Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Popularity — Could That Make Him Mr. Mayor?


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Police Commissioner Ray Kelly — fresh off his star turn in the wake of Times Square plot — gets cover treatment in New York magazine this week. The profile is full of interesting tidbits about Kelly: his West Side Story-tinged youth with a brawling crew, his penchant for iPads and other gadgets, his (possibly apocryphal) brush with rejection from the NYPD over his height, his preferred tailor in Williamsburg.

But as he navigates the threats of large-scale terrorism and a small-scale uptick in crime, the profile also re-introduces another dimension of the police commissioner that’s been off the radar since 2009: Ray Kelly as possible political candidate.

“If he were a politician, a role he’s sometimes flirted with, Kelly would be the most popular one in the city. Earlier this year, he received a 70 percent approval rating, matching his highest ever (and nine points higher than Bloomberg’s).

If he did decide to run for mayor — with or without Bloomberg’s endorsement — it’s clear that Kelly would vault to the front of the pack. His playbook might echo that of his current boss: a registered independent, Kelly could probably easily maneuver for the Republican nomination.

How close did Kelly come to seeking City Hall in 2009? After the jump, the New York magazine profile looks at the evidence.

Kelly’s disciplined work ethic, his command of the NYPD, the steady downtick of crime, and his name recognition made him a momentary favorite in the 2009 mayor’s race—that is, before his boss, Bloomberg, decided to go for a third term. While Kelly denied it, even saying that he “had no desire” to run for public office, sources say he did entertain the idea, even meeting privately with Republican strategist Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign. While Browne claims Kelly and Reed merely bumped into each other at an event, a source close to Reed says the two met at the behest of a mutual friend “to see what [a campaign] might look like.”

Reed and Kelly spoke in the midtown office of one of Reed’s clients for roughly 40 minutes, the source says. One topic was how Kelly, as a registered independent, would navigate the party system in New York. A more critical one was Kelly’s relationship with Bloomberg. Reed asked Kelly if he would be running with Bloomberg’s endorsement. “I don’t know,” Kelly said, according to the source. (Browne says the meeting with Reed never happened, and insists Kelly has never had mayoral aspirations.)

Kelly’s friend Guy Molinari says he spoke with Kelly on at least two occasions over the years to urge him to consider a run for mayor. “It’s not like he was telling me, ‘Guy, look, I’m not interested, stop pushing me,’ ” Molinari says. “He listened.”

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