Voters Want Kelly to Stay as Police Commissioner, Poll Shows

Whether Democrat or Republican, white or minority, male or female, wealthy or not, New York City voters overwhelmingly like Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and would prefer that he remain in the job under the city’s next mayor, according to a Quinnipiac University poll to be made public on Thursday.

In handing Mr. Kelly his highest approval rating to date, 75 percent, those surveyed indicated that they believed he was doing a better job in his role as commissioner than Michael R. Bloomberg was as mayor.

While Mr. Kelly’s high marks among voters, across various demographics, may come as little surprise, the results will likely fuel political intrigue in the midst of this year’s mayoral election.

The majority of those surveyed, 63 percent, said that any mayoral candidate who promised to ask Mr. Kelly to stay on as commissioner would view that as a positive reason to vote for that candidate. By contrast, 19 percent viewed such a pledge as a drawback, the survey showed.

Just 18 percent said they disapproved of Mr. Kelly’s performance. Seventy percent said they approved of the Police Department’s performance, while 23 percent indicated they were displeased. The Police Department’s approval numbers marked the highest score since a Quinnipiac poll conducted in early 2002, not long after the attacks of Sept. 11 revealed that 76 percent approved of the force’s performance.

“Perhaps because of the Newtown massacre or because of the recent announcement that murder in the Big Apple is at an all-time low, or both, New York City voters like their top cop and all their cops even more,” Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in a news release.

The latest Quinnipiac poll follows a Democratic mayoral debate on Tuesday in which Mr. Kelly’s future was a heated topic. During the debate at the Harlem headquarters of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Mr. Sharpton asked the panelists whether they would retain Mr. Kelly as commissioner.

Echoing previous comments, Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, said during the debate that the city “would be lucky” if Mr. Kelly stayed on. Three other panelists, City Comptroller John C. Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and the former comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., said categorically that they would replace Mr. Kelly.

Mr. Kelly, a registered independent who has served twice as commissioner (he first held the post under Mayor David N. Dinkins), has repeatedly brushed aside questions about his future, although he has said recently that he has no plans to run for public office.

“As encouraging as this latest poll is in terms of the confidence expressed in him and in the Police Department, it’s also problematic in fanning speculation that he had hoped had been quieted,” said Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman.

Mr. Browne was noncommittal when asked whether Mr. Kelly would agree to remain if Ms. Quinn asked him to do so, if she were to become mayor. Mr. Browne paused for several seconds and then, seeming to choose his words carefully, said, “Despite the fact that we ended the year with a record low number of homicides, the nature of policing in this city is fluid and constantly challenging, leaving Commissioner Kelly with little, if any, time for that kind of speculation.”

Mr. Browne added that there had been no discussion between Mr. Kelly and Ms. Quinn on the topic. “The relationship is professional and there is a mutual respect, but it does not extend to political considerations or strategy,” he said. “There has been no deal. No discussion. The subject has never arisen between the two of them.”

As the Democratic mayoral candidates’ views of Mr. Kelly’s job performance appeared to crystallize this week, the Republican candidates for mayor have yet to publicly discuss their choice of police leadership. Joseph J. Lhota, the former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and a deputy mayor under Rudolph W. Giuliani, was expected to formally declare his bid for the Republican nomination for mayor this week, perhaps as early as Thursday. (When Mr. Giuliani became mayor in 1994, he replaced Mr. Kelly as police commissioner.)

The survey of 1,332 New York City voters was conducted by phone between Jan. 8 and 14 with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

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