The Case for NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly as our New Homeland Security Director

July 15, 2013

Now that Janet Napolitano has resigned, who will be the new Homeland Security chief? One name jumps out: New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Kelly should have been Obama's pick the first time around-a confidence-inspiring law-enforcement leader with federal experience, having served as under-secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence as well as Customs Commissioner during Bill Clinton's second term. In 2011, Sen. Chuck Schumer recommended that Kelly take over the FBI, but he has so far dismissed calls for higher appointed office, saying that he is loathe to return to Washington already has the job he wants.

But that job may well be over at the end of this year, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg exits City Hall, and serving as Homeland Security Director would be a logical continuation of the work Kelly has done with the NYPD, coordinating with federal agencies to keep our city safe in the decade plus since the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Here's why the pick makes sense for President Obama: Democrats retain residual distrust when it comes to national-security issues. True, that traditional gap has closed in part due to the killing of Osama bin Laden, but like Bill Clinton before him, Obama carries the baggage that comes from being a commander in chief who never served in the military. Ray Kelly was a Marine colonel in Vietnam before embarking on his long career in the NYPD, receiving a law degree and Kennedy School study on his way through the ranks. Kelly also played a leading role at Interpol. Moreover, he is better known nationally than Napolitano when she took the position in Obama's first term. Unkind "Big Sis" characterizations aside, Kelly would communicate considerably more credibility than the former governor of Arizona, who always seemed like more of a political payback and diversity play in the cabinet office least suited to either.

Kelly would walk into the job ready to lead and bringing an informed perspective on the essential roles and responsibilities of the department. In the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster, he would inspire confidence among citizens as well as front-line first responders. This is invaluable and something a current DHS second in command, no matter how capable, would find difficult to match.

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