One Police Plaza

Kelly Versus Giuliani: The Perils of 9/11 Criticism

August 14, 2006

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly learned a harsh lesson last week, one that may haunt opponents of Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 race for president.

The lesson is this: anyone who criticizes our former mayor over 9/11 does so at his peril.

Kelly apparently felt he’d discovered a kindred anti-Giuliani spirit in investigative reporter par excellence Wayne Barrett, whose book with Dan Collins, "Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11," made the front page of last Thursday’s Daily News.

In a previous book, “Rudy! An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani,” Barrett wrote that Rudy’s father was a mob-connected leg-breaker who did jail time for armed robbery. Giuliani has never publicly responded to that allegation, although if he becomes a formal presidential candidate he will have to.

Last Thursday’s Daily News story on “Grand Illusion” by David Saltonstall began like this:

“Rudy Giuliani’s image as America’s Mayor is harshly questioned in a new book that takes to task the city’s preparedness on 9/11 — with some of the most pointed criticism coming from current Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.”

Specifically, Kelly told Barrett that when Giuliani interviewed him in late 1993 for the police commissioner’s job, Giuliani never mentioned terrorism as a potential threat to the city.

“There was no discussion about terrorism or February 26,” a reference to the first attack on the World Trade Center, Kelly is quoted as saying.

Kelly is also quoted in “Grand Illusion” as questioning the leadership of his predecessor, Bernard Kerik, during 9/11. “I don’t know who was directing,” says Kelly. “I literally don’t.”

The reaction to these criticisms was swift and for Kelly, devastating.

First, his patron, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who over the past six years has allowed Kelly to become the most powerful police commissioner in the city’s history, disassociated himself from Kelly’s remarks.

“Whatever Kelly said, those are his views,” Bloomberg told the Daily News the following day.

Kelly also took a lick from Kerik, a man he has publicly disparaged.

Responding to Kelly’s remark that he didn’t know who directed the department’s 9/11 response, Kerik — who remained at Giuliani’s side that day — told the News: “Perhaps he [Kelly] can talk to his chief of department, who was my Chief of Department on that day. I am sure Joe [Chief of Department Joe Esposito] will clarify things for him.”

Poor Kelly was forced to eat his words. “He has a point,” Kelly said to the News of Kerik.

People who know Kelly say his resentment of Giuliani stems from that 1993 meeting — and Giuliani’s subsequent decision to select Bill Bratton to replace Kelly as police commissioner.

Since returning as police commissioner in 2002, a low-level, below-the-radar war has gone on between him and Giuliani.

When Bloomberg discontinued Giuliani’s detective detail in 2003, Kelly transferred the detectives to assignments as far from their homes as possible. Only Giuliani’s intervention with Bloomberg caused Kelly to back off and reassign them closer to home.

Then, there was the Kelly-commissioned McKinsey report that criticized the department’s response to 9/11. Again, Giuliani interceded with Bloomberg. Nothing has been heard about the report since.

Now let’s return to that fateful meeting between Kelly and Giuliani in late 1993 following Giuliani’s election as mayor.

Kelly had sought the meeting in a last-ditch attempt to save his job, which he had held for the past 16 months under David Dinkins.

Giuliani, like all mayors, wanted to appoint his own police commissioner, and resisted meeting with Kelly, agreeing only through the intercession of former Staten Island borough president Guy Molinari, who was close to both men.

Held in a suite of rooms at the Tudor Hotel, the meeting was so secret it was never reported in the media. The suite was paid for, says to a person familiar with the arrangements, by a member of Kelly’s staff who put it on his own credit card.

According to that person, Kelly is correct that Giuliani never mentioned terrorism. But neither did Kelly, who was police commissioner during the first attack on the Trade Center on Feb. 26, 1993 and who after the attack stood shoulder to shoulder on national television with the head of the FBI’s New York office, James Fox.

Instead, according to “Grand Illusion,” Kelly says that the only subjects Giuliani raised were the future merger of the Transit and Housing Police with the NYPD, and what Kelly referred to as “street crime.” The latter was a reference to the fact that during the Dinkins’ years crime seemed to have spiraled out of control, with homicides topping 2000 annually.

And what was Kelly’s response when Giuliani asked him about street crime? According to the person familiar with the meeting, Kelly answered that the key to reducing street crime was “community policing,” the vague and now discredited policy of the Dinkins years that Bratton and his aides later referred to disparagingly as “social work.”

As far as Giuliani was concerned, that response ended the meeting. In the middle of Kelly’s explanation, Giuliani stood up, thanked Kelly and cut the meeting short. Shortly afterwards, he appointed Bratton police commissioner.

A CORRECTION. This column erroneously reported last week that former police commissioner Kerik had solicited support for Attorney General candidate Jeanine Pirro from convicted mobster Anthony Scotto.

In e-mails to this reporter, Kerik and his attorney, Joseph Tacopina, say that the Anthony Scotto whose support Kerik had solicited is Scotto’s son, Anthony Scotto Jr., a New York restaurateur who, says Tacopina, “is well-respected and has never been arrested.”