NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly speaks to the media after a...

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly speaks to the media after a promotion ceremony at One Police Plaza in Manhattan, July 26, 2013. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has long enjoyed strong popularity, but there is a near-even split between New York voters who would like him to remain top cop under the next mayor and those who want to see him replaced, an amNewYork-News 12 poll finds.

Keeping Kelly, 72 -- the longest-serving commissioner in the NYPD's 168-year history -- was favored by 45 percent of likely voters, the poll conducted by Penn Schoen Berland found.

Almost as many -- 44 percent -- wanted to see someone else, such as former commissioner Bill Bratton, a leading contender if Democrat Bill de Blasio is elected mayor. Republican Joe Lhota said he would keep Kelly.

In a Kelly vs. Bratton matchup, the poll found 45 percent for the current commissioner, 20 percent for Bratton and 24 percent who would like to see someone else. Bratton, who ran the NYPD for Rudy Giuliani from 1994 to 1996, likely is not as well known as Kelly to today's electorate.

Lhota credits Kelly with keeping city crime at record lows. De Blasio faults Kelly for what the Democratic candidate views as the NYPD's stop-and-frisk excesses.

African-Americans voiced strong sentiment for someone else -- 47 percent -- compared with 23 percent favoring Bratton and 21 percent for Kelly. Fifty-nine percent of white voters would keep Kelly. Forty-nine percent of Latinos chose Bratton or someone else, while 38 percent stood with Kelly.

De Blasio has said he would consider Bratton, 66, and Philip Banks III, 50, who is now the city's highest-ranking uniformed officer, as well as others the candidate has not named.

Bratton has openly voiced interest in the job. Banks has not commented.

The amNewYork-News12 sample on the Kelly vs. Bratton question had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. The margin is higher for subgroups. The poll was conducted Oct. 15-19.

Since 2002, when he became the only police commissioner Mayor Michael Bloomberg would have, Kelly has enjoyed high popularity. His approval rating in a January Quinnipiac poll was 75 percent. Some Republicans tried to recruit him to run for mayor.

As recently as June, a Marist Poll found that 54 percent of registered voters wanted to keep Kelly, and 34 percent wanted someone else. (That poll did not list Bratton as an alternate choice, so comparisons with the amNewYork-News 12 results require caution.)

The commissioner's support is still twice that of his would-be new boss, Lhota.

"We're done with Bloomberg," said pollster Mike Berland. "We're not so sure we're done with Kelly."

But Kelly's stop-and-frisk policy has come under relentless assault from de Blasio and other Democrats throughout the mayoral campaign, and on Aug. 12 a federal judge found it to be unconstitutional racial profiling.

Before the campaign, "there was no debate about him," said Kenneth Sherrill, Hunter College emeritus professor of political science. "Once a serious debate began about the policies of the police department, public opposition crystallized in a way that it hadn't before."

Poll respondent Paul Stremel, 37, a Republican from Whitestone, Queens, who's voting for Lhota, said in a follow-up interview that he thinks that Kelly "absolutely should stay."

"When I go to Manhattan, I think it's as safe as ever. You don't walk around with that fear in the back of your head, like something's going to happen," Stremel said. "In fact, I would have voted for him for mayor if he ran. He should have."

Tricia Bayman, 65, a Democrat on Staten Island who was also among those polled, wants Kelly to move on.

"He's the one that's responsible for stop and frisk," said Bayman, who supports de Blasio.

Through a spokeswoman, Kelly declined to comment on the poll.

About the poll

Penn Schoen Berland designed and administered the survey for amNewYork-News 12, which was conducted by telephone using professional interviewers Oct. 15-19.

The survey reached a total of 801 registered voters in New York City who are likely to vote in the Nov. 5 general election. Telephone numbers for the sample were generated from a list of registered voters in New York City and included both landlines and cellphones. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 3.46 percentage points and larger for subgroups.

Four hundred of the survey respondents were asked the Ray Kelly-Bill Bratton question. The margin of error for that question is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points and larger for subgroups.

The survey is fully representative of likely general election voters in New York City. To ensure a comprehensive representation of the likely electorate, the data were slightly weighted by gender, age and borough.

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