Running successfully for mayor would be Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's greatest triumph.
Running unsuccessfully could be his greatest humiliation.
Despite the cheerleading of the New York Post and the Daily News for Mayor Ray, the one city official integral to such a bid seems conspicuously unenthusiastic: Kelly's boss -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Read between the lines of Bloomberg's comments about a possible Kelly run on last week's John Gambling radio show.
While the News wrote that Bloomberg "sang his top cop's praises Friday -- days after a poll commissioned by the Daily News found almost half of New Yorkers surveyed want him to mount a run for City Hall," the mayor didn't sound as though he was one of them.
"I've never talked to Ray Kelly about running for mayor," Bloomberg said on Gambling's show, according to the News. "I can just tell you that Ray Kelly has done a phenomenal job as the commissioner of the Police Department."
Until Bloomberg, a political neophyte, all mayors attempted to exert some sort of control over their police commissioners, albeit with varying degrees of success.
Benjamin Ward disappeared for three days during the 1983 Palm Sunday massacre.
Rudy Giuliani struggled for two years to rein in Bill Bratton before firing him.
Bloomberg, on the other hand, has granted Kelly more power than any police commissioner in the city's history -- no questions asked.
Kelly has repaid Bloomberg's trust by not creating a whiff of scandal like Ward's and avoiding Bratton's example by never disagreeing with his boss, at least not in public.
Yet despite giving Kelly virtually unlimited power, Bloomberg seems to regard him as hired help: a loyal and dependable [public] servant, so long as he remains in the kitchen.
As befits a man of wealth and entitlement, to Bloomberg that kitchen is the NYPD.
When Bloomberg decided to run for a third term in 2009, derailing Kelly's own mayoral aspirations, the commissioner tabled his own ambitions and held his tongue. Bloomberg never appeared to have noticed.
Now four years later, all sorts of New Yorkers are urging Kelly to consider running again. Kelly could end all this speculation by categorically denying interest. Yet he hasn't.
"I certainly appreciate those comments," Kelly said recently. "It's obviously flattering. But I'm totally focused on what I'm doing now."
So what's he doing?
Is he tweaking Bloomberg, his lord and master for the past 10 years, who seems to be supporting City Council Speaker Christine Quinn for City Hall?
Is Kelly merely being mischievous, basking in the attention so that people will not view him as a lame duck commissioner?
Or has Kelly grown more brazen with each compliment from Bloomberg and other New Yorkers, such as NYU Professor Mitchell Moss, who likened Kelly to Jack Bauer, the Fox TV crime-fighter who broke laws in the name of national security, and who called Kelly "our secretary of defense, head of the CIA and... chief architect rolled into one."
No police commissioner in the city's history has ever run for mayor, although Bratton appeared to come closest in 1997 when he considered running against Giuliani, who'd dismissed him the year before.
But by lavishing virtually limitless power and unlimited praise on Kelly, has Bloomberg created a Frankenstein, whose loyalty is no longer to his boss but to his himself and own ambitions?
"Kelly thinks he can put it together," says a well-connected former City Hall insider. "There is no incumbent running. There is no home run hitter here. It is a very weak field."
Yet for Kelly, a mayoral run presents risks and pitfalls, especially if he runs without Bloomberg's blessing.
We're not talking about Bloomberg's lack of a formal endorsement or even a lack of financial support. Rather, the mayor has crucial leverage over Kelly.
He can force Kelly out of police headquarters earlier than Kelly may wish, saying that he cannot simultaneously run the department and run for mayor.
This would leave Kelly with no platform -- and no power.
Bloomberg could then appoint as Kelly's successor someone with national experience such as Bratton, or someone with both national and international experience such as Bratton's First Deputy John Timoney. Timoney, who subsequently ran police departments in Philadelphia and Miami, is now advising Bahrain's Ministry of Interior in that country's internal religious war.
The danger for Kelly is that the public might realize that he is as expendable as Giuliani was when because of 9/ll, he unsuccessfully sought to remain mayor for three more months in early 2002. Somehow the city survived without him.
Then there are Kelly's own limitations, like his age and health. He will be 72 come election time, has undergone quadruple bypass surgery, suffers mildly from diabetes and is said to be hard of hearing. On the other hand, thanks to spending hours at the gym, he is said to be in terrific shape.
More important is the scrutiny Kelly will undergo while campaigning.
The danger is not when he's asked about a topic he doesn't know well, such as education. What, for example, does Bloomberg know about the city's public schools? Remember Joel Klein, Bloomberg's "transformative" school chancellor? Did you catch him on television in London last summer, sitting supportively behind Rupert Murdoch as Murdoch and his son James testified they knew nothing about the British phone hacking scandal that they themselves had perpetuated?
No, the danger is that Kelly might grow testy when asked questions on uncomfortable topics, such as Stop and Frisk; the widespread spying on Muslims; forcing a whistle-blower cop into a psychiatric ward; friction with the FBI; the lack of transparency in the NYPD; allegations of crime-downgrading and the failure of Kelly's own commission, appointed to address this problem, which has failed to produce a report promised nearly a year ago.
VERDICT IN ON OUT-TO-LUNCH LIETUENANT. After an Internal Affairs investigation that dragged on for more than two years, the department has reached a deal with Lieutenant Eddie Maldonado, the head of the Intelligence Division's Threat Assessment and Dignity Protection Unit.
Maldonado was accused of moonlighting on company time. The penalty, pending Kelly's approval: the loss of 15 vacation days.
Fifteen vacation days? That's chump change, considering the punishment given to cops for their failures in traffic court following the ticket-fixing scandal.
But with Maldonado, we're dealing with the Intelligence Division, whose officers are apparently more equal than others.
Maldonado is a protégé of Intel's commanding officer, Assistant Chief Thomas Galati.
Maldonado's day job was cushy -- protecting high-profile diplomats and heads of state visiting New York City.
Anonymous letters to IAB accused him of moonlighting for private clients like Major League Baseball and celebrities like J-Lo and Marc Anthony while he was supposed to be working for the department.
Sources in Intel say the letters went directly to IAB Chief Charles Campisi, who gave the case to its crack Group One.
Despite this cloud, Maldonado appeared on television in January 2011, in a National Geographic NYPD counter-terrorism special. You don't get on television these days without approval from the top of the department.
Meanwhile, Intel sources say that Campisi's sergeant son was transferred into Intel, and now works in its elite Priority Targeting Unit.
That transfer would have required Galati's acquiescence.
Not for nothing is there a term in Intel: FOG. Friends of Galati.
It refers to the department -- i.e., IAB -- going light on Galati's friends.