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Ray Kelly: Harvard Club Freeloader

October 25, 2010

In a town where a cop can’t accept a free cup of coffee, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has been eating and drinking for free for the past eight years at the Harvard Club.

Kelly hasn’t paid for his meals or drinks at the exclusive midtown spot on West 44th Street since 2002 when he returned as commissioner.

Nor have his guests.

Kelly also doesn’t pay his club’s dues, which come to about $1,500 a year.

Instead, the non-profit New York City Police Foundation has been picking up Kelly’s tab, says a well-placed source.

Despite this arrangement, which mirrors the kind of freebies that have landed other police commissioners in difficulty, Kelly has snubbed the hand that feeds him. He has refused the requests of foundation board members to name the guests whose food and drink they have been covering.

“There is no disclosure about whom he has taken out,” according to the source.

“There was grumbling by the board at first, but they have gone along. They will not take him on. He is now in control of the foundation.”

As Police Foundation Chairman Valerie Salembier, a senior vice president of the Hearst Corporation, has been known to say of Kelly, “I can’t say no to him.”

Neither she nor executive director Greg Roberts returned calls to this reporter.

Kelly’s spokesman Paul Browne did not respond to an email asking about Kelly’s Harvard Club arrangement.

At Kelly’s urging, the foundation has also issued credit cards to the department’s precinct commanders. The stated reason: to ensure they would not be beholden to others for meals and also to reimburse them for out-of-pocket emergency supplies.

In contrast to Kelly, the commanders are limited to $100 a month, and have to report their expenditures and how the money was spent to the department.

The foundation was begun in the wake of the 70s-era Knapp Commission scandal to help the police commissioner cope with the department’s longstanding corruption by funding projects privately to bypass the city’s cumbersome approval process.

In its 39-year existence, Kelly is believed to be the only police commissioner to ask the foundation to pay his dues and expenses at a private club.

His expenditures, said the source, are not identified in foundation filings, but are lumped together with “incidental” expenditures.

The Harvard Club, with the notable exception of former Governor Eliot Spitzer, is open to anyone with a Harvard degree.

Kelly earned an MPA, a Masters Degree in Public Administration, from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government while a member of the NYPD.

At the Harvard Club, Kelly can eat in its main dining room for breakfast, lunch or dinner; in its Grill Room, which serves lunch Monday through Friday; or in the Balcony, which, according to the club website “offers a dramatic view of the Main Dining Room” and serves “lighter fare, such as sandwiches, soup and a salad bar” and where a “discreet display of business papers is also permitted.”

Kelly can drink in the club’s Charles River Room, which offers a full-service bar from 4 to 11 P.M. or at the Main Bar, which is decorated with Harvard memorabilia and which, according to the club website, offers “classic cocktails, complimentary snacks and good cheer.”

Kelly’s Harvard freebies appear to contradict department policy, at least as it applies to other police officers who, since the Knapp Commission, have been prohibited from accepting even a free hot dog.

The Patrol Guide’s section 203-16 reads: “It is the policy of the Department that members of the service may not accept any reward, gratuity, gift or other compensation for any service performed as a result of or in conjunction with their duties as public servants. ….Members of the service also shall not solicit any gift, gratuity, loan, present, fee or reward for personal gain.”

City employees are also prohibited from accepting gifts of $50 or more from a person or a company doing business with the city.

Top police officials, however, have found themselves in trouble for accepting gifts, even when the giver does no city business.

One of the corruption charges that sent former NYPD Commissioner Bernie Kerik to prison for four years was his failure to report or pay income tax on the free use of an apartment, owned by a person with no known business dealings with the city.

Former First Deputy John Timoney, while chief of the Miami police department, accepted a free leased car from a dealer who did no business with the city. Although Timoney subsequently purchased the car at full price, he was criticized over the incident for the rest of his term.

Former Commissioner Howard Safir ran into trouble with the city’s Conflict of Interest Board for a freebie trip he took to the 1999 Oscars that was paid for by Revlon Corporation CEO George Fellows. Safir and his wife flew free on the company jet, and Fellows paid for their stay at a four-star hotel.

Although Revlon did virtually no business with the city, a report from the corporation counsel recommended that Safir reimburse Fellows $7,100 for the junket to avoid an appearance of impropriety.

 
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Then there was former NYPD Deputy Commissioner Ed Norris who, while serving as Baltimore’s police commissioner, was indicted on charges of stealing thousands of dollars from a secret police department fund. Norris used the money for affairs with women, trips to New York, meals at upscale restaurants and luxury hotels. He served six months in prison.

Kelly, however, is held to a different standard than other police officials.

In part, this is because the city’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has provided the perks.

Bloomberg has piloted Kelly to Kelly’s Florida home on Bloomberg’s jet.

Bloomberg also provided Kelly with front row Yankee seats in Bloomberg’s box during last year’s World Series. [A state ethics panel reprimanded Governor Paterson for accepting free tickets to the same World Series.]

At last Tuesday night’s Yankee playoff game against Texas, Kelly was seen sitting in the first row.

At the same time, say police sources, a contingent of Internal Affairs detectives were in place at the stadium to prevent cops from attending the game for free.

Police sources say Kelly was a member of the Harvard Club while serving as First Deputy Commissioner in the 1990s, and allowed his boss, then Commissioner Lee Brown, to use his account there, then grumbled that Brown was late in reimbursing him.

“When he returned as police commissioner in 2002, he requested an American Express card from the police foundation, but was turned down,” said another source. “The foundation then agreed to his request that it pay his Harvard Club dues and expenses.”

“I am sure his refusal to disclose comes from the same rationale that he justifies to hide his public schedule,” said the source familiar with the arrangement at the Harvard Club. “And it would be wrong for the same reasons. There is no reason he shouldn’t disclose who he takes to lunch or dinner. What message does it send to the troops?

“But there is no accountability regarding the appropriateness of his guests, and the board of the police foundation is afraid to take him on.”

Said a former top police official: “His not disclosing who he took to lunch or dinner may be harmless but it gives the appearance of Kelly’s placing himself above all rules and regulations, making him the sole arbiter of what is correct for himself.

“At the minimum, he should hold himself to the same standards as his commanders.

“Did he [Kelly] go the Harvard Club for Christmas or New Years? Did he take his wife and children? He bristles at any kind of oversight. He gets away with it because no one at City Hall has the courage to stand up to him, including the mayor. Especially the mayor.”


THE BOOK, “Seven Shots: An NYPD Raid on a Terrorist Cell and Its Aftermath by Jennifer C. Hunt portrays the best and the worst of the NYPD.

On July 31, 1997, a six-man Emergency Service team raided a Brooklyn apartment, whose inhabitants were just hours away from entering the Atlantic Avenue subway station and detonating bombs during the morning rush hour.

When two officers entered the bedroom, the suspects lunged for one of them, then moved towards a black bag that the officers believed contained the bombs. The officers fired their weapons, critically wounded the would-be bombers. Two bomb squad technicians then dismantled what turned out to be a live bomb.

It was the NYPD at its finest.

But that is just the beginning of the story told by Hunt, a sociologist and police expert, who was granted extraordinary access to the participants in telling her story.

If the raid showed the NYPD at its best, the aftermath, as Hunt chronicles, showed the NYPD at its worst.

Fearing for their safety and that of their families, the officers balked at attending a news conference with Police Commissioner Safir.

Safir took that as a personal insult, and retaliated by denying them promotions and by trying to keep them from being honored at the White House.

Meanwhile, writes Hunt, jealous members of the officers’ units blocked their promotions and targeted them for harassment. Men who should have been praised as heroes instead had their careers sabotaged by forces within the department itself.

The country paid an even bigger price. Intent on downgrading the officers’ accomplishments, Safir and then mayor Rudy Giuliani downplayed the incident and failed to adequately alert the public to its significance as a terrorism threat.

Hunt’s fast-paced narrative leaves us with many questions. Perhaps the most important is this: had Safir and Giuliani reacted differently, might we have been better prepared for 9/ll?

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Copyright © 2010 Leonard Levitt