On Thanksgiving, 2010, I took my life in my hands and decided to chase down Raymond Kelly, then NYPD commissioner. Why I did this and how it turned out makes for one on my favorite holiday stories.
I was on assignment at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan for the hospital’s in-house publication to report on how the hospital celebrated Thanksgiving. As I learned beforehand, the facility had admitted Richard Ramirez, a 29-year-old police officer shot twice in the leg in the line of duty five weeks earlier.
I posted myself in the main lobby, positioned to observe Kelly enter the building flanked by two police officers. My job was to get a quote from him about his visit to the hospitalized officer. But I chose to wait to interview him until after the visit so I could find out how the meeting had gone.
In the interim, I circulated around the center to get a glimpse of the Thanksgiving day festivities underway. The center turned itself into a home away from home. Because Thanksgiving can be celebrated anywhere, here it was being celebrated everywhere. The kitchen, functioning as Thanksgiving Central, prepared some 150 pounds of turkey to deliver to about 350 inpatients at lunchtime. Acts of kindness and compassion abounded, accompanied by smiles and outstretched arms.
Back in the lobby a short while later, I spotted Kelly coming out of an elevator and heading down a corridor, again with two burly police officers at his sides. I bolted from my seat, and sprinted after him on the slippery tile floor. I had to get that quote.
Kelly and his entourage moved briskly, already ahead of me in the vast lobby by about 50 yards and nearing the front doors to make his exit. I kicked into a higher gear to close the gap between us, and dashed past visitors and hospital staff. Closer and closer to him I drew, gradually cutting his lead by 10 yards, then 20, then 30.
Just then I realized with absolute certainty that what I was doing was crazy. I was pursuing the police commissioner. On foot. In public. In front of dozens of witnesses. For no apparent reason. It now occurred to me that the moment I neared him, the two police officers accompanying him would turn around, tackle me and snap me in handcuffs. The newspapers the next day would offer accounts of how I attacked Ray Kelly. In a hospital. On Thanksgiving. After he visited a shot cop.
Even so, at no point did I manage to come to my senses. Seconds later, about to catch up with him, I called out to him. “Mr. Commissioner!” I yelled. Mr. Commissioner!” Neither of the two officers alongside him flinched, much less braced for a takedown. Rather, Kelly calmly turned around, his head cocked with a sideways glance to view the stranger ambushing him.
Maybe I avoided any countermeasures because I appear as dangerous as your average neurosurgeon. In any event, I explained my intentions, namely my wish to interview him briefly about the cop he had just visited. He immediately consented. I asked him my questions and he gave me his answers. I got my quote after all.
“I wished him and his wife a happy Thanksgiving,” Kelly said. “He’s lucky to be alive. It’s a credit to the first-rate treatment here.”
In retrospect, I reflected on my behavior. Knowing what I now know and given the risks involved, would I take the same reckless course of action again? The answer, I admit, was an emphatic yes. It was Journalism 101.
My article, entitled “A Cornucopia of Kindness and Compassion,” appeared in the November/December edition of the hospital’s newsletter. As it turned out, the hospitalized officer, asked to sign a consent form to be identified, had declined. My editor had no choice but to cut the reference to him, along with my desperately obtained and hard-won Kelly quote.
Bob Brody, a public-relations consultant and essayist in Forest Hills, is the author of the memoir "Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes Of Age."