So why not President Ray Kelly at some point in America’s future!
After all, Kelly’s credentials would be more than a match for some former incumbents and it wouldn’t be the first time that a New York City police commander moved south to the White House.
Teddy Roosevelt blazed that trail a century ago and the roughrider’s portrait hangs today in Kelly’s Police Plaza office, a daily reminder of the power of American possibility.
But first things first!
Whatever about President Kelly being a bit of a stretch, it’s certainly not beyond the pale to imagine a Mayor Kelly.
Not as far as the New York Post is concerned. The paper recently rated Kelly a 10/1 chance as a future occupant of the Big Apple’s version of the White House, Gracie Mansion. In politics, that’s not bad odds.
Much has been written on Kelly as a possible mayor but the man himself has said little.
His eligibility would be based on a resume that starts with his birth on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
A Kelly candidacy would be kick started by raw numbers – not polling figures so much as crime statistics which have been in a steady fall during Kelly’s current, and second, though non-consecutive, stint as commissioner.
First and foremost among these would be the homicide levels. And in this area Kelly can point to undisputed success.
A couple of decades ago the annual homicide rates in New York looked like the bloody product of a small-scale war.
In 1990 the total reached an all-time high of 2,245. That was about one third the total deaths of three decades of the Northern Ireland troubles in a single year.
Two years after this statistical nadir, Ray Kelly was appointed to his first term as police commissioner by then mayor David Dinkins.
Though it would take some years to become evident in statistical terms, New York City was setting out on an entirely new crime fighting tack.
Now, sixteen years later, Ray Kelly leads a police department that had to deal with 494 homicides in 2007, the lowest twelve-month tally since 1963.
Kelly’s law has been the opposite of Murphy’s. Things have been veering away from going endlessly wrong, and towards going right.
But does a good police commissioner make for a good mayor?
One man who would have little problem with Kelly running City Hall is former firefighter Dennis Smith, author of books including “Report from Ground Zero.” “Ray Kelly is a person who has spent his whole life in emergencies; he knows this business as well as anybody. [He] came up through every rank of the police department and he worked hard for it and he was smart and went to school after school to better himself. These are the kinds of leaders that I want to be responsible for my safety,” Smith told the Echo in a 2005 interview.
Based on this assessment, the presidency might be out of Kelly’s reach but he would clearly have Smith’s vote in a mayoral run.
The media drum roll in this regard has been a steady one, encouraged to no small degree by Mayor Michael Bloomberg who has himself stated that Kelly, should he end up as New York’s 109th first citizen, would be a worthy successor.
“Commissioner’s Tough Act to Follow Is His Own,” was the headline on a front page New York Times profile in November 2005.
“Raymond W. Kelly built the Police Department’s counterterrorism program from scratch. He drove crime down further, against predictions and beyond national averages. He has improved relations with the city’s black and Latino populations. And, a decade after his first, abbreviated term as New York City Police Commissioner, he did it all with a shrinking number of officers,” the Times report stated.
It was little wonder that many were even then, the opening days of Mayor Bloomberg’s second term, looking at Kelly as Bloomberg’s successor.
“Makings of Mayor,” was a headline atop a Kelly-boosting Daily News story six months later.
“Commish is impressing more than just Bloomy as a City Hall run looms,” the News report proclaimed.
Far from time and circumstance wearing on Kelly’s record, the past couple of years have seen only improvement in Kelly’s critical numbers with the exception perhaps, of his age.
Kelly will be 67 on his next birthday, September 4 of this year. That would make him 68 when New York voters get to choose their next mayor in late 2009.
At the same time, Kelly, a former Marine, still boasts a physique that would make many men half his age envious, and he shows no signs of running short of energy.
Kelly, whose Irish roots are mainly in Roscommon, is not a publicity hound. He appears behind banks of microphones when it is required by his job, a recent example being when he briefed reporters on the death of actor Heath Ledger.
Beyond that Kelly spends most of his waking hours dealing with his sprawling department.
Many observers give Kelly top marks not just for his record as a police officer and crime fighter, but as an especially able administrator in an institution that, despite its top to bottom command structure, is an enormously complex organization with as many opinions and healthy egos in the ranks as caps and uniforms.
Cops, to say the least, are a tough crowd for the brass to please.
Kelly, having risen all the way up the ranks, is a cop’s cop in a job that, surprising though it may seem to some, has not always been occupied by a police officer.
The mayor’s job hasn’t as a rule been filled by former police commissioners but a good many incumbents have, like Kelly, served in the U.S. military. In Kelly’s case it was a combat tour with the Marines in Vietnam.
In between tours as NYPD boss, Kelly served both in the public and private sectors. He was head of the U.S. Customs Service during the Clinton administration and senior managing director for global securities with Bear Stearns from 2000 to 2001.
Kelly, who has even more college degrees than stars on his dress uniform, is a registered independent and those who speculate on a mayoral run are uncertain as to what route he might take. As was the case with Michael Bloomberg, a path through the Republican Party ranks could prove a little less obstructed than one through the city’s Democrats within whose ranks there are several high profile figures lining up for a mayoral run.
“I have no idea whether Ray wants to run. You have to want to do it,” says David Dinkins, the man who first gave Kelly New York’s top police job.
“Ray is a very gifted public servant. He’s a Marine and that has to count. I think he would be equal to any task he undertakes,” the former mayor told the Echo.
Mayor Dinkins is not alone in not being able to precisely pinpoint Ray Kelly’s mayoral ambition, or lack of it.
At a lunch gathering of the “Kelly Gang” charitable group in Manhattan a few days ago, the various Kellys on hand attempted to tease out of the man his possible political plans.
Kelly, who could eyeball the Sphinx and give just as little away, would not be drawn.
“He just smiled,” said New York Post media columnist Keith Kelly.