At 7:30 A.M. a bulletproof, armor-protected SUV rolls up to the door of a lower Manhattan high-rise. Two Goliath-size detectives jump out and whisk the city’s top cop to One Police Plaza.
Later that hot summer day, a stern-faced Raymond Kelly, New York City’s longest-serving police commissioner, appears before photographers, proudly displaying a MAC-10 handgun, one of 254 weapons seized in the biggest gun bust in city history.
The day before, he had appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press, where he was grilled like an overdone steak on his controversial stop-and-frisk policy. In a headline-grabbing blow, a federal judge had just deemed the policy unconstitutional, finding that police resorted to “indirect racial profiling.” A week later the City Council would also condemn the policy, and gleeful mayoral hopefuls vowed not to rehire Kelly.
But the former marine, who at 72 still lifts weights daily, coolly addresses the firestorm, denying charges of discrimination and pointing to the indisputable fact that murders are down almost 30 percent from last year’s all-time low. At the beginning of the year, his approval rating among New Yorkers was a stratospheric 75 percent.
It’s a 16-hour daily marathon for the superstar chief, who oversees the $4.6 billion budget of the nation’s largest police force: 50,000 people, including 1,000 counterterrorism agents who are part of a post-9/11 initiative that has helped keep New York City safe from another attack.
To decompress, Kelly smoothly manages the social requirements of the position, whether at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, a film festival with Robert De Niro, dinner with Cardinal Timothy Dolan or J. Lo’s birthday barbecue.
Not bad for the youngest of five siblings raised in a modest apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side by his father, James, a milkman, and his mother, Elizabeth, a dressing-room attendant at Macy’s. After a youthful stint as a police cadet and time in Vietnam as a marine, Kelly became a beat cop in 1966 and began his meteoric rise, serving in 25 different commands while also earning a master’s degree from Harvard, as well as two law degrees. He was appointed police commissioner twice: first in 1992, serving for two years, and then in 2002, serving for the past 12. At press time, rumors swirled that he might go national, replacing Janet Napolitano as secretary of homeland security.
Kelly is chivalrous when it comes to his wife, Veronica; the couple recently marked their 50th wedding anniversary. Their close-knit family includes sons Greg, the comedic co-host of Fox’s Good Day New York, and James, a managing director at JPMorgan Chase.
Author Glenn Plaskin, who recently interviewed Tony Robbins for Playboy, met up with Kelly in his office bunker, over a dinner at the Four Seasons and at Kelly’s high-rise apartment with panoramic views of the Statue of Liberty.
Plaskin reports: “I was led by two detectives to Kelly’s inner sanctum, where I was surrounded by framed photos of him with presidents and mayors, personal pictures as a bushy-haired police cadet and as a Marine Corps colonel. Then into the room strode the man: ‘Here, have some cookies,’ he said lightheartedly. ‘It’s my birthday.’ Kelly’s number one trait is a Zen-like calm, an unruffled confidence—he is anything but battle-weary. He’s laser focused and speaks sotto voce, revealing as much in his facial expressions as in his words.
“Regularly checking his BlackBerry, which continually vibrated with crime updates, Kelly sat behind a carved desk used by his hero, New York City police commissioner turned president Teddy Roosevelt. And that’s where we began.”
PLAYBOY: Nice desk.
KELLY: I had it restored. It looks better now than when he had it.
PLAYBOY: Why is Teddy Roosevelt your favorite president?
KELLY: He was a dynamo, though he’d been sickly as a child with asthma. He built himself up, became a boxer, went to Harvard. He was a hunter and an expert on naval history. He had a photographic memory and read a book a day. He did everything with tremendous drive.
PLAYBOY: You’ve often quoted from his “Man in the Arena” speech: “It is not the critic who counts. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”
KELLY: Yes. It’s easy to criticize from the sidelines, not responsible for anything good that happens in the world. It means that if you’re in the arena, you’re willing to accept the consequences of your actions. You have to take some chances.
PLAYBOY: And you’re the guy in the arena.
KELLY: That’s right.
PLAYBOY: With a face that has been marred by some dust.
KELLY: [Laughs] Sure.
PLAYBOY: When you’re slammed in the press, does that linger into the night, or can you detach from it?
KELLY: I am able to put it to the side. And a lot of it I just don’t read. I think that’s a function of practice. When I had this job 20 years ago, I was more sensitive, more cognizant of complaints and concerned about public opinion. I’ve learned to do what I think is the right thing. That lessens the impact of criticism. You get used to a pressurized environment and expect it every day.
PLAYBOY: When you go to bed at night, do you sleep soundly?
KELLY: I do.
PLAYBOY: No Ambien?
KELLY: [Laughs] No, I don’t take any of that stuff. I might wake up in the middle of the night, and sometimes it’s harder to get back to sleep, but I sleep well.
PLAYBOY: When a negative TV report comes on about you, do you watch it?
KELLY: Generally speaking, I have pretty good press. I don’t think I’ve been unfairly treated at all. But political people in a mayoral race will take shots at you. It doesn’t really bother me.
PLAYBOY: Even those blistering attacks on stop-and-frisk during the primary season this summer?
KELLY: The Republican candidates weren’t attacking the policy. It was the Democrats. The reality is the Democratic primary is controlled by extreme elements of the party. The candidates know that, so they have to go to extremes themselves.
PLAYBOY: What’s your view of failed mayoral candidate Bill Thompson? He said, “Our kids should never be targeted for the color of their skin. I’ll end racial profiling and stop-and-frisk and get illegal guns off the street.”
KELLY: How? Nobody asked him how.
PLAYBOY: And Democratic nominee Bill de Blasio said, “Millions of innocent New Yorkers—overwhelmingly men of color—have been illegally stopped.” What were they talking about?
KELLY: They were talking about election-year politics. They were pandering to get votes. Whoever wins the primary always attempts to run back to the center and disavow the impact of what they’ve said.
PLAYBOY: Do you think they were just full of shit?
PLAYBOY: When they used you as a political football in the televised debates, how did you react?
KELLY: I resented it. I think I’ve had a long, distinguished career in public service. It just goes to show you what some politicians will do. They’ll say or do anything to get elected. I know all these people. They all claimed to be friends of mine up until their mayoral campaigns. They’d call me on the phone and ask for information or come over here and sit in this chair to get briefed.
PLAYBOY: Are you talking about Christine Quinn, speaker of the City Council, who was also a candidate?
KELLY: I’m talking about all of them.
PLAYBOY: But they turned against you.
KELLY: It seems that way.