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Trembling tale of a Safir

December 30, 1996

The night before Christmas, Police Commissioner Howard Safir decided to stroll down Fifth Avenue to see how many New Yorkers recognized the excellent job he was doing.

Although Safir says he doesn't believe anything he reads in the newspapers, he had read in this very column that his predecessor William Bratton had taken the same stroll the year before. Although Safir loathed Bratton, some at Police Plaza say he envied him.

Before setting out, Safir called Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for permission. "Remember who you are, Howard," said the mayor, thinking Safir was out to glom some freelance publicity as Bratton used to. "And remember who I am."

Accompanying Safir was Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Marilyn Mode and her wee dog, Lil. Stopping someone outside the Plaza Hotel, Mode said, "This is Police Commissioner Howard . . ." But before she could pronounce his full name, the someone looked at Safir, who stands 6-foot-3 inches, and said, "You look taller in person than you do on television, Mr. Bratton."

Safir grimaced. "Did you know," said Safir, "that because of my crime strategies, there will be fewer than 1,000 murders this year - fewer than under Bratton?"

Suddenly, the wee dog Lil began to bark. Safir felt a clammy Massachusetts chill over his left shoulder. "How-ahd Say-fah," intoned a voice with a Boston twang. Safir whirled. He saw no one. "How-ahd Say-fah, tell the truth. Stop telling people your strategies are bringing down crime. Those are my strategies."

Safir nearly leaped out of his size 14 shoes. For he recognized the voice of police commissioners past. It was . . . it was . . . Bratton.

"Marilyn!" Safir shouted. "Did you see that?"

"See what, Howard?"

Safir shuddered. Could it be that the pressure - no, dare he say it, the humiliation - of his Border Patrol debacle or his Dominican drug initiative, what the Spanish papers called "El Fiasco de Santo Domingo," was taking its toll?

"What did Bratton do that I didn't except get fired?" Safir snarled. "Didn't I receive the Innovations in Government award last month from the Ford Foundation for the COMSTAT crime stategy meetings?"

Suddenly, wee Lil jumped three feet. Another chill swept past Safir. He whirled. This time he thought he saw an apparition: a rotund man with a mustache, wearing a bow-tie and a Homburg.

"Oh, How-ie," intoned a voice. "Tell the truth, How-ie, who invented COMSTAT?"

"Jack Maple!" Safir wailed, referring to Bratton's deputy commissioner and COMSTAT'S originator.

Safir decided he'd best avoid Maple, especially in the dark. He knew Maple's reputation as a transit cop.

Printable versionSuddenly, wee Lil did a double somersault. Safir felt another chill. He saw the ruddy face of Bratton's First Deputy Commissioner John Timoney, who resigned after calling Safir a "lightwight." Safir thought he heard Timoney's voice repeat the word.

"Rudy!!!" Safir shrieked, grabbing his cell phone.

"This is what comes from doing things without me, Howard," said the mayor. "To exorcize the devil, you must confront him in his lair."

Safir understood what he must do. He ran all the way to Elaine's restaurant on the Upper East Side.

As he entered, a television crew arrived. "Finally," Safir sighed, "someone recognizes me."

But the television crew strode past him, to a table where a party was in progress. There was a thick, curly-haired man Safir learned was the writer Norman Mailer and a blonde woman in a short red dress he learned was the New Yorker magazine's Tina Brown. And there, the man everyone was toasting, - Bratton - feted for having turned in the first draft of his book with a $350,000 advance and whose views the television interviewer was seeking on the falling murder rate!

Safir, whose own book proposal was said to have been rejected by 20 publishers, let out a howl. Elaine's had never heard anything like it. The owner Elaine Kaufman was afraid it was the fettucine.

The following Saturday, Giuliani, who sought any excuse to flee Gracie Mansion, especially during the holidays when his wife wasn't working, was in his office with his Communications Director Cristine Lategano, supposedly watching the Cowboys-Vikings football game.

Then, the mayor's telephone rang. "Yes, Howard. You what? Another drug initiative? You want to station detectives where? In Tierra del Fuego?"

"What's a Tierra del Fuego?" asked Lategano.

The mayor shook his head. "It's the southernmost tip of South America. Nearest the South Pole."

"Rudy," said Lategano, "was Bratton really so bad?"

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© 1996 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.