12/30/2013 10:37 am ET Updated Mar 01, 2014

The Night Before Christmas: Vanity of Vanities

On the night before Christmas, Bill Bratton decided to stroll down Fifth Avenue to see how many people still recognized him.

Eighteen years ago, Bratton had inaugurated the Christmas Eve stroll with his sidekick, the late Jack Maple. Since then every police commissioner had followed, although Bratton's successor, Howard Safir, complained that nobody ever knew who he was, and his successor, Bernie Kerik, used the stroll as a cover to meet his girlfriends.

During his first ten years as commissioner, Ray Kelly had also taken the stroll. He stopped two years ago, increasingly irritated that people were stopping him to ask what was up with Stop and Frisk.

This Christmas Eve, Bratton put on a bespoke pinstriped suit from his personal tailor, Martin Greenfield. Just before setting off, his wife, Rikki Klieman -- lawyer, sometimes actress and television legal analyst -- asked if she could accompany him. She had heard that interesting people turned up on the stroll and thought she might quote one or two of them to get a ratings boost on her next television appearance.

Bratton shook his head. "There are certain things a man has to do by himself," he told her. With that, he departed from the Plaza Hotel to see what fate awaited him.

He had walked only a block when at the corner of 58th Street, he felt something cold and clammy. "Commissioner, it's me. I'm back for Christmas," said a voice out of the darkness. Bratton recognized the voice but saw no one. Then on the east side of 57th Street, a figure appeared. It was none other than Maple, who had somehow materialized from The Great Beyond.
Miraculously, it seemed, he was wearing a green bow tie with white and yellow polka dots and was admiring his reflection in Tiffany's window.

"Some things never change, I suppose," Bratton said to himself.

Although momentarily shaken by meeting someone who had been on The Other Side for the past 12 years, Bratton tried to make Maple feel at home back on planet earth.

"This is Jack Maple," Bratton called out to a middle-aged man, his wife and two surly teenagers who were crossing 57th Street. "How many of you recognize him?" None of them responded. Rather, they quickened their gait, as though expecting Bratton to ask them for money, or worse, mug them.

"Jack Maple is the father of COMPSTAT, the computer tracking program that was responsible for the city's dramatic decrease in crime over the past 20 years. And I was the police commissioner," Bratton shouted.

The middle-aged man stopped in the middle of 57th Street. "So what's that to me?" he said.

"Yeah," said one of two surly teenagers.

The second surly teenager said, "Under Ray Kelly, murders are at the lowest in recorded city history."

Maple placed his hand on Bratton's shoulder. "This is a tough town, Commissioner."

Then on the corner of 55th Street, they spotted, of all people, Rudy Giuliani.

"Bill, it's me, Rudy," Giuliani said, running up to Bratton and pumping his hand. "Do you know I'm largely responsible for your return as police commissioner? I gave you my endorsement. I called you a 'reformer.'"

"Give me a break," Bratton said. "You supported Lhota. Lhota said he wanted to keep Kelly as commissioner. Your 'endorsement' came after de Blasio had already selected me."

Well, Giuliani was not exactly Bratton's favorite person. In 1996, during his first turn as police commissioner, Giuliani had forced him to resign, accusing him of a conflict of interest because he was planning to write a book, subtitled, "How America's Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic."

For years afterwards, Bratton had been unable to decide whether Rudy's final destination would be the White House or a lunatic asylum.

Then Giuliani noticed Maple. "Don't I know you from somewhere? Wait a minute, aren't you ..."

Maple smiled. Of all those on Bratton's first team, only Maple had managed to remain friendly with Giuliani. Bratton's spokesman, John Miller, who Giuliani had also forced to resign the year before Bratton, said that Maple actually liked Rudy.

Giuliani had visited Maple at Sloan Kettering. At Maple's funeral at St. Pat's, Giuliani had insisted on sitting in the first row and giving the eulogy.

Up in The Great Beyond, Maple had come to realize what a rough time Rudy had in life, beginning with his mob-connected, leg-breaking father and his explosive temper.

Maple had even been overheard asking The Big Guy to cut Rudy some slack.

Bratton and Maple moved on. Outside the University Club on 54th Street, they bumped into Tom Reppetto. Reppetto, who was on the other side of 80, was handing out copies of his book The Blue Parade, which is perhaps the best book ever written on American policing. Trouble was, Reppetto's critical assessments of the police ended around 1946.

Earlier this month, he'd described Kelly as "the greatest police commissioner in New York City history."

"What's up with that, Tommy-boy?" said Maple. Despite his distance, he was apparently up on the latest police gossip.

"For one thing," said Reppetto, "Kelly created an Intelligence Division from scratch."

"But all it produced was the arrests of three mopes with low IQs or mental problems," said Maple.

"What about my guy?" Maple asked. He nodded towards Bratton, who had approached an elderly gentleman walking with a cane and asked whether the elderly gent recognized him.

"It's like comparing Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan," said Reppetto. "Who would you say was the greater pitcher?"

Maple cared nothing for baseball. His primary interest was his wardrobe.

"Commissioner," he said to Bratton, "I think Reppetto's comparing you to Nolan Ryan, whoever he is."

They walked on towards 44th Street. Who should they see there but Kelly? He, too, was wearing a bespoke Martin Greenfield pin-striped suit. A few years before, he had been profiled in Men's Vogue, where he was described as wearing "French cuffs fastened with weighty gold links, and a gold-colored Charvet tie."

Bratton remembered that during Kelly's first turn as police commissioner, Kelly had bought his suits off the rack from a wholesaler named Carmine Fabrizio.

"My tastes have sort of matured through the years," Kelly then explained.

Kelly was holding the leashes of what appeared to be three small dogs. Each had a woolen blanket across his back with its name written in script. One dog's name was "Christopher." A second was "Judith." The third dog was actually a seal. Written across its blanket was the name "Lupica."

Before Bratton or Maple could say hello, Kelly said, "I've brought crime down to record lows, far lower than you guys ever did. And there have been no successful terrorist attacks against the city because of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau I created."

Kelly added, "It's like births and deaths. New Yorkers' don't care about what happens in between. That's why I can also take credit for the 4.5 million stops of mostly black teenagers on my watch and of my Intelligence Division's infiltration of every mosque in the city."

Because Maple felt his time here on earth was limited, he didn't want to waste it with small-talk. All he said to Kelly was, "Vanity of vanities. All is vanity."

"Wow," said both Kelly and Bratton. Each of them imagined Maple up in The Great Beyond, sitting around reading Ecclesiastes.

"Look, Bill," Kelly said to Bratton, "how about you join me at the Harvard Club for dinner? You can come too," he said to Maple.

Kelly whistled for his army of security people. "Give Christopher and Judy some kibble," Kelly said to them. "Then take Lupica over to the Central Park Zoo and let him swim around in the pool for a while."

Kelly, Bratton and Maple then entered the Harvard Club and ordered dinner. Bratton marveled that Kelly signed for the bill. Cops are notoriously cheap but none matched Kelly. In his 12 years as police commissioner, no one had ever seen Kelly pick up a tab.

Noticing Bratton's surprise, Kelly said, "The Police Foundation pays my dues and expenses."

Bratton's ears perked up at that. How had Kelly pulled that off? He wondered. He had read in NYPD Confidential how Kelly had pushed out the foundation's longtime executive director Pam Delaney, then installed her frightened assistant Greg H. Roberts [the 'H' stood for house-mouse] as her replacement.

Bratton also marveled that Kelly had gotten the Police Foundation to pay millions of dollars for his anti-terrorism programs with no accounting how the money was spent.

He'd also read about Kelly's "NYPD Counter-Terrorism Foundation," with Kelly's chief of staff, Joe Wuensch, as its secretary, and with secret donors providing a few hundred thousand dollars more to pay for a former CIA official as the NYPD's "Scholar in Residence."

But most of all Bratton was impressed with the Kelly's membership at the Harvard Club. He himself was a Boston guy. He had lectured about policing at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He wondered how he could swing a membership for himself.

After he'd left Massachusetts, he'd somehow been able to wangle a private pension bill through the state legislature as he hadn't stayed in any job long enough to qualify for a pension.

Maybe he could talk to some of his academic friends like Reppetto or George Kelling, to whom he had thrown a lot of Police Foundation consulting money during his first tour as commissioner. Maybe he could give a series of lectures on policing at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Hadn't Kelly received an honorary doctorate from something called the Anointed by God Seminary at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant?

Maybe Bratton's co-author Zack Tumin, the special assistant at the Kenendy School, could put him up for an honorary Ph.D. at Harvard.

Then Bratton had an even better idea. "Ray," he said, "I read your Playboy interview calling de Blasio a liar and I understand you're not planning to attend his inauguration on New Year's Day. But I am personally inviting you to my swearing in the following day at noon at Police Plaza. It might be a nice gesture to show continuity and to announce to the world that the bad blood between us has evaporated.

"Sorry," said Kelly. "Scheduling conflict. I've got an outside speaking engagement."

Bratton turned to Maple for support. But Maple had begun to fade away.

"Jack, where are you?" Bratton called to him.

All he could hear was a whisper. "Vanity of vanities. All is vanity."