Next Mayor

Ray Kelly Has to Run for New York City Mayor. How Could He Not?

The New York City police commissioner says he has no plans for a mayoral bid. But how could he stay out, when the other candidates to succeed Bloomberg might put the safety of his beloved city at risk?

06.04.13 8:45 AM ET

If you do not think Police Commissioner Ray Kelly will feel compelled to run for New York City mayor, go back to January 2012.

That was when Kelly stood in an emergency room and watched a doctor use forceps to remove a bullet that had been fired from five inches away into the head of 28-year-old Police Officer Kevin Brennan.

“My daughter turns 6 weeks old tomorrow, I don’t want to die,” Brennan had kept saying after he was shot.

For Brennan to have somehow survived to return home to his wife and baby daughter seemed all the more miraculous because another NYPD cop, Peter Figoski, had been shot in the face and killed seven weeks before. Brennan suffered some damage to his spinal cord and to his vision, and he easily could have just put in for a disability pension. He instead underwent a grueling physical-therapy regimen, three hours at a time, four days a week, with the aim of staying on the job.

Brennan was still undergoing therapy but was back to duty late last month, when he returned to where he had been shot. He did so at the request of prosecutors who are preparing the case against the young man accused of attempting to kill him.

A fellow cop happened to spot two young men who were being sought in connection with a robbery. Brennan did not hesitate for an instant to join his comrade in grabbing them. Brennan had one of them up against a fence when he felt something all too familiar in the man’s waistband. Brennan applied a wrestling hold as he recovered a loaded 9-mm pistol.

“It was like old times again,” Brennan was quoted as saying afterward.

On learning of the arrest, Kelly could have only have marveled anew at the courage of the cops who continue to make New York the safest big city in America, despite an unending influx of illegal guns. And he had still more reason to feel that these cops and the city they protect deserve to have a mayor who will back them.

Even with the NYPD doing all a police department possibly can, there has been a spate of recent shootings. A 14-year-old Queens girl was killed by a stray round while riding a city bus. An 11-year-old Brooklyn girl was shot and paralyzed outside her home. A 15-year-old Bronx girl was wounded while pushing a baby in a stroller to safety. She was one of 25 people shot in less than 48 hours.

But such eruptions of violence are no longer the norm, and along with the shooting reports that cross Kelly’s desk are numerous accounts of cops preventing violence by making a gun collar or a timely arrest. Nobody needs to tell him how much worse things might be and how quickly we could return to the bad old days if a new mayor were to hobble the NYPD’s proven crime-fighting strategies.

So the question is not so much whether Kelly will run for mayor, but how could he possibly not run?

A poll last month commissioned by a still-unnamed person or organization concluded, “simply put, it’s Ray’s if he wants it.” But beyond the numbers—41 percent to 38 percent among all voters in a general election against the current frontrunner, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn—the memo accompanying the poll results contains a line that goes to what seems likely to compel Kelly to run.

The memo, by Kellyanne Conway of the Republican-connected polling company inc/WomanTrend, suggests that Kelly’s candidacy would “offer voters an opportunity to validate and continue the legacy of the NYPD over the past 10+ years.”

In Kelly’s view, the NYPD’s aggressive stop-and-frisk policies are vital to reducing the number of guns on the street and therefore the number of shootings. Quinn started out seeking to align herself with the incumbent Mayor Bloomberg, but she has since come to see such a strategy as a political liability, and she apparently was seeking to distance herself from him when she made the questionable claim that she had been in the forefront to temper stop and frisk. She has voiced energetic support for outside oversight of the NYPD.

Kelly made his feelings on the subject known during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a newly refurbished police stationhouse in Central Park. Keep in mind that for him, safety means fewer innocents in direst danger.

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“I think putting in another layer of so-called supervision or monitoring can ultimately make this city less safe,” Kelly said.

Quinn’s opposing position may get some support should Manhattan Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin rule against the city in the present lawsuit concerning the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policies. But Kelly almost certainly will remain unwavering in his view, no matter which way the judge goes.

Among the other top contenders for mayor, William Thompson has been only mildly supportive of stop and frisk, suggesting an internal inspector general to monitor the tactic. Anthony Weiner—who should be renamed Anthony Weenie after he announced his candidacy via video rather than risk facing live hecklers about his sexting scandal—also has voiced moderate support for stop and frisk but suggested that the present low ratio between searches and gun recoveries means “you’re not a good cop … you’re just not doing a good job.”

None of these candidates seem likely to make Kelly feel that the department and therefore the city would be passing into good hands. He has known the importance of leadership since he served as a combat infantry officer in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. And he demonstrated how much he takes being a cop to heart back when he graduated first in his class at the police academy and could have gone virtually anywhere he wanted. He chose the 20th Precinct on the Upper West Side, where his parents raised him.

Kelly is usually so disinclined toward politics that his voter registration shows no party affiliation. He is, at 71, older than might seem optimal to make a first run for office.

But the age that would have most meaning for Kelly is that of the youngsters who could very well be at greater risk if one of the present contenders becomes the next mayor. There is also Maeve Brennan, who was 6 weeks old when her police officer father was shot.

Kelly has said he has no plans to run for mayor. Should he not run, it will likely be because he found himself constitutionally unable to become a politician, even a nonpartisan one.

If he does run, and he seems more likely than not to enter the race, it will be because he is so much a cop.

What else would a true cop do but jump in if he believes others are at risk?