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NEW YORK, N.Y. GERALDINE BAUM

Bratton, celebrity in transit, bids farewell

October 28, 2002|GERALDINE BAUM

Bill Bratton returned to the scene of his political crime before heading west last week to take over the LAPD. The tented garden behind Tina Brown's East Side apartment and the people who filled it were just the kind of evidence that cost Bratton the job in New York back in 1996.

Amid the climbing greenery on a postage-stamp patio, New York swells and the media elite had gathered to bid Bratton farewell -- and perhaps to be remembered by him the next time they need a source in L.A. Every blond in network TV was present, not to mention all the usual social suspects -- Mario Cuomo, David and Helen Gurley Brown, Don Hewitt and Regis Philbin.

This is the kind of room Bratton savors. He was working rooms like this by night in the 1990s, a buttoned-down rock, relentlessly droning wonkish paradigms amid the celebrity froth. By day, he was shaking up the city first as transit police chief and later as master of the entire city force.

The city became a much safer place, an achievement Bratton took credit for in a Time magazine cover story, much to the dismay of America's mayor -- merely New York's mayor back then, Rudy Giuliani -- who threw Bratton out. He couldn't stand that the police commissioner's popularity exceeded his own in the polls and among the power brokers. And it didn't help that Bratton had a six-figure book deal and a free ride on investment tycoon Henry Kravis' private jet.

A few of the celebrities sipping white wine at Tina's on Tuesday night rolled their eyes at all the fanfare surrounding Bratton's new post, the way he draws limelight instead of preparing quietly for a tough new assignment. "60 Minutes" is filming his first week in L.A., which may explain why Mike Wallace was there in full makeup. Or not.

But Bratton is heading for one of the few jobs in law enforcement that is compatible with his habit of celebrity snorkeling. Where he's going, police chiefs and mayors have parity. They fight -- Daryl Gates and Tom Bradley famously didn't speak for a year -- but neither is subordinate to the other.

So Bratton and his wife, Rikki Klieman, a "Court TV" interviewer, can keep on partying, so long as he also brings luster back to the Los Angeles Police Department.

At this fourth going-away party (or were there five?), Bratton, in a somber pinstriped suit, looked content, if not a little uncomfortable. With Henry Kissinger and Tom Wolfe in the room, he wasn't exactly the center of gravity. He had a few friends here -- a judge, his ghostwriter, another cop.

John Timoney, his former deputy and competition for the L.A. job, had spent the day as a TV analyst about the suburban D.C. sniper. But when the two cops -- and close friends -- finally greeted one another in the back of the garden, they could have been in the kitchen getting free sandwiches from the help.

"There's John Timoney," Bratton said, with a rare wide grin. "He used to be somebody." "Yeah, and there's Bratton. He's had nine lives," Timoney declared, noting that his friend's Boston accent is still a handicap. "He still hasn't learned how to say depaaaaatment as in 'police department.' " This was definitely not the same tone the guest of honor had struck earlier, somberly chatting up Kissinger.

Kissinger and Bratton apparently struck up an acquaintance after a couple of lunches back when Bratton was chief. It didn't seem incongruous, at least not to Kissinger, that a top cop might be socializing with a top diplomat.

"He should be here," Kissinger said on his way out of Tina's party, as Paula Zahn tried to elbow her way into the conversation with him in a packed hallway. "He shouldn't be just waiting for some crime to happen. He should understand the people."

This is the people?

They were Tina's people and Rikki's people and Tina's husband, Harry Evans', people, and even Bratton's lawyer's people.

Wolfe said he'd met Bratton through his lawyer, Ed Hayes, at Elaine's, where Bratton had held a sort of night court for years at a table with his lieutenants, great late-night drinkers.

"Good, colorful policemen are always stars," said Wolfe, a standout himself in a brown-and-white tattersall suit and baby-blue tie.

So how exactly did this crowd think the Brattons would be received in L.A. and by whom? This type of Noah's ark party that Tina Brown specializes in -- where each species arrives in black town cars two by two -- is not as common in L.A.

Gossip maven Cindy Adams confided, "I happen to know that invitations are already out."

Felicia Taylor, a local anchor for WNBC and actor Rod's daughter, grew up in Los Angeles. She had a hard time imagining where Bratton would fit in. "But I feel assured that Rikki will help him on this front," Taylor said of the relentlessly social Mrs. Bratton.

Klieman, Bratton's fourth wife, has made it clear she'll be moving to the West full time within a year. But first she wants to find work and was overheard musing about becoming an actress.

"60 Minutes' " Steve Kroft pointed out that Donna Hanover, a former Mrs. Giuliani and also a TV reporter, had struggled to create a show-biz career. Klieman smiled demurely, suggesting nothing would stop her.

Only KB Home's Bruce Karatz, a bicoastal millionaire, could easily rattle off a vision of Bratton on the other coast: "I see him at the Palm in Hollywood or the Palm near the Staples Center before a Laker game or at a dinner with Magic Johnson, Jennifer Aniston -- Brad would be off making a movie -- the president of USC, maybe somebody big in the gay community.... "

Karatz had only just met Bratton but is convinced he's a winner: "I talked to him tonight for 10 minutes and I can tell he's going to bring a whole new page to the LAPD."

Meanwhile, in another corner, Bratton was describing in stupefying detail his new "jurisdictions" to a beautiful, red-lipsticked, Chardonnay-sipping petite New Yorker. Until finally, numbed, she made her escape.

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