Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly is the most popular public figure in New York City not running for mayor. And when asked, his answer is always the same: He has no plans to enter the race and is focusing solely on running the police department.
But that hasn’t stopped political insiders from urging the 71-year-old Kelly to get in, suggesting his tough-on-crime record would make him the front-runner from Day One.
“Ray Kelly great public servant. Only hope of averting disaster for NY,” media mogul Rupert Murdoch wrote last week.
Such chatter has reached a fever pitch ahead of an upcoming deadline for candidates to file petitions to get on the ballot. But experts say the odds of Kelly entering are slim, and it’s not clear whether the commissioner who has served for more than a decade would even stay on after the election.
Kelly is an independent who has served under both Democrats and Republicans, including former President Bill Clinton as the head of customs. He’s seen as someone comfortable being a public figure, with the managerial experience of leading the nation’s largest police department.
Kelly also has presided over a precipitous drop in crime — last year there were a record low 419 murders in a city of 8 million people — and has remade the NYPD’s counterterrorism and crime-fighting efforts. His reputation remains untarnished despite department scandal and criticism.
“He’s a phenomenal police commissioner,” said Bloomberg, who is limited to three terms. “He’s done an enormous job for this city. As far as I know, he doesn’t have any interest in running for mayor. But this is a very good manager who cares very much about people and has done a great job.”
Kelly regularly gets a higher approval rating than the mayor and other public figures; in a Quinnipiac University poll late last month, more than two-thirds of voters said they liked how he’s doing his job. The same poll also found nearly half thought he should run for mayor.
“There’s no question that he’s admired in what he’s doing in his job,” but it’s not clear that would translate into support for him as a political candidate, said the poll’s director, Maurice “Mickey” Carroll.
Late last week, when asked about the election, Kelly gave the standard response: “I have no plans to run for elective office.”
But he acknowledged he was flattered by the poll numbers, citing them as a reflection of how well police officers do their jobs.
“They are doing a superb job and I’m the beneficiary of that,” he said.
Talk of Kelly’s political prospects picked up after some voters started getting survey calls last month about their views of him and the mayor’s race. Conducted by longtime Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway, the $17,000 survey was commissioned by a businessman who’s not well known in political circles, she said, declining to identify him. She said he had seen media reports about interest in a potential Kelly candidacy and was curious about how he might fare.
“I believe that there is room for a new entrant, especially someone as well-known as Ray Kelly,” Conway said.
But with a July 11 deadline to submit petitions to enter the race for the Sept. 10 primary, it could be tough to put together a campaign and fundraising apparatus. Many experienced political strategists are already committed to other candidates, as are many endorsers.
Plus, as an independent, Kelly would need party leaders’ permission to run in a primary.
“I admire the commissioner greatly, but in terms of being a candidate for mayor, I don’t believe it’s going to happen,” said Manhattan Republican Party Chairman Daniel Isaacs. “I don’t believe he, personally, is inclined to run, and I think, quite frankly, at this juncture it’s quite late to run.”
The Manhattan GOP is busily preparing to help gather petition signatures for its choice, billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis.
Some current mayoral candidates have said they would keep Kelly as commissioner, but he hasn’t said whether he’d stay if asked.