“The Police Department,” Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly told the federal 9/11 commission last week, “practically alone, is defending New York’s people, its corporate assets and its infrastructure from another terrorist attack.” The New York Times says that at a time when New York finds itself on the front lines in the worldwide battle with terror, Kelly is the city’s top general, a city official with unparalleled influence in the Bloomberg administration. Perhaps the most powerful police commissioner in a generation, he wields enormous clout in City Hall as he strives to oversee the city’s response to the terror threat.
Unlike nearly every other city commissioner, Kelly answers to no one but Bloomberg. He refuses to take even mundane requests from senior mayoral aides and is equally insistent on imparting information to the mayor directly. His advice to the mayor, unlike that of other commissioners, is almost always accepted without qualification.
Earlier this month, Kelly, in what some other officials have called an unvarnished power grab, secured police control in the event of various major disasters, edging out the Fire Department in responding to chemical, biological, or radiological incidents, long viewed as the Fire Department’s province because of its expertise. Kelly is seen as the architect of Bloomberg’s plan to dismantle many core functions of the Office of Emergency Management, which many experts believe should be the lead agency in catastrophic incidents involving public safety and health.
Kelly’s power and influence have grown in large measure from the post-9/11 age, which has forced the police to take on broad new antiterrorism responsibilities. He also has driven crime down to new lows with aggressive measures while largely maintaining his popularity among minority residents, a rare combination that eluded his predecessors. A Quinnipiac University poll in March gave Kelly a favorable rating from 61 percent of black respondents, numbers far higher than Bloomberg’s own.
The Times says Kelly has managed to incur the kind of wrath that every favored child attracts – from his colleagues in government, who view his elbows as too sharp; his subordinates, who complain of his imperiousness and closed inner circle; and the police union and many among the rank and file, who have raged when Kelly has been unwilling to defend officers and were particularly angry after he apologized to the family of a young black man killed by an officer earlier this year and said the shooting appeared unjustified. “He is a tough guy,” said one senior administration official who has been run over by the commissioner on more than one occasion. “None of us are going to take him on.”