THE BLOG

Bloomberg's Tin Ear, Kelly's Tarnished Badge

08/19/2013 01:16 pm ET | Updated Oct 19, 2013

"He's got a record-low murder and crime rate," Chris Dunn of the NY Civil Liberties Union said last week, referring to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "Yet his police department has just had a federal monitor imposed upon it. How did he pull that off?"

An intriguing question. The answer begins with 9/ll. It ends with hubris.

Hubris is from ancient Greek. According to Webster's, it means "overweening pride or self-confidence; arrogance." According to Wikipedia, hubris "often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence, accomplishments and capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power."

Let's start with Sept. 11, 2001. We may have forgotten how terrified New Yorkers were then. The day after Rupert Murdoch visited Ground Zero, his NY Post in an editorial endorsed then police commissioner Bernard Kerik as commissioner "for life."

That's what it was like amid the terror. You grabbed on to whatever you could. Anything that seemed solid. Commissioner for Life.

Well, we all know what happened to Kerik. He got so carried away with sex [his publisher Judith Regan] and money [hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans and freebies from contractors and real estate guys] that he ended up serving three years in federal prison.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani also got carried away. He convinced himself that only he could shepherd the city through 9/ll and attempted to have his mayoral term extended three months. New Yorkers didn't go for the idea.

Seven years later, Giuliani decided to run for President. After leading in the polls, he ended up with just one delegate.

Now let's turn to Bloomberg and Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly. When Bloomberg was elected mayor in 2001 and appointed Kelly as police commissioner, the still-terrified city grabbed onto him as it had to Kerik.

Announcing that the FBI had failed to protect the city against 9/ll, Kelly presented himself, says the police historian Thomas Reppetto, as the lone man standing between New York City and another terrorist attack.

Mitchell Moss, a professor of policy and urban planning at NYU, declared: "The police commissioner of New York occupies a special appointed position. He's our secretary of defense, head of the CIA and ... chief architect rolled into one"

Moss compared Kelly to the Fox TV crime-fighter who breaks laws in the name of national security. "He's as close as we come to Jack Bauer," Moss said.

Knowing nothing about law enforcement, Mayor Bloomberg made Kelly the most powerful police commissioner in the city's history. During his 12 years as mayor, he exercised literally no control or supervision over him.

If Kerik's Achilles heel was sex and money, Kelly's was power and control.

He brooked no dissent from his underlings -- or from anyone else.

When Chief of Department Joe Esposito tried to interject a word at an early news conference, Kelly cut him off. "The department speaks with one voice," his spokesman Paul Browne explained. Everyone at Police Plaza got the message.

Browne threatened reporters whose stories were critical of Kelly with "consequences." That meant lack of access.

Kelly's control extended beyond the police department.

He forced the resignation of Pam Delaney, the head of the once-independent, non-profit Police Foundation, which provides millions of dollars to the department.

He controlled the appointment of its chairwoman, Valerie Salembier.

When asked about foundation payments of $30,000 for Kelly and his guests at the Harvard Club and nearly $400,000 to a consultant whose primary job was to introduce Kelly to wealthy New Yorkers and potential political contributors, Salembier refused to answer and referred this reporter to the police department. [See NYPD Confidential, Feb. 14, 2011 and Nov. 1, 2010.]
Last month, Salembier became the police department's Assistant Commissioner of the Public Information Office.

Running for mayor in 2001, Bloomberg had said, "I believe in an open department. I am a believer in putting all the information out there. The essence of a free society is the right to information." [See NYPD Confidential, Sept. 2001.]

Instead, Kelly flouted the Freedom of Information law, refusing virtually all requests for information.

He refused to release his public schedule, saying that it would place people he met with in danger.

"A person intent on doing harm would benefit from knowing where the Police Commissioner is scheduled to be at a given time," wrote Records Access Appeals Officer Jonathan David on June 21, 2011, to the Civil Liberties Union, which sued for his schedule on behalf of this reporter. [See NYPD Confidential, Oct. 24, 2011.]

Kelly also violated the city charter by failing to cooperate with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which was investigating the conduct of top police officials during the 2004 Republican National Convention. [see NYPD Confidential, Sept. 18, 2006.]

Kelly refused to provide requested statistics regarding the downgrading of crimes to the chairman of the Mayor's Commission to Combat Police Corruption. When Bloomberg refused to intervene, the chairman, Mark Pomerantz, resigned. [See NYPD Confidential, Apr. 22, 2005.]

So carried away with his power was Kelly that in Sept., 2011, he announced on CBS's 60 Minutes that the NYPD had the capacity to bring down a terrorist aircraft. The NYPD has no such capacity. Nor does it have the authority. Kelly then expressed bewilderment that his remarks had created a firestorm of criticism.

Meanwhile the city's media went into a post-9/ll swoon when it came to critical reporting of Kelly.

In 2009, the NY Times reported, in full color haberdashery splendor, on Kelly's wardrobe, featuring his Charvet ties and penchant for Windsor knots. The Times placed Kelly in the "rich tradition of fancy-dressing police officials," while ignoring the fact that his sartorial tastes grew more expensive in tandem with his swelling ego. [See NYPD Confidential, Sept. 7, 2009.]
Kelly also refused to abide by the public disclosure law, passed by the City Council in 2001 after the fatal 41-bullet police shooting of the unarmed immigrant Amadou Diallo. That law required quarterly reports of the details of all Stop-and-Frisks.

In 2006, following the fatal police shooting of Sean Bell, the Civil Liberties Union again asked the department for those reports.

In Feb., 2007 -- the day before a story about the department's failure to produce those reports was to run in the NY Times -- the department released its first report. It showed that the numbers of people stopped - primarily young black men -- had gone from 97,000 in the last year of reporting in 2002, which was Kelly's first year in office, to half a million in 2006.
By 2011, the number of stops since Kelly became commissioner had risen to 4.5 million. In 2011, Dunn pointed out, there were more stops of young black men than there were young black men in the city.

That set the stage for the Stop and Frisk trial, which resulted last week in federal judge Shira Scheindlin's ruling that the Stop and Frisk, as practiced by the police department, was unconstitutional.

While appointing a monitor to supervise the department, the judge pointed out that she was not banning the practice of Stop and Frisk, which is an accepted and necessary police tactic.
Kelly chose not to defend the policy at trial and refused to testify. Instead, he and Bloomberg adopted the strategy of attacking Scheindlin in the media.

Bloomberg questioned her judicial integrity. Both he and Kelly misrepresented her decision, claiming that she was banning Stop and Frisk.

On Sunday, Kelly was all over the national airwaves on the subject. Last Friday, Bloomberg, who still knows next to nothing about law enforcement, said that Scheindlin knew "absolutely nothing" about police work.

"What does she know about policing?" Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show. "Your safety and the safety of your kids is now in the hands of some woman who does not have the expertise to do it."

Poor Mayor Mike. He, too, had gotten so carried away with his importance that in 2009 he violated his campaign pledge and overturned the city's two-term limit law, enabling him to run for a third term.

That decision was costly and misguided -- both for the citizens of New York City and for his and Kelly's legacy.

REV TALK. Last week's column on Al Sharpton -- which was prompted by his telling the NY Times: "You can't think of any major black leader that did not have some kind of legal or other kind of media attack so we are not as prone to believe the attacks as other communities." - included the statement that his spokeswoman, Rachel Noerdlinger, had not responded to this reporter's email, asking whether Sharpton felt that the legal and media attacks he cited had been unfairly directed at him.

Nor, this column reported, did Noerdlinger respond when asked whether Sharpton had finally paid the hundreds of thousands in income taxes he owed.

[From the Attorney General's website regarding Sharpton's National Action Network in 2011, the last year of reporting: "The total amount due for unpaid federal payroll taxes, including various penalties and interest associated with said payroll taxes and the late or non-filing of federal tax form 990 aggregated $871,688 as of December 31, 2011. Since February 2010, the Organization has been in the process of negotiating an offer in compromise to settle all payroll taxes and related interest and penalties owed by the Organization to the Internal Revenue Service. The Organization feels that the likelihood of a favorable outcome is highly likely."]

After the column appeared, Ms. Noerdlinger wrote that she had never received an email from this reporter, asking for comment.

Here now is the correspondence between her and this reporter, which began after NYPD Confidential was posted on the Huffington Post on Tuesday, Aug. 13th, 10:07 A.M.
Noerdlinger to Levitt, Tues., 10:14 A.M. Aug 13: "Len: We would like to respond. I have no correspondence from you and that's not fair."

Levitt to Noerdlinger, Tues., 1:12 P.M. Aug. 13: "Rachel, Hi, I emailed you last Friday: 'Rachel, Loved the Rev's quote in today's Times about legal and media attack. Is he suggesting the media and legal attacks on him were unfair? Has he finally paid his income taxes? Thanks.'"

Noerdlinger to Levitt, Tues., 7:14 P.M. Aug 13: "I always respond to you Len and would have Friday! It's post-facto now and the story is done. However, in answer to your question and as we have publicly maintained Rev. Sharpton has been paying his taxes back and is in compliance."

Levitt to Noerdlinger: Wed., 9:55 A.M. Aug. 14: "Rachel, Thanks for your email. Just for the record, I checked my yahoo account and see that the time of the email I sent you for commenting was 5:32 P.M. Fri. [Aug. 9].

"It turns out there has been a lot of reader feedback to the column so I am planning to do a follow up story and can include your comments then.

"Here specifically are my questions:

"l. In his case, does the Rev see those media and legal attacks that he referred to in the Times as unfair to him? Which attacks specifically?

"2. According to his 2011 filings with the state, the NAN owed the federal government $871,000 in taxes. When did NAN begin paying back those taxes? How much does NAN owe now? What is NAN in compliance with? Is it an agreement to pay the back taxes? Your last comment to me doesn't explain it. ...

"If you or the Rev would prefer meeting in person rather than conversing by email, I can do that. Anytime Thurs, Fri. or Sat. at your convenience. I'm writing Sunday for Monday."

Noerdlinger to Levitt, Wed., 11:43 A.M. Aug. 14: "Got it ...what's my deadline?"

Levitt to Noerdlinger, Wed., 1:13 P.M. Aug. 14: "No rush. Friday ok?"

Noerdlinger to Levitt, Wed., 7:33 P.M. Aug. 14: "Len: consensus from the media team and senior leadership is that story has been written and the fact that you didn't call me the first story or check to see if I received the email you sent is unfair. We deal with critics all the time but there is a standard of fairness."