. Browne was stunned. His devotion to Kelly for the past 15 years had been not unlike a calling. Kelly had become his hero, his life.

There was an asceticism to Kelly that Browne so admired. Kelly cared nothing for money. He had no girlfriends or lost wives like Kerik. Unlike Safir, he had a brain. But unlike Bratton, who had a joie de vivre, Kelly seemed to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. That must be it, Browne decided. The pressure of single-handedly leading the war on terrorism must be affecting him.

“Commissioner, who are you shouting at? Who are you waving to?” Browne stammered, as his boss, his hero, his life railed at the heavens. “Commissioner, there’s nobody there.”

CORRECTION. Due to a technical problem, we were unable to update until Tuesday the misidentification of the rank of Peter DelDebbio in last week‘s column. He was a detective. The December 23 column has now been corrected.

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Copyright © 2005 Leonard Levitt