New York Democrats split on Ray Kelly as Comey replacement

Members of New York City’s congressional delegation united Wednesday to call for the appointment of a special prosecutor to probe Russia’s role in last year’s presidential campaign, following the ouster of FBI director James Comey.

But asked about the possibility of former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly replacing Comey, the Democratic front was split.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, who has long been a critic of Kelly, told reporters that President Donald Trump’s FBI nominee “has to be completely and fully vetted by the Untied States Senate as an individual with the highest degree of integrity, and independent with not a political bone in his or her body. It’s not clear to me Ray Kelly falls into that category."

“It’s too early to talk about a replacement. What we need right now is a special prosecutor," Jeffries said at a press conference in Manhattan.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney of Manhattan told POLITICO she would welcome Kelly’s nomination.

“I think he’d be an excellent appointment,” said Maloney, crediting him with pushing Republicans in Washington to back passage of health care funds for first responders and Ground Zero workers after September 11th.

“He has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations," she said. "He has been apolitical, I would say. I think he’s extremely competent and he would be a fine choice.” Maloney did add that it was too soon to talk about replacing Comey, and that the focus should be on appointing a special prosecutor for the Russia investigation.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat of Upper Manhattan told POLITICO that "Ray Kelly is a great police commissioner and is highly qualified to lead any law enforcement agency in the world."

Kelly’s name has emerged as a possible successor in the early speculation about who Trump might pick to replace Comey, following the director’s surprise ouster on Tuesday.

Trump repeatedly praised Kelly during his time as police commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"The NYPD has been doing a fantastic job protecting NYC," Trump wrote on Twitter in July 2012. "I hope Chief Ray Kelly is strongly considering running for mayor."

Democrats in the city have long been split over Kelly’s tenure, with some, like Jeffries, criticizing the commissioner for his heavy reliance on stop-and-frisk, particularly in minority neighborhoods. Others have praised Kelly for helping prevent terrorism in New York City, following the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is poised to play a pivotal role in confirming Comey’s successor, has long been a supporter of Kelly. Schumer backed Kelly for Secretary of Department of Homeland Security in 2013 — praise that might make it difficult for Schumer to oppose his confirmation for the FBI post. A spokesman for Schumer did not immediately return a request for comment.

Trump, who has called for an increased use of stop-and-frisk across the country, was a frequent defender of Kelly against critics of his policing practices.

In 2012, Trump wrote on Twitter that Kelly was a "great police commissioner" and that "New Yorkers should be thanking him for keeping NY safe."

A spokesperson for Kelly did not immediately comment on the possibility of his nomination.

In between stints as NYPD commissioner — he was first appointed by Mayor David Dinkins — Kelly served as undersecretary for enforcement at the U.S. Treasury Department and also was appointed by then-President Bill Clinton to help oversee police monitoring efforts in Haiti.

As NYPD commissioner, Kelly created an anti-terrorism operation that has been credited with stopping more than a dozen terrorist plots or attacks against New York City, while also helping to drive down street crime. But those efforts have also raised questions about whether the NYPD improperly surveilled Muslim residents, businesses and houses of worship, which Kelly and his defenders have steadfastly denied.

Glen Caplin, a senior adviser for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, did not specifically mention Kelly in a statement to POLITICO, saying "This is not the time for business as usual or playing the Washington parlor game of possible replacements." He added that Gillibrand "is focused on holding this administration accountable and believes the Senate should not consider a new FBI Director until a special independent prosecutor has been appointed.”

Councilman Joseph Borelli of Staten Island, a Trump surrogate in New York City, separately told POLITICO New York that Trump “would be well served by Ray Kelly, as would he by some of the other names mentioned.”

Rep. Dan Donovan of Staten Island, the city’s only Republican member of Congress and a former district attorney in that borough, supported the idea of Kelly taking the helm at FBI.

"As a former prosecutor, I believe that a public servant with unimpeachable credentials and a career of independence – somebody like Ray Kelly – serving as FBI Director is critical to affirming the public’s trust," he said in a statement to POLITICO.

This story has been updated with additional comment from New York representatives.

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