Chief denies being courted by City of Brotherly Love

Officials in Philadelphia also puzzled by rumor Norris will be top officer

March 28, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Philadelphia's mayor has never met Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris "and couldn't pick him out of a lineup," Frank Keel, acting spokesman for the City of Brotherly Love, said yesterday.

So it's a bit puzzling to Keel, Mayor John F. Street and others in the city of 1.5 million people how a rumor started that Norris could soon become their top officer.

The rampant rumor also baffles Norris -- who first told city and police union officials last week that he's not heading north. He repeated the denial yesterday in an address to morning roll call in the Northern District and in a departmentwide e-mail.

"I haven't been there in 10 years, and that was for an Eagles/Giants football game," Norris said in an interview yesterday. "I'm not going to Philadelphia. I have not met or spoken with the mayor" of Philadelphia.

Norris, however, concedes that he will leave Baltimore some day; he just doesn't know when.

Tony White, spokesman for Mayor Martin O'Malley, said yesterday that a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter called the mayor last week to ask whether Norris was jumping ship. "The commissioner told me there was no truth to it last Friday," White said.

Likewise in Philadelphia, officials are adamant that Norris hasn't interviewed, visited or called about the job, which became available in December when then-Commissioner John F. Timoney resigned.

"There is no, zero truth to this persistent rumor that Ed Norris has been up here interviewing with the mayor and any other high-ranking official," Keel said. "I don't know where this is coming from, but it has been a persistent, but baseless, rumor."

Keel said the mayor's office first heard of the rumor two weeks ago when someone called from a Baltimore radio station. Next, officials heard from various Baltimore media.

Since Timoney's resignation, Deputy Commissioner Sylvester Johnson has served as interim commissioner of the department, which is more than twice the size of Baltimore's, with about 6,900 uniformed officers.

"There is a great deal of scrutiny and interest in this situation ... primarily because Sylvester Johnson is a great cop with 37 years of service to the police department," Keel said. "He's immensely well-known and popular and the fact that he is in his third month as acting commissioner ... has started to raise some bristles among various factions in the public who think he should be permanently appointed."

Rich Costello, president of the Philadelphia Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he backs Johnson as commissioner. Today, he and members of the Guardian Civic League, the city's African-American Officers Association, plan to hold a morning news conference to call on Street to permanently appoint Johnson.

What's more, Costello said, he's certain Norris isn't vying for the job.

Costello said he was in Baltimore for an FOP national executive board meeting March 7 to 10 and met Norris. "He asked me for Johnson's phone number so that he could call and congratulate him," Costello said. "If he was a serious contestant for the position, I doubt very much he would have done that."

This is not the first time rumors about Norris' departure have surfaced. In recent months, he was on the short list to be considered to run New York's department -- where he worked for 20 years before coming here two years ago.

Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.

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