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Bratton Versus Kelly: The Real Deal

August 10, 2009

It’s proving to be quite a homecoming for Bill Bratton.

Not only did he receive national headlines over retiring as chief of the Los Angeles police department and returning to New York to head a private security firm, but he is to be honored next month as the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association’s Man of the Year — even though he has been out of the NYPD since 1996.

The PBA line is that, as police commissioner, Bratton pushed for raises for the cops. “I’m glad they remember something I did 15 years ago,” Bratton said recently.

Needless to say, honoring Bratton is a slap at Ray Kelly, the NYPD’s commissioner since 2002 and the recipient two years later of a no-confidence union vote.

Perhaps his PBA award has emboldened Bratton, no shrinking violet, to announce last week to the Daily News that he was seeking Kelly’s job.

And, unless the News was piping it [it quoted “a source familiar with Mayor Bloomberg’s thinking,” saying that Bratton was on Mayor Mike’s “short list”] it sounded as though this could actually happen.

OK, so what’s going on? Why is Bratton breaking law enforcement’s first commandment, which holds that thou shall not publicly covet another police commissioner’s domain?

In part, Bratton’s preening reflects his love of New York City, where he made his reputation and left his heart. In part it reflects his sunny, almost carefree, disposition, his joie de vivre and his refusal, as he likes to put it, “to never close any doors.”

Then, too, there are the simmering tensions between him and Kelly, which have created modern America’s longest undeclared law enforcement feud.

Both men are titans. In his two years as New York City’s police commissioner between 1994 and 1996, Bratton took a demoralized department and revolutionized its crime-fighting and its culture. Under him and his sidekick Jack Maple, the department developed COMPSTAT, the internationally acclaimed computerized crime mapping system that has become synonymous with the NYPD’s new-found accountability. In Los Angeles between 2002 and 2009, Bratton modernized the LAPD to the satisfaction of the Justice Department, which ended eight years of federal monitoring over alleged abuses.

Kelly, meanwhile, is the only person in city history to serve twice as the NYPD’s commissioner. Under Mayor David Dinkins, he stabilized a department whose morale and effectiveness had collapsed under his predecessor, Lee Brown. Since returning in 2002, he has made the NYPD the country’s best-prepared anti-terrorism force.

Their accomplishments notwithstanding, the two men are polar opposites. Bratton lives by the credo, “Life is good.” A Boston native, he has held a half dozen different police jobs. The seven years he served in Los Angeles is the longest he has stayed in a high-level position. He has moved around so much that when he left Boston for New York, he did not qualify for either a Boston or Massachusetts police pension. He had to have special legislation passed to obtain it.

As a commissioner, he operates collegially. A number of his top chiefs have gone on to head other large urban departments — most notably John Timoney in Philadelphia and in Miami, profiled by Esquire magazine in 2000 as “America’s Best Cop.”

Bratton also does not appear to hold grudges. After he applied for the LAPD job in 2001, Timoney applied on a lark at the last minute, nearly short-circuiting Bratton. Bratton shrugged off the challenge. The two men remain close, at least on the surface.

To Kelly, on the other hand, life is all business, and bitterness — especially since returning as commissioner in 2002.

Whereas Bratton flitted from job to job, Kelly was a lifer. He served 31 years with the NYPD, rising from cadet to commissioner, only to be fired 14 months later by the newly elected Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who hired Bratton to replace him.

In contrast to Bratton, Kelly rules unilaterally, distrusts his top subordinates and has diluted their authority.

Those he empowers are often second-raters, most notably Charles De Rienzo, whom Kelly successfully pushed to head the Port Authority police, then, after he was forced out, accepted him back as a deputy commissioner.

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In fact, not one of Kelly’s closest aides wears the NYPD uniform. Rather, they are civilians, most notably Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne, who has followed Kelly about for 15 years, and Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence David Cohen, a former CIA agent of questionable sanity, whom Kelly appointed in 2002 to establish an NYPD anti-terrorism force that some refer to as a mini-CIA.

In addition, Kelly has never forgotten a slight, whether real or imagined. Although every mayor seeks to appoint his own commissioner, Kelly never forgave Giuliani for dismissing him. In what a psychiatrist might term “displaced anger,” he never forgave Bratton for succeeding him.

A decade later, as police chief of Los Angeles, Bratton visited New York but Kelly refused to take his phone calls. When in 2006, the Manhattan Institute and the NYPD co-sponsored an anti-terrorism conference to commemorate the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Kelly withdrew at the last minute, after learning that Bratton would attend. Kelly then held a rival anti-terrorism conference at Police Plaza the same day.

Their rivalry continues today. During the past year, Bratton has made repeated trips to the city, expressing his desire to again head the NYPD.

Last summer, he appeared at a Citizens Crime Commission forum where he called New York “home” and said he’d “be crazy not to” want to run the NYPD again, even if that meant taking a substantial pay cut from his $300,000-plus LAPD salary.

Last fall, Bratton spoke at John Jay College, and, in an obvious jab at Kelly, stressed the importance of “inclusion” and “transparency,” neither of which exists under Kelly.

Last week, two days before he announced his resignation in L.A., he was back in New York again, appearing with Richard Aborn, who is running for District Attorney.

A week after his PBA award, Bratton is to receive the honorary title of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, which is a step below knighthood. In an inadvertent slap at Kelly, who has burnished his anti-terrorism credentials, Bratton is to receive the award at the British Consulate in Washington on September 11.

Despite these successes, Bratton has proved better at running police departments than in cozying up to successful political candidates, at least in New York City.

In 1997 he considered running for mayor against Giuliani, who had dismissed him the year before, but quickly abandoned that idea. In 2001 he endorsed Mark Green, then the mayoral front-runner. Green, in turn, announced he would reappoint Bratton police commissioner, making him the first person in New York City history to serve in that position twice.

Kelly, meanwhile, supported Bloomberg. After some political posturing — in the wake of 9/11 Bloomberg said he wanted Bernard Kerik to remain as his police commissioner — he reappointed Kelly, making him the first person in New York to serve in that position twice.

Shortly afterwards Bratton headed west to Los Angeles.

Last year, believing that Bloomberg would abide by the two-term limits law, Bratton met with at least one mayoral candidate. Kelly, too, appeared to be planning a run.

Then Bloomberg spread enough money around to overturn the two-term limits law and decided to run himself. Should he win re-election, will he keep Kelly, who will be 68 and who, 15 years before, underwent quadruple bypass surgery?

Or, unlikely as it may seem, will Bloomberg turn to his “short list?”

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