The New York Police Department (NYPD)’s longest serving Commissioner, Ray Kelly is what you might call a tough guy. That’s to be expected for a guy charged with looking after the safety and security of America’s largest city following the Sept. 11 attacks. It also happens to be the terrorists’ favorite target in the United States – a fact that Kelly likes to emphasize at any point he can to any audience or camera that might end up in front of him.
A former Marine officer, Kelly has the grizzled, if not chiseled, look of someone who has been in his share of encounters with some tough guys and come out the victor despite some scars. He has a commanding presence, and when he speaks he makes his point clearly and succinctly without a lot of flourish. If you’ve ever watched him in a press conference talking about a high profile type of incident, (e.g. a busted up terror plot or major crime of some sorts) he’s able to put that commanding presence on full display.
As a result, it offers a measure of comfort to New Yorkers of all types that he’s on watch looking out for them. It’s fair to say that on his watch, he’s been remarkably successful, the ultimate metric being the fact that there have been no successful acts of terrorism in NYC since 9/11. There are a lot of factors that go into that fact being possible (e.g., military and intelligence operations, improved information sharing between intelligence and law enforcement agencies, etc.) but Kelly and the operations he has built at NYPD also deserve their fair share of credit for that success.
I also think it is fair to say that Kelly has a bit of swagger to him. Some might go so far as to call it arrogance. You call it what you like, but in the dozens of times that I’ve met him or seen him speak, Kelly is always impeccably dressed in a dark suit, crisp white shirt and matching tie, and surrounded by an entourage of dark-suited men (security detail and “handlers) with an idling and armored Chevy Suburban at the ready to whisk him wherever he needs to be next. That image of Kelly is so ingrained in my mind I about fell out of my chair when I saw him in a sports coat and casual slacks quietly sitting by himself in the back of the room at the Aspen Security Forum just taking in what was around him.
There he sat like he was some regular guy just hanging out, looking around the room and at the program set before him on the table. This may seem silly to describe him as I’ve done but this was one of those instances where the ingrained image is suddenly switched out for something you’ve never seen before. It would be like changing Superman’s legendary red cape to a bright plaid print. You’ve never seen it before (and you can’t quite figure out what he’s doing “out of uniform”) but I count I myself fortunate to have borne witness to one of those few occasions when Ray Kelly was minus his traditional uniform, the surrounding entourage, and the idling Suburban, and was just a regular guy for a day.