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Thick as Thieves

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and legal dynamo Rikki Klieman might be New York’s most law-abiding power couple

Like so many of New York’s most successful mergers, this one began over breakfast at the Regency. It was late 1997 and Rikki Klieman, a CourtTV anchor recently relocated from Boston, was dining with her new boss at the Upper East Side eatery, where captains of industry hash out billion-dollar deals over $28 plates of salmon benedict. Across the room, she spotted a familiar face.

William J. Bratton wasn’t a close friend, but he and Klieman had crossed paths before. The first time was at an Anti-Defamation League meeting Bratton has no memory of attending and the second was in 1993 in a Boston College parking lot when Klieman, a criminal defense lawyer, surrendered her client—23-year veteran of the FBI’s most wanted list Katherine Ann Power—to then-Commissioner Bratton and a bevy of federal agents.

That morning at the Regency, things were a bit more relaxed. Klieman says she stopped by Bratton’s table to say hello and earn brownie points with her boss—Bratton was, after all, the former Police Commissioner of New York and Boston, who would go on to hold the position of police chief in Los Angeles before returning to New York—when things took an unexpected turn.

“He rose, we exchanged business cards, we kissed on the cheek,” she recalls now, “and he said—at 8:15 in the morning—‘You look so beautiful; if you were single, I would marry you.’ My response to that was, ‘Perhaps you should call me for lunch.’”

Bratton did just that and the two, who married in 1999, have been together ever since. It’s a partnership that brought the duo from New York to Los Angeles, where Bratton served as the city’s top cop from 2002 through 2009, and back again. And while living in L.A. didn’t disagree with the couple—“We’re both movie buffs, so being in Hollywood and getting to meet actors, producers and directors, many of whom are now good friends, was a great experience,” Bratton says—they’re glad to be back in New York, where Bratton is Mayor de Blasio’s Police Commissioner and Klieman works as a legal analyst for CBS and sits on the board of directors of the Police Athletic League.

Bill Bratton and Rikki Klieman

 

For Bratton, being New York’s Police Commissioner has higher stakes today than during his previous stint. “The job now is very different than it was in 1994 because of the issues of terrorism; that was not a significant part of policing back then,” he says, alluding to the street crime that plagued his first stint in the job. Still, he’s glad he returned.

“As much as people talk about California weather,” Bratton says, “we were really looking forward to coming back to live and work in New York.”

It’s understandable, considering the couple—who now split their time between Manhattan and Hampton Bays on Long
Island— are able not only to do the work they’re passionate about, but to do it side by side.

“Bill is out the door at dawn and we are usually not home until about 11 o’clock at night,” Klieman says. “I tend to join him at one or two of his evening events. And those events run the gamut: They could be a community meeting or an assembly of the fraternal groups in the department or a Police Athletic League event, where I am on the board and Bill is the honorary chairman. That creates a synergy for us.”

That synergy is key for the pair, who keep in contact throughout the day via BlackBerry Messenger (antiquated, maybe, but secure for government officials) and whose work and personal lives are intricately intertwined. Sitting with them in the Commissioner’s Lower Manhattan office, it’s clear that these are two high achievers who not only adore but also challenge one another.

“We exchange a lot of ideas about policing and defending,” Klieman says, “I go to his speeches and critique them and he does the same, which is very important because it’s constructive and is there to make us better.”

Still, there’s more than work to this socially active pair. “The nice thing about New York City is that it keeps getting better,” says Bratton. “Look at the reenergizing of Brooklyn. As much as we love restaurants in Manhattan, you’re just as likely to find us in an outer borough. The city is expanding all the time and it’s great to be a part of that.”

Despite having the safety of the city in his hands, Bratton also seems to revel in some quotidian New York pleasures. “A really good day would include a walk across Central Park,” he says, “an early movie and maybe lunch at Cafe Fiorello, where they have a great antipasto bar. Then we’d catch a second movie and have dinner with friends at one of the East Side Italian restaurants we like—Elio’s is a favorite—and go home to watch Masterpiece Theatre.”

And while a bad day for Bratton could include any number of unthinkable events, Klieman says she loves how her husband  approaches each one as if it’s going to be his best.

“Bill’s glass isn’t half-full,” she says, “it’s overflowing. Each morning he wakes up in this state of ecstasy—he gets to go to work and that makes him a happy person. For me, that’s a great person to wake up next to.”

 

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