Rivals for mayor add twist to top cop picks

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Joseph Lhota, left, and Bill de Blasio sought

Joseph Lhota, left, and Bill de Blasio sought to define themselves against the legacy of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote; Charles Eckert

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997, initially as a staff writer for the New

If elected, Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio might put GOP ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani's first police commissioner back in the post -- while his Republican rival, Joe Lhota, says he'd ask Democratic ex-Mayor David Dinkins' last police commissioner to stay on.

How's that for a twist?

De Blasio, the front-runner to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has let his affinity for William Bratton be known. Bratton isn't commenting as the buzz continues, but friends say they believe he'd like to return. A de Blasio aide said, "He's not going to go into more detail until after the election."

At first blush, it may seem remarkable, even after Bratton drew acclaim for modernizing NYPD practices and pushing down crime under Giuliani. De Blasio and his wife once worked for the administration of the man Giuliani unseated, Dinkins, whom the Giuliani crew derided as a failure.

In June, Bratton -- who served as Los Angeles police chief between 2002 and 2009 -- called stop-question-and-frisk a basic tool of American policing. He said "more oversight, more guidance, more training" would benefit the NYPD. "At the same time, they can't do away with it," Bratton told reporters. He said the practice is "constitutionally protected by the Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio."

That actually sounds in some ways like Lhota's position -- though of course, Bratton isn't the one running for mayor.

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After a federal judge declared the program, as practiced under Bloomberg, unconstitutional, de Blasio said in an ad he's the "only one" who would "end a stop-and-frisk era that unfairly targets minorities." This was, of course, during a primary race in which he was competing for votes in neighborhoods where stop-and-frisk is seen as over the top.

But in the who's who of police-commissioner politics, the twists don't end there.

Lhota has said if elected he'd ask Ray Kelly to continue as commissioner. It was under "Kelly I" that the city's crime plunge began, as Bloomberg noted after returning Kelly to the post in 2002 -- something his predecessor, Giuliani, never liked to advertise. Of course, Kelly's more extended tenure, 12 years, came under the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-unaffiliated Bloomberg.

Kelly appeared Monday night at a Manhattan party to celebrate the publication of Dinkins' book, "A Mayor's Life" -- where Dinkins hailed Kelly as "colonel," a reference to their shared status as Marine Corps veterans, and praised Kelly's work as commissioner.

For his part, Bratton has experience with federal police monitoring that may prove relevant if he has a second act in New York. In 2002, his first year as chief in LA, the city entered into a consent decree with U.S. officials to address racial bias, corruption and brutality in the department. Before Bratton left the job, in 2009, a judge agreed to phase out federal oversight over the subsequent three years.

Bloomberg has often repeated the statement attributed to the legendary Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia -- that "there's no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage."

Some say the same of policing, including Dan Feldman, a former prosecutor and state assemblyman who teaches at the John Jay College for Criminal Justice. "Particularly if you manage a large department," he said, "you almost always have to steer a course between quantitative and qualitative measures" -- as in the case of police searches.

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