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Kelly’s Port Authority Veto

August 21, 2006

Gov. George Pataki’s veto, rejecting Ray Kelly on the Port Authority board, has more to do with politics than with Kelly. Nonetheless, Kelly’s actions, since returning as police commissioner in 2002, didn’t help him.

Because of terrorism, Kelly’s boss, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, has given Kelly more power than any police commissioner in the city’s modern history. As part of this, Bloomberg has also sought to have Kelly play a role in protecting the region’s airports, ports, and tunnels, which are the province of the Port Authority.

Kelly successfully exerted his influence over the Authority in 2002 when he telephoned New Jersey’s then Governor James McGreevey and persuaded him to appoint his NYPD buddy Charlie DeRienzo to head the Port Authority police.

But DeRienzo’s tenure there lasted less than two years. By then, according to a former top Port Authority official, McGreevey was telling people he’d made a mistake. Kelly brought DeRienzo back to the NYPD as a deputy commissioner and gave him a series of odd jobs that continues today.

The following year, Deputy Commissioner for Counter-Terrorism Michael Sheehan — who before 9/11 was one of the few federal officials who advocated bombing Osama bin Laden’s terrorist-training camp in Afghanistan — began writing to the Port Authority, complaining that the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero was susceptible to terrorist attack. Although lacking an architectural or engineering degree, his complaints — voiced publicly by Kelly — led to changes in the tower’s design and location.

This led Pataki to appoint his terrorism security adviser, former top FBI official James Kallstrom — no friend of Kelly — to take charge of security for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which oversees the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.

According to a person familiar with that appointment, Pataki wanted someone in law enforcement of equal stature as a counter-balance to Kelly.

Meanwhile, scores of NYPD cops were trying to leave the department for the Port Authority police because of its higher salaries. But Kelly refused to provide them with their personnel files. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association filed suit, charging that Kelly was preventing the cops from leaving because of the NYPD’s own recruitment and retention problems. Earlier this year, Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam ruled the NYPD could no longer withhold cops’ files. The city is appealing.

Then, this summer, Kelly went to war with the Port Authority police, stationing patrol cars round-the-clock outside the gates to the four entrances to Ground Zero on West and Liberty Streets.

Supposedly, the NYPD was there to guard against terrorism. Meanwhile inside the gates, guarding the rebuilding site, sat the Port Authority police. The two agencies didn’t communicate.

Port Authority police union head Gus Danese accused Kelly of a “runaway ego,” and his union opposed Kelly’s appointment to the Port Authority Board.

Said Danese, who is believed to have some clout with Pataki: “He is saying, ‘I am Ray Kelly. This is what I want. This is what I get.’ Wrong. We are not just caving in to this guy because he says so. He doesn’t realize he doesn’t call the shots for the Port Authority.

“Management,” he added, “feels the same way. But is not as outspoken as I am.”

So is Kelly’s four-year quest to exert influence over the Port Authority over? Well, there is an election for governor this year in New York State. If, as expected, Elliot Spitzer is the winner, let’s see if Kelly and Bloomberg begin lobbying him.

Challenging Bernie.
Kelly’s ethically-challenged successor Bernie Kerik didn’t have a good week either. His multi-million-dollar consulting contract to train the Guyana police force in South America appeared in jeopardy after the Inter American Development Bank, which is providing a $20 million loan to upgrade Guyana’s infrastructure, reportedly declined to fund Bernie.

Then the city threatened to sue Harper-Collins, whose subsidiary, ReganBooks, is to publish “Aftermath: Unseen 9/11 Photos by a New York City Cop.” The book features pictures by crime scene photographer/detective John Botte, to whom Kerik granted “privileged access” during the rescue and recovery.

The city maintains that the pictures, taken while Botte was on duty, belong to the city.

Judith Regan is, of course, the publisher of Kerik’s book, “The Lost Son,” who fell so hard for Bernie she ended up with him in his love-nest — that free apartment, courtesy of the Milstein brothers, overlooking Ground Zero during the same rescue and recovery.

Meanwhile, Kerik’s attorney Joe Tacopina objected to a recent column that referred to Kerik as “mob-connected,” following his guilty plea to two misdemeanor counts involving $165,000 in free renovations to his Bronx apartment by a company that is under investigation for mob ties. Tacopina says that when the renovations were completed in 2000, Kerik had no knowledge the company was under investigation.

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Copyright © 2006 Leonard Levitt