NEW YORK (AP) — Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly is the most popular public figure in New York City not running for mayor. And when asked, his answer is always the same: He has no plans to enter the race and is focusing solely on running the police department.
But that hasn't stopped political insiders from urging the 71-year-old Kelly to get in, suggesting his tough-on-crime record would make him the front-runner from Day One.
"Ray Kelly great public servant. Only hope of averting disaster for NY," media mogul Rupert Murdoch tweeted last week.
Such chatter has reached a fever pitch ahead of an upcoming deadline for candidates to file petitions to get on the ballot. But experts say the odds of Kelly entering are slim, and it's not clear whether the commissioner who has served for more than a decade would even stay on after the election.
"I think that the conservatives, plus some business elites, are concerned about the Democrats being too liberal for them," so they want someone like Kelly who can replicate the policies of outgoing independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his Republican predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, said City University of New York Graduate Center political scientist John Mollenkopf.
Kelly is an independent who has served under both Democrats and Republicans, including former President Bill Clinton as the head of customs. He's seen as someone comfortable being a public figure, with the managerial experience of leading the nation's largest police department.
Kelly also has presided over a precipitous drop in crime — last year there were a record low 419 murders in a city of 8 million people — and has remade the NYPD's counterterrorism and crime-fighting efforts. His reputation remains untarnished despite department scandal and criticism.
"He's a phenomenal police commissioner," said Bloomberg, who is limited to three terms. "He's done an enormous job for this city. As far as I know, he doesn't have any interest in running for mayor. But this is a very good manager who cares very much about people and has done a great job."
Kelly regularly gets a higher approval rating than the mayor and other public figures; in a Quinnipiac University poll late last month, more than two-thirds of voters said they liked how he's doing his job. The same poll also found nearly half thought he should run for mayor.
"There's no question that he's admired in what he's doing in his job," but it's not clear that would translate into support for him as a political candidate, said the poll's director, Maurice "Mickey" Carroll.
Late last week, when asked about the election, Kelly gave the standard response: "I have no plans to run for elective office."
But he acknowledged he was flattered by the poll numbers, citing them as a reflection of how well police officers do their jobs.
"They are doing a superb job and I'm the beneficiary of that," he said.
Talk of Kelly's political prospects picked up after some voters started getting survey calls last month about their views of him and the mayor's race. Conducted by longtime Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway, the $17,000 survey was commissioned by a businessman who's not well known in political circles, she said, declining to identify him. She said he had seen media reports about interest in a potential Kelly candidacy and was curious about how he might fare.
"I believe that there is room for a new entrant, especially someone as well-known as Ray Kelly," Conway said.
But with a July 11 deadline to submit petitions to enter the race for the Sept. 10 primary, it could be tough to put together a campaign and fundraising apparatus. Many experienced political strategists are already committed to other candidates, as are many endorsers.
Plus, as an independent, Kelly would need party leaders' permission to run in a primary.
"I admire the commissioner greatly, but in terms of being a candidate for mayor, I don't believe it's going to happen," said Manhattan Republican Party Chairman Daniel Isaacs. "I don't believe he, personally, is inclined to run, and I think, quite frankly, at this juncture it's quite late to run."
The Manhattan GOP is busily preparing to help gather petition signatures for its choice, billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis.
Kelly's popularity has remained high even as his department's tactics have come under fire.
An ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit claims thousands of street stops made under the department's "stop, question and frisk" policy were based solely on race. During the 10-week trial, city lawmakers reached agreement on a proposal to create an inspector general to oversee the police department, based largely on the outcry over stop-and-frisk and a series of stories by The Associated Press about the department's monitoring of Muslims. A 2011 investigation found instances of ticket-fixing by dozens of officers who are now being charged criminally. And the 50-shot police barrage that killed unarmed Sean Bell on his wedding day prompted protests and debate about excessive force.
Some current mayoral candidates have said they would keep Kelly as commissioner, but he hasn't said whether he'd stay if asked.
Others would look for new leadership in the police department if elected.
"Ray Kelly has done a tremendous job for the people of this city ... but after 12 years, it's time for a new set of eyes and some new ideas and new management," according to the campaign of Adolfo Carrion, a former Bronx borough president.
Braulio Collado, a 49-year-old Manhattan flower vendor who lives in the Bronx, said the leading Democratic candidates, such as City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, had flaws.
"He's a good commissioner, and maybe he'd be good in politics because he has a lot of personality — and he represents the law," Collado said.
Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik and Frank Eltman contributed to this report.