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Mayor Grasso? Or Waiting for Ray Kelly

April 18, 2011

So now we have the ex-stock-exchange's $140 million man, Richard Grasso, vowing to run for mayor if his old nemesis, Eliot Spitzer, decides to run -- and promising not to run if Ray Kelly does.

Grasso may be the first millionaire candidate with no governmental experience to publicly ponder running for mayor when Michael Bloomberg's term ends in 2013. He surely won't be the last.

He joins some undistinguished and, as yet, undeclared candidates that include City Council Speaker Christine Quinn; City Comptroller John Liu, Congressman Anthony Weiner; Liu's predecessor as Comptroller William Thompson and others even more undistinguished and unworthy of mention here.

But it was Grasso's remarks about Police Commissioner Kelly that bear repeating. He called Kelly "the man who really should be the mayor."

And compared to the above contenders, Grasso may be right.

Granted, Grasso is an NYPD buff. In 2000, this column awarded him its Boob of the Month award when in the midst of the trial of four officers charged with firing 44 shots that killed the unarmed African Amadou Diallo, Grasso pronounced the NYPD β€œthe greatest police force in the history of civilization.”

Grasso was also a heavy contributor to the non-profit, formerly independent Police Foundation, which Kelly has turned into his own professional slush fund. The foundation paid at least $30,000 between 2006 and 2009 for Kelly's meals and other expenses at the Harvard Club, where he hobnobs with people whom he refuses to identify. Since 2006, it has paid nearly $400, 000 to a marketing consultant who became Kelly's personal public relations man when Kelly considered running for mayor in 2009.

Yet compared to candidates Quinn, Liu, Weiner and Thompson, Grasso has a point about Kelly's qualifications. None of the above comes close to his experience -- or his successes.

Congressman Weiner is a hothead. Speaker Quinn is nothing more, or less, than a lunch-bucket pol. When Comptroller Liu assumed office, one of his more charming peculiarities was his insistence that subordinates rise when he entered a room.

As for Thompson, perhaps his most defining moment, after a lackluster spin as Comptroller, was coming within five percentage points of defeating Michael Bloomberg during the 2009 mayoral race. Thompson's near-win, however, had less to do with his abilities than with voter anger at Mayor Mike for violating his pledge to serve only two terms, then buying off enough City Council members to sanction his run for a third.

Contrast these nonentities with Kelly. In his ten years as police commissioner under Bloomberg, he has been a beacon of constancy, while Bloomberg's reputation has headed south and he increasingly sounded and acted like the snarky rich guy that he is.

For all his micromanaging and egocentric flaws, Kelly appears to the public as someone disciplined and down to earth. He has never spoken or acted in public like anything but a guy in total control.

That perception has helped him weather one crisis after another, including three fatal police shootings of unarmed black men.

While promising reforms in police procedure after each shooting, Kelly has produced none – at least none that he has shared with the public.

Kelly appears to be on top of a bourgeoning ticket-fixing scandal, said to involve no fewer than 400 cops and a cluster of PBA delegates. He also appears to have weathered a crisis involving the doctoring of crime statistics that many feel is widespread throughout the city. After whistleblower cop Adrian Schoolcraft of the 81st precinct in Brooklyn reported the downgrading of crimes, a police posse took him from his apartment and had him incarcerated in the psychiatric ward of Jamaica Hospital for six days.

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Although Kelly and Bloomberg have yet to offer an explanation for Schoolcraft's forced incarceration, Kelly thought enough of his evidence that he transferred the precinct's top officers.

Finally, through his aggressive actions against terrorism, Kelly can also claim credit – along with George Bush, President Obama, Janet Napolitano, and God knows how many other politicians and law enforcement officials -- for having kept New York City safe from another terrorist attack.

So what might a Kelly mayoralty look like? If running the police department is an indication, don't look for much innovation, except in the area of counter-terrorism. That means increased scrutiny of citizens and less scrutiny of the department.

In that regard, he himself can often be the source of terror for anybody in the city who Kelly feels has crossed him, or ever looked at him cross-eyed.

His approach both to government and to people resembles that of his old nemesis, Rudy Giuliani, who fired Kelly as police commissioner when he became mayor in 1994. Kelly has never forgiven him. He has also become Giuliani's mirror image.

Yet there are differences. Whereas Giuliani seemed interested solely with exercising power and retaliating against his foes, Kelly appreciates the importance of media, image and goodwill.

Contrast his approach to the media with that of Giuliani. Unlike the former mayor, who used only amateurs to conduct his public relations, Kelly's spokesman Paul Browne is expert at media manipulation.

Browne's approach is simple. He provides access to Kelly to people who write or speak approvingly of him. He denies access to those who don't.

Meanwhile, Kelly charms those who lob softballs about his policies or personality. Those who try to throw fast balls had better beware.

Kelly's methods have apparently been paying.

Contrast what occurred after police shot and killed Diallo in 1999 when Giuliani was mayor with what happened after police shot another unarmed black man, Sean Bell, when Kelly was police commissioner.

Giuliani had such little standing among black New Yorkers that after Diallo was shot, his police commissioner, Howard Safir, searched the city, unsuccessfully, for a black New Yorker who would agree to meet with him. Meanwhile, Al Sharpton led daily protests outside Police Plaza that continued for a month.

After Sean Bell died in a hail of 50 police bullets as he left an after-hours joint in 2006, Kelly called for an investigation by the Rand Corporation. It proposed a future solution: the increased use of taser stun guns.

Despite such nonsense, Kelly has maintained great popularity across the city. That includes black New Yorkers.

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Copyright © 2011 Leonard Levitt