Wednesday, July 27th 2011, 8:19 AM
The front-runner in the fight to become New York's next mayor isn't even in the race.
A new poll from Quinnipiac University found that city voters put Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly ahead of other possible contenders in the 2013 campaign, although he has consistently said he isn't running, hasn't hired campaign staff and hasn't raise a dime.
Nearly a quarter of voters - 23% - said he would be their pick, including 17% of Democrats.
"Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has never given the faintest hint that he'd like to move from Police Headquarters across the street to City Hall, but New York seems to like the idea of Kelly for mayor," said Quinnipiac poll director Maurice Carroll.
If Kelly doesn't run, voters give City Council Speaker Christine Quinn an early lead, with support from 23% of voters, followed by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz with 15%, City Controller John Liu with 13%, former city controller Bill Thompson with 10%, Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio with 8% and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer with 6%.
LUPICA: WHY RAY KELLY SHOULD BE MAYOR
The poll also found that Mayor Bloomberg has improved his image with New Yorkers after a difficult stretch over the winter.
His approval rating jumped by 5 points since Quinnipiac's last poll in May with the number of voters giving him a thumbs-up now exceeding those with a negative view of him.
Of the 1,234 voters surveyed by Quinnipiac between July 19 and 25, 45% now say Bloomberg's doing a good job while 43% say he's not.
That's better than in May when 40% said he was doing a good job and 49% said he wasn't.
The mayor took a beating over the CityTime payroll scandal, unpopular short-lived schools chancellor Cathie Black and the city's disastrous response to the December blizzard.
The jury is still out on Bloomberg's new schools chancellor, Dennis Walcott. A full 39% of voters had no opinion on him, although most of those who expressed an opinion saw him in a positive light, with 37% of voters saying he's doing a good job.
New Yorkers are still backing President Obama with 67% supporting him, but that's down from 73% in May and a high of 79% in June of 2009.