Time grows short for anyone still considering a jump into the New York City mayoral race. While established campaigns are ready to begin circulating their required ballot petitions next week, political insiders are giving one last look to see if Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, at 71, will rev up an eleventh-hour bid for City Hall.
Aides to current candidates for the Republican line where any Kelly bid would presumably take place naturally play down renewed buzz about the prospect of a star competitor. They note it is late to begin raising the millions of dollars he'd need. And Kelly's public stance on the matter hasn't changed, with his spokesman saying Tuesday he has no plans to run.
But the Kelly talk stirred anew last week after city residents received calls from poll-takers asking about how they rate the job he does as commissioner, how they rate his boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and whether they are "satisfied" with current candidates. They were also asked about crime reduction and controversial stop-and-frisk policies carried out by Kelly's NYPD.
At times in his 12 years as top cop, Kelly's approval ratings have surpassed Bloomberg's. But the search practices, subject to ongoing civil-rights litigation, have prompted criticism in several neighborhoods -- as reflected by a chorus of promises from Democratic candidates to alter them.
More than a year ago, state Republican chairman Ed Cox said in a broadcast interview that Kelly, who first served as police commissioner under Democratic Mayor David Dinkins, would make a "superb candidate" and a "terrific mayor." Cox has never stepped away from those statements.
As to timing, one pro-Kelly GOP source who asked not to be identified said "Kelly's the one candidate for whom name recognition would not be an issue. There are people around him who are encouraging him to do this and people in the community and business who say they can raise the necessary cash."
Others remain skeptical. If stop-and-frisk proves as charged an issue for voters as most Democratic candidates calculate, a Kelly candidacy could galvanize turnout for his Democratic opponent, said an unaligned consultant.
For Bloomberg, a Mayor Kelly could assure a continuity of current policies, past the incumbent's already-extended tenure -- at least those which Kelly has crafted.
Among Democratic candidates, only City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has said she'd ask Kelly to stay in his current post if she were elected.
New mayors generally want to appoint their own police commissioners. Before he took office in 2002, Bloomberg let it be known that he wished to persuade the then-popular Bernard Kerik to stay on at the NYPD. That didn't happen, of course, and Kelly, who had been a Bloomberg adviser, returned as police commissioner and rose to national prominence in the post-9/11 security world.
President George W. Bush nominated Kerik in 2004 for U.S. Homeland Security secretary, but that soon imploded. Kerik later admitted to criminal charges that he falsified information to the White House, and filed false tax returns and misled authorities about work a contractor did on his home. Kerik was released Tuesday after serving three years in federal prison.
Regardless of whether he runs for mayor, at least Kelly's post-NYPD career promises to be better than his predecessor's.