One Police Plaza

Bill Bratton's Christmas Stroll: Ray Kelly on His Mind

December 28, 2015

On the night before Christmas, Bill Bratton took what may have been his last Christmas Eve stroll down Fifth Avenue.

Bratton had inaugurated The Stroll with his sidekick, the late, great Jack Maple in 1995 when Bratton served as police commissioner under Rudy Giuliani. Since then, every police commissioner followed. Even Ray Kelly took The Stroll. He stopped two years ago, increasingly irritated that people kept asking him what was up with Stop-and-Frisk and spying on Muslims.

For Bratton, the past two years had been his best and worst of times. He had kept the crime rate down while dealing with anti-police sentiment across the city and the country.

Then, there was Kelly, who was apparently unable to realize that after 12 years, he was no longer police commissioner. Last week, Kelly charged Bratton had falsified crime statistics. “I can tell you people don’t feel safer in this city,” Kelly said.

Bratton was still seething over Kelly’s remarks when he persuaded John Miller, the Deputy Commissioner for Counter-Terrorism, to accompany him on this year’s Christmas Eve Stroll. Bratton hadn’t sought out Miller because of terrorism concerns. Miller was relatively certain ISIS had no interest in Bratton but had probably been interested in Kelly. Miller didn’t tell this to Bratton. Why upset the boss?

Bratton told reporters he had asked Miller to join him because “John represents a link to my past.” Miller had been Bratton’s spokesman under Giuliani. He did his job so well that after the New Yorker magazine cited Bratton, not Giuliani, as the architect of the city’s crime reduction, Giuliani fired Miller. A year later, after Bratton, not Giuliani, appeared on the cover of Time magazine, Giuliani fired Bratton.

“Most of you are too young to remember that,” Bratton told reporters as he and Miller set out from the Plaza. “But it actually happened.” [See NYPD Confidential Feb. 10, 1995.]

Bratton and Miller had walked only a few blocks before they came upon a protest march. The protestors were marching between 56th and 57th street, outside the 68-story building at 721 Fifth Ave., known as Trump Tower. Protestors carried banners reading, “We support Muslims, Mexicans and African-Americans,” “Putin Go Home,” and “Trump is a loser.”

And there was Trump. He waving his arms, shouting, “I am not a loser. When I am elected president, I will bring back Ray Kelly. Ray Kelly is a winner. I’ll make him the head of the FBI and Homeland Security. Or maybe Secretary of State, I haven’t decided yet.”

Just then, Miller spotted Al Sharpton ducking into Trump Tower. Trump had always had a soft spot for Sharpton — maybe it was one loudmouth to another. Even after Tawana Brawley was exposed as a fraud and New York Newsday outed Sharpton as a federal informant, Trump announced that the Rev “wasn’t altogether a loser.”

With Sharpton was Garry McCarthy, who had been fired as police superintendent of Chicago following the release of a video, showing Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 bullets at Laquan McDonald. McCarthy had secretly come to New York to inform Mayor de Blasio he was available to succeed Bratton, who had announced his departure by the end of next year. McCarthy and his second wife, Kristin Barnette, who McCarthy had married last New Year’s Eve, traveled incognito because McCarthy’s first wife Gina threatened to tear Kristin’s eyes out if she ever set foot in New York City.

Sharpton later told reporters he had introduced McCarthy to Trump, who called him “a loser” for getting fired but still regarded him as “a winner.” Trump later announced that if he decided to appoint Kelly Secretary of State he’d consider McCarthy for the job of FBI and Homeland Security Director.

Sharpton said he’d also appealed to Trump to urge Kelly to run for mayor in 2017. Sharpton said he’d lost confidence in de Blasio, whose poll numbers kept going south. Sharpton described his approach to McCarthy, Trump and Kelly as “covering all my bases.”

Referring to Kelly, Sharpton said, “He’s all over the media. He wants back in. Did you see what he said about Bratton and the crime statistics? He can’t shut up.”

Bratton had had about enough of Kelly for one night. He whispered to Miller that to ensure Kelly’s defeat in 2017, he might have to delay his departure date to shore up de Blasio.

Bratton and  Miller continued their Stroll. On the corner of 44th Street, they saw two men arguing outside the Harvard Club. One was Kelly. He was shouting at Ellis Henican, the ghostwriter of Kelly’s book “Vigilance.” Kelly was berating Henican for the failure of “Vigilance” to make the best-seller list. “If I don’t make the best-seller list, people will think I’m a loser,” Kelly was shouting.

“I told you that ‘Stop-and-Frisk doesn’t play anymore, Ray,” Bratton and Miller overheard Henican say. “You had your chance to defend Stop-and-Frisk before Judge Scheindlin. Instead you pulled Chief of Department Joe Esposito out of retirement because you didn’t have the guts to testify yourself.”

Bratton and Miller looked at each other. No one had ever spoken to Kelly like that. Miller thought to himself: When I write my book, I’m going to hire Henican as my ghostwriter.

Bratton thought: Maybe I should hire Henican for DCPI.

Bratton was about to suggest this to Miller when a puff of cloud appeared in the darkened sky. Inside the cloud there appeared a round, smiling face. “Yup, it’s me,” said a voice that Bratton instantly recognized. Sure enough, it was the late, great Jack Maple. He was wearing a homburg and a yellow-checked bow-tie.  Miller thought he looked better than he ever had on earth.

 “Commissioner,” said Maple, “you have abandoned my quality of life program, known as COMPSTAT. Now you can’t get arrested for riding a bike on the sidewalk. Or drinking beer on your stoop. Or even for smoking a joint.”

“Think of it this way, Jack,” said Miller. “We haven’t abandoned it. We’ve modernized it.“

“I’m looking in your eyes, Johnny boy,” Maple answered. “This is me you’re talking to. The Jackster.”

Miller decided it might upset Maple if he told him that detectives on the mayor’s detail actually walked away whenever a certain someone smoked a joint after dinner on the back porch of Gracie Mansion.

Suddenly an idea came to Bratton. “Jack,” he said, “what would you think if I ran for mayor in 2017? Then I can make those police decisions.” Bratton thought to himself: I could hire Henican as my spokesman. I could head off Kelly.

But Maple’s cloud had begun to disperse. As Maple disappeared, he whispered two words. Bratton couldn’t make them out.

“John,” said Bratton, “did you hear what Jack said?”

“I did,” said Miller. He said, ‘How scrumptious.”


Copyright © 2015 Leonard Levitt