Some of the most contentious numbers are those generated by stop-and-frisk. The tactic’s worthy goal is to take illegal guns off the street, but the side effect is the harassment of thousands of innocent citizens, the majority of them black. “I like the guy, and he’s been very responsive and open with things I’ve asked for, particularly on crime issues,” says Brooklyn City Councilman Jumaane Williams. “We needed some overtime, some extra hours for police officers, and we got that. We were having an anti-violence march, and we got the permits.”
But Williams, who was one of two black public officials who were hassled and handcuffed by cops on Labor Day, during the West Indian Day Parade, is stumped trying to explain the gap between Kelly’s personal warmth and the harshness of his strategies. “The mayor and the commissioner are much better than their predecessors in public relations. But what they’re doing to the black and Latino communities is even worse. I don’t think either of them are evil people, but there’s no one dealing with a culture that allows officers to treat one segment of the city different than the others.”
Inside One Police Plaza, Kelly’s circle seems to shrink even as it expands: He has 26 deputy commissioners and chiefs but controls decisions large and small. “Ray runs the department in the complete opposite way Mike Bloomberg runs City Hallhe is a micromanager,” a government insider says. One consequence of Kelly’s unwillingness to delegate is that subordinates are reluctant to bring him bad news. Lately, he reads too much of it in the paper.
After ten years they are friendly but not friends. Mike Bloomberg and Ray Kelly have shared tough moments, consoling families of cops killed in the line of duty, and happier ones, out to dinner along with the mayor’s girlfriend and the commissioner’s wife. Still, they are not close, though the dynamic is a significant improvement over recent history. “Every relationship I’ve known between a police commissioner and a mayor has either been competitive, tense, or sick, like Giuliani and Kerik,” a business leader says. “These two are comfortable with one another.”
When he arrived in City Hall Bloomberg’s main passions were for education, economic development, and health initiatives. So while the mayor needed the city to remain safe, he was content to stay out of Kelly’s way; Kelly, who doesn’t enjoy explaining himself, was more than happy to stay out of the politics of Bloomberg’s bullpen. Now their mutually beneficial independence is being tested in new and tricky ways by Occupy Wall Street.
The last time the pair were presented with a high-profile, extended political and public-safety challenge was the 2004 Republican convention, but that event played right into Kelly’s strengths: advance planning, attention to tiny detail, and the deployment of overwhelming quantities of manpower and hardware. This time Kelly has been confronted with a guerrilla action and his forces seemed flummoxed, overreacting with pepper spray and the mass arrest of marchers on the Brooklyn Bridge. The mayor, meanwhile, has veered between impatience for the demonstrators’ disruption of the neighborhood and high-minded defenses of their freedom of speech. When Brookfield Properties, the owner of Zuccotti Park, pushed the city to clear out protesters for a cleaning of the plaza, Kelly was one of the voices urging caution, not wanting his officers drawn into an unpredictable confrontation. “When I’ve seen Ray in reactive, difficult political situations, he allows the mayor to take the lead,” a Bloomberg adviser says. “I don’t know if that’s because he’s smart and doesn’t want to be out front on it or because he doesn’t trust his own instincts in that realm. He doesn’t lean on City Hall for anything—and then when crisis hits, he leans on City Hall. He’s doing that again now.”
Kelly is a great believer in chain of command, so maybe he’s merely deferring to the boss on what is primarily a political problem. Kelly is also smart enough—and image-conscious enough—to understand that a messy ending at Zuccotti Park would stain his legacy just as much as the mayor’s. One of Kelly’s talents has been his ability to adapt, and for ten years that skill has helped make the city safer and the commissioner immensely popular. Now we’ll see how much he has left in his game.