Monday, May 17, 2010

A Tale of Two Chiefs

In NYC, like any big city, the second most prominent and powerful official after the mayor is the police chief. Since their one and only duty is to fight crime and not beg for votes, many police chiefs become more popular than the mayors they serve.

This is certainly the case with our current police chief, Ray Kelly. He first served in this post under Mayor Dinkins and then was brought back by Mayor Bloomberg. Kelly has served in the job since 2002, almost a decade, and has an approval rating of 70%, almost ten points higher than Bloomberg himself. Kelly is given kudos for the city's ever plummeting crime rate. Whether he really deserves all this credit is a matter for debate -- Kelly is not without since critics. Some say he fudges the numbers. Some say he's just good at PR and manipulates the press. Some say he dispenses with things like civil liberties and engages in overly aggressive tactics. The man himself seems not to care a whit. In Kelly's mind, so long as crime stays low and New Yorkers are happy with his job performance, any tactics are fine.

End of story.

And Kelly's story is profiled this week in an extensive New York magazine article that takes you into the man's mind and life. It's an interesting read. You have to admire his intense discipline and creating thinking in fighting crime. At the same time, you can't help but be a little disturbed by his dictatorial attitude, his hardcore authoritarian streak. Also, it appears that he abuses the privileges of his office somewhat. He uses his job to enjoy a black tie, red carpet, celebrity lifestyle. And apparently the cops have been known to drive his wife around to collect his dry-cleaning and other stuff, using public resources for private purposes.

Hmmm? Last time we had a situation like this, with former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi having his sick wife chauffeured by state drivers, he was forced to resign and cop to a felony. But Kelly gets away with it. His popularity and the nature of his job permit it. It shows you the double-standard in politics that allows certain individuals to get away with stuff that others can't. Kelly is riding high ... and is apparently in no danger of falling off any time soon. As one of his defenders says in the piece, "Let's not break his balls."

Well, okay then.

Talking about balls, one NYC police chief who is most definitely not riding high tonight is Bernie Kerik. The erstwhile "hero of 9/11," Kelly's immediate predecessor, has officially started his four year prison sentence. He accepted illegal gifts and lied to the White House during his vetting for Homeland Security chief (which mercifully fell through). Kerik's story is really a Shakespearean tragedy of man who came from nothing to scale the greatest heights only to fail spectacularly. He's a reminder of the dangers of ego and hubris run amok, of letting power and its privileges taint your judgement and leading one to become the very thing one hates. Sad. I imagine that for the next four years, Bernie's gonna be getting his balls broke every friggin' day.

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