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Bratton's Charisma Could Serve Him Well

LAPD: Friends and observers of the former New Yorker praise his managerial skills but say he should cut down on the publicity.

October 04, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — By day, William J. Bratton was a front-page fixture in the mid-1990s, receiving credit for a plunging crime rate while stealing headlines from then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

By night, Bratton cut a swath through the society columns, sometimes attending three parties in an evening and hobnobbing regularly at swank restaurants with the city's cognoscenti.

Friends and observers in both worlds said Thursday that Bratton, selected by Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn as the city's next police chief, was a high-wattage personality whose charisma could play well on the West Coast if he tempered his desire for publicity.

"He's a very nice guy. He knows what he's doing," said Elaine Kaufman, owner of Elaine's, the fashionable Upper East Side hangout for celebrities such as Woody Allen, George Plimpton, Alex Baldwin, Danny Aiello, Gay Talese--and Bratton.

"He is very good at putting people together."

Kaufman plans to throw a goodbye party for Bratton and, as a homebody who sticks close to New York, said dryly that she will "visit him out there, if I am in the neighborhood."

No farewell soiree is expected from Giuliani, who fired Bratton as police commissioner in 1996--some say because Bratton beat the mayor to the cover of Time magazine.

Bratton "did a very good job here," said Paul Chevigny, a law professor at New York University and a specialist in policing.

"He did such a good job he began to cast a little shadow on Giuliani's sunlight, and Giuliani got rid of him."

For the moment, Bratton and his wife, Court TV anchor Rikki Klieman, will keep their Manhattan apartment and country home in Quogue on Long Island. Klieman, an attorney whom Time called one of the nation's top female trial lawyers in 1983, plans to remain at her weekday job in New York, taking the red-eye regularly.

"I like his wife. She is very smart and very sweet," said Jimmy Breslin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Newsday columnist, who added jokingly: "I like her because she likes me."

Breslin said Bratton's departure for the West Coast wasn't causing much buzz in New York.

"How long has he been commissioner?" he asked, suggesting that Bratton's 1994 to 1996 tenure was already ancient history to many New Yorkers.

But Breslin and others said Bratton would be remembered in New York for conceptualizing and instituting--with a cadre of highly talented aides--an effective and now widely copied system of compiling crime statistics at the street level. The program, known as COMPSTAT, allowed local precinct commanders to quickly assess and respond to problems.

Crime was cut dramatically as the nation looked on.

"I think his managerial skills were unparalleled in my time. I think he deserves more credit. I think [Giuliani] deserves credit for having the good judgment for making him commissioner," said Wayne Barrett, a senior editor and investigative reporter at the Village Voice.

Barrett said Bratton's greatest mistake was not following up on lists of minority candidates for police officers compiled by his predecessor, Ray Kelly, in the final year of Mayor David D. Dinkins' administration.

Still, "I think Bratton is really a highly skilled manager and a very take-charge guy," Barrett added. "He would have been police commissioner [again] had Mark Green won."

Green, the Democratic candidate for mayor, was defeated by Michael Bloomberg in last year's election.

Chevigny, however, said that Bratton faces a "daunting job" as an outsider trying to lead the LAPD, which has been scarred by scandal.

"He faces a recalcitrant department sunken in its own folkways that seems strangely to have public support while it is in an incredibly difficult situation," Chevigny said.

The NYU professor added that a major challenge facing Bratton would be finding and developing talent in the department able to cope with a host of problems.

There's also the matter of Bratton's style.

People who praise his diligence and ability to innovate believe he should curb his appetite for attention.

"I'd say to him, cut down a little on the publicity," Breslin advised. "When the red light on a television camera goes on, it changes the formation of Bratton's brain"--a common malady, the columnist added.

Leonard Levitt, Newsday's expert on the New York police, agreed that, at times, Bratton has difficulty "resisting the blandishments of celebrity." He said that, in Los Angeles, this could overshadow in the mind of the public Bratton's considerable ability to innovate and willingness to take risks in his new job.

"He tried to include the brass" when he implemented change, Levitt said, describing Bratton's style when he headed the NYPD. "He had Jack Welch down from [General Electric] to talk-to-the-manager seminars. Henry Kissinger was speaking to some business group that Bratton helped organize. He was a terrific networker.

"He was never happy being in the private sector," Levitt added, referring to Bratton's years after being commissioner. "He missed being a public figure and being recognized on the street. He loved being the center of things."

But, Levitt cautioned: "He can't stay away from the TV lights. He is like a moth to a flame."

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