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No Disclosure on Soros

October 24, 2011

No wonder Police Commissioner Ray Kelly refuses to release his public schedule. He might have to answer questions about why wealthy and powerful people are meeting with him.

Just last week, for example, one of the world’s richest men had a secret confab with Kelly at One Police Plaza: George Soros.

Escorted by a retired NYPD cop, driving a wine-colored Mercedes, the left-leaning billionaire was whisked in and out of police headquarters with no one being the wiser.

A Soros official confirmed to NYPD Confidential that this meeting took place. Typically, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne did not respond to an email asking about it.

Soros appeared at Police Plaza amid news reports in rightwing media that his Open Society Institute, which promotes democratic governance, human rights and social reform, has been funding the Occupy Wall Street movement — something Soros’s spokesman has denied.

Perhaps Soros felt he had to personally assure Kelly that he’s not the money-man behind the protestors, who have been bedeviling the police department and Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg for the past month.

Or perhaps Soros came to tell Kelly that he would match JPMorgan Chase’s record $4.6-million contribution to the Police Foundation, the non-profit organization that Kelly now runs.

Or maybe, just maybe, Soros came to say that he would contribute to a Kelly mayoral run in 2013. Kelly had considered such a run in 2009, then dropped his bid when Bloomberg pulled the rug out from under him and sought a third term.

Each of these scenarios holds great public interest. This is especially true of Occupy Wall Street, which has sparked a nationwide movement.

However, no reporters were able to question Soros. And that’s the point.

Supported by the mayor, this police commissioner doesn’t believe in alerting the media or the public to his actions or his visitors, even though he is a public official, his salary paid by the taxpayer.

Rather, the police commissioner believes he has a right to greater secrecy than the president of the United States or the Governor of New York State, since both President Obama and Governor Cuomo release their public schedules. Kelly does not.

Now his refusal will be challenged in court, thanks to a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of this reporter, who earlier this year sought Kelly’s schedule back to 2002.

The NYPD stalled the request, saying that “disclosure could endanger the life or safety of the Police Commissioner and/or the people with whom he had scheduled appointments. …

“A person intent on doing harm would benefit from knowing where the Police Commissioner is scheduled to be at a given time,” wrote Records Access Appeals Officer Jonathan David on June 21 to Christopher Dunn, the New York Civil Liberties Union Associate Legal Director.

“Also knowledge of the times and locations of appointments and other activities could be used to assess at which times and places the Police Commissioner might be more vulnerable,” David wrote. “Past schedules could be studied to find patterns of appointments that could be used to predict the Police Commissioner’s future whereabouts.”

Such disclosure, David added, “could endanger individuals … because they could be targeted for retaliation based on their association with the Police Commissioner. Moreover, the risk of harm could extend to entities associated with these individuals, based on imputed association with the Police Commissioner. Therefore, the disclosure of the individuals’ identities could also subject their associates and affiliated organizations to a risk of harm.”

The above, of course, is fantasy, apparently conjured up in the mind of Ray Kelly, who now exists in a parallel universe of his own reality.

Over the past ten years, Kelly’s ego has swelled to the size of a giant watermelon. He has come to believe that he, and he alone, stands between the city and another terrorist attack and that rules applying to others do not apply to him.

“There is no good reason for Commissioner Kelly to withhold this information from the public,” said the New York Civil Liberties Union Director Donna Lieberman. “If it’s safe for the leader of the country to disclose his schedule, then it’s safe for the NYPD commissioner to do the same.”

But not all New Yorkers agree. An opposing view came from Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at NYU.

“The police commissioner of New York City occupies a special, appointed position,” Moss told the New York Times. “He’s our secretary of defense, head of the C.I.A. and, I would say, chief architect rolled into one.”

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Moss added that Kelly deserves “broad latitude” on disclosure in the post-terrorist era, and compared him to the Fox TV crime-fighter who breaks laws in the name of national security. “He’s as close as we come to Jack Bauer,” Moss said of Kelly.

It’s this kind of hero-worship of our police commissioner that has turned Kelly’s head —and altered his personality.

In 1992, when he served briefly as police commissioner for 14 months under former mayor David Dinkins, Kelly seemed something of an ascetic who worked round the clock 24/7. On Sundays, he traveled to black churches to recruit minority officers. In February 1993, he became the face of the city during the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

But, returning as commissioner in 2002, he sought revenge on all those who had opposed him, starting with Dinkins’ successor, Rudy Giuliani, who dismissed Kelly in 1994 and replaced him with Bill Bratton.

When Bratton, later the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, came through town, Kelly refused to take his calls. When in 2006, the Manhattan Institute — of which Professor Moss is a “Senior Fellow” — co-sponsored a terrorism conference with the NYPD, Kelly pulled out at the last minute when he discovered that Bratton would play a key role. Instead, Kelly held his own terrorism conference the same day at Police Plaza.

Although the NYPD culture demands loyalty to the police commissioner, whoever he may be, Kelly also never forgave top police officials who were promoted under Bratton and Giuliani.

Now in his tenth year under Bloomberg, Kelly may soon become the city’s longest serving police commissioner. According to the police historian Tom Reppetto, he is “the most powerful police commissioner in the city’s history.”

He now generates the same respect — and fear — across the city as did J. Edgar Hoover at the height of his sometime lawless FBI reign.

Kelly’s refusal to disclose his public schedule reflects the lack of transparency within the police department, despite Bloomberg’s election promises to the contrary. No one in the city — least of all the mayor — knows what the department is doing.

For example, until recent disclosures by the Associated Press and NYPD Confidential, the city was kept in the dark about the NYPD’s pervasive and, possibly illegal, spying on the city’s Muslim communities.

And Kelly’s sway goes beyond the police department. Two years ago, he forced out the longtime executive director of the supposedly independent Police Foundation. The alleged reason: her salary exceeded his.

He has now installed his own stooges, who continue to employ a $96,000-a-year consultant whose primary job was to introduce Kelly to the city’s rich and famous — people who could become his future political contributors.

Last year, Kelly was forced to amend his city financial disclosure forms [and possibly his income tax returns] after this column reported that the Police Foundation had spent $30,000 between 2006 and 2009 for him and his guests at the Harvard Club.

He spent more than half that amount — $15,148 — in 2008, the year he considered running for mayor. He has claimed that all his Harvard Club expenses concerned police business, but he has refused to reveal, even to the foundation, the names of those he entertained, citing “privacy” concerns.

Last month, Kelly announced on 60 Minutes that the NYPD had the capacity to bring down a terrorist aircraft. He then expressed bewilderment at a subsequent City Council hearing that his remarks had created a firestorm of criticism.

There is precedent, even common sense, in demanding accountability from the police commissioner, even in the post-terrorism era.

Kelly’s predecessor, Bernie Kerik, regarded by many as a “hero” of 9/11, was also given broad latitude over his lack of public disclosures.

He secretly sent detectives out of state to research his autobiography. He accepted free gym equipment for his office and free renovations for his Bronx apartment, and lived rent-free in an apartment in Manhattan that was owned by a real estate magnate.

Kerik is now serving four years in federal prison on corruption charges — while still blogging about fighting terrorism.

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Copyright © 2011 Leonard Levitt