NEW YORK — New York City, which had 43 homicides a week in 1990, has been averaging six so far this year. One of the biggest challenges for the next mayor will be to keep it that way.
The first major personnel decision for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s successor will be to choose who will run the 34,000- member Police Department. With less than three weeks before the Nov. 5 election, Democrat Bill de Blasio leads Republican Joseph Lhota in polls by as much as 50 percentage points.
Lhota, who’s running a television ad warning that de Blasio will usher in a return to the crime-ridden 1980s, says he wants to keep Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who has overseen a 31 percent crime drop since 2001.
De Blasio wants a new leader who would refine Kelly’s stop-and-frisk policy that he says has destroyed trust between police and communities. He says he is considering former NYPD commissioner William Bratton, who has also run departments in Boston and Los Angeles, and Philip Banks III, New York’s highest-ranking uniformed officer.
‘‘Who the next mayor picks as police commissioner will send a message about where he stands,’’ said Ed Mullins, president of the 13,000-member Sergeants Benevolent Association. ‘‘We have to convey to the people of the city that our goal is to keep crime as low as possible.’’
Public safety has become the most divisive campaign issue as the two candidates vie to lead the most populous US city.
Twenty-five years ago, New York was wracked by a crack cocaine epidemic, aggressive panhandlers, graffiti-marred subways, and the most homicides of any US city. Last year’s 419 homicides were the lowest since 1962, when the city began keeping comparable records. As of Oct. 6, killings are running 25 percent below 2012.
Lhota this week reminded voters of the city’s blemished past in a commercial titled ‘‘Can’t Go Back.’’
De Blasio called Lhota’s message ‘‘fear-mongering.’’