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Kelly’s FBI Bubble

March 21, 2011

So was Senator Chuck Schumer sincere or mischievous in announcing that he would push Ray Kelly for the job of FBI Director?

Schumer’s idea prompted an immediate disclaimer — not from Kelly but from his boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Schumer called Kelly “the pre-eminent law enforcement person in the country,” and said he’ll “strenuously advocate” for him to run the Bureau, although Schumer acknowledged that he hadn’t spoken to Kelly about it. The job opens up in September when Director Robert Mueller retires, ending the ten-year term.

Bloomberg, however, announced that Kelly wasn’t going anywhere, an indication that Schumer hadn’t spoken to the mayor about it either.

“I for one, would certainly like — I expect — him to stay … the next 1,023 days,” said Bloomberg. The 1,023 figure is when Bloomberg’s third term expires and he leaves office — unless he decides he wants to serve yet another term.

But whether Kelly is truly in contention for the job remains problematic. Newspaper stories out of Washington last week suggested that he was a long-shot.

More likely candidates, at least from a political standpoint, appear to be James Comey, the former deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration who threatened to resign to block Bush’s questionably legal anti-terror surveillance; Michael Garcia, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, who would become the first Hispanic FBI head; and Michael Mason, a Bureau veteran pushed by the FBI Agents Association, who would become its first black head. [Whether President Obama will want a black FBI Director just below a black head of the Justice Department —Eric Holder — just below the country’s first black president remains to be seen.]

As for Kelly, his age — he turns 70 this year — is against him as well as possible health concerns. He underwent a quadruple heart bypass more than 15 years ago and has also suffered from diabetes, although. judging from the number of hours people say he puts in at the gym, these might not be concerns at all.

He has also been publicly contemptuous of the Bureau, provoking resentment among the FBI’s rank and file and hierarchy.

His skirmishes with the Bureau continue to this day. His plan to scuttle the three-decades-old Joint Bank Robbery Task Force appears on hold, at least temporarily, after news of it became public. Then there was his impending transfer of Deputy Chief James Shea, the commanding officer of the Joint NYPD-FBI Terrorist Task Force, because he refused to share classified FBI information with his boss, Deputy Commissioner for Counter Terrorism Richard D’Addario. According to the Daily News, Kelly rescinded the transfer after Bureau officials protested.

There are also rumblings of discontent in the Organized Crime Task Force amidst suggestions that Kelly is no longer interested in working with the feds, period. So is this the type of person you want to head the FBI?

Finally, there’s the question of whether Kelly wants the job. His spokesman Paul Browne — known to readers of this column as Mr. Truth — said Kelly is not interested. Your Humble Servant is not so sure.

Heading the FBI is an honor. FBI sources say Kelly angled for it back in the 1990s when then Director Louis Freeh was on the outs with President Clinton.

Browne even concocted the story that Clinton offered Kelly the Director’s job but that Kelly refused it.

Still, like a force of nature, Kelly is as strong as any candidate. As Schumer pointed out, no one has more law enforcement experience.

His current 10-year term, in addition to his first tour of 15 months, will make him the longest serving police commissioner in New York City history.

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He is also the father of the NYPD’s expanded anti-terrorism programs that include what many feel is his signature achievement: stationing NYPD detectives overseas. How long that will continue will be determined by his successors. [Prediction: should Obama appoint Kelly FBI Director, the overseas detectives will be the first to go as Kelly will claim they are duplicative of the Bureau’s efforts.]

Perhaps Kelly’s greatest success has been one that does not draw headlines: his having kept the lid on both crime and racial tensions over the past 10 years after eight tumultuous and divisive years of Rudy Giuliani.

Now let’s return to Schumer. So what prompted him to make his Kelly-for-FBI Director announcement last week, only to have the mayor shoot it down?

Did Schumer act out of good-government intent or, as with politicians, did he have self-serving motives?

First, there doesn’t seem to be any love lost between him and Bloomberg, even though they share political common ground on such national issues as gun control.

Remember when Schumer was pushing a limp Kristen Gillibrand for Senator in 2009 after Gov. David Paterson appointed her to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when President Obama named Clinton Secretary of State? Remember how Bloomberg encouraged former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford to oppose Gillibrand? Ford showed interest, then folded. Gillibrand won the election, running away with it.

Then, there’s Schumer’s possible personal motive: flattering Kelly while keeping him out of New York politics so that he won’t oppose the mayoral bid of the Senator’s protégé, Congressman Anthony Weiner. Should Kelly still harbor mayoral aspirations, as many feel he does, he could prove tough for Weiner to beat in a Democratic primary.

And, as much as Bloomberg may want Kelly to remain in New York as police commissioner, don’t look for him to support Kelly for mayor.

Bloomberg, who regards Kelly as something akin to the hired help, offered him no public support for the 2009 race, even before Mayor Mike decided to run for a third term himself.

Among people in his administration, the knock on Kelly is that he is “too narrow” to focus on the larger issues that come with being mayor.

People in the know say Bloomberg may favor a rich business type like himself to repeat history. Others say he may again be eyeing Harold Ford.

Yet another reader writes of the transfer of Captain Haas from commanding officer of the Manhattan DA’s squad to Manhattan Borough Detectives.

“I agree with your info concerning the roles of a Captain in the Manhattan DA Office vs. that of a Detective Bureau Zone Captain, however...

“Capt Ronald Haas was transferred to be the C.O. of Manhattan South Detective Operations.

“As such, he is assuming a position normally assigned to a D.I. [Deputy Inspector]. He has three Zone Captains reporting to him; likely positioning for promotion to what the job calls for — D.I.”

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Copyright © 2011 Leonard Levitt