But if the mayor’s behind-the-scenes attacks on Kelly continued past the election year, so, too, did his more visible outbursts of petulance. White barred the reporter from his official press conferences and Channel 7 was forced to send other representatives in his place. The City Hall coolness to the station worried then-General Manager S. James Coppersmith. “After the election,” said a former White administration official, “the mayor, through Tivnan, tried to get Kelly canned.” Tivnan denies this allegation, though he does admit that he informed Coppersmith of Kelly’s unsavory associations over lunch in May of 1976. “I suggested to him that he contact his friend the police commissioner and take it up with him, but he never did,” said Tivnan.
Instead, according to all accounts, Coppersmith soon renewed Kelly’s contract, yet did so with a special escape clause that permitted an early termination should Kelly bring the station into disrepute. It was a hollow victory at best for Kelly, who soon further undermined his standing at the station by deciding to hire his own lawyer and file suit against the mayor over the press-conference exclusions. Coming at a time when the station was trying to smooth over its relations with White, the suit is said to have infuriated Bernstein. The next time he saw Kelly, Bernstein reportedly bellowed at him, “It’s obvious to me now that you’re totally uncontrollable.”
In late November of ’76, the final chapter in Kelly’s stormy relationship with Channel 7 was written when the Phoenix detailed Kelly’s activities on behalf of a controversial Waterfront discotheque, Café Felix. Facing intense neighborhood opposition, the bar’s owners were having a hard time getting their liquor license extended an extra hour to 2 a.m. Kelly threw himself into the fray, twice appearing before the city’s Licensing Board, which regulates such matters, to argue on behalf of the bar owners. But Kelly’s efforts were hardly limited to this. He also called some of the neighborhood residents who opposed the bar — in some cases identifying himself over the phone as a Channel 7 reporter. And he had big plans for putting together what he called the Waterfront Restaurant Owners Association, a group that included in its membership Vincent Solmonte. “Liquor licensees are kinda treated like second-class citizens,” he argued. “It’s just not fair. A lot of them are fine, upstanding citizens.”
Two weeks after the story appeared, Bernstein, according to most reports, invoked the escape clause and fired Kelly. On the same day, Bernstein was also let go, a victim of his newscasts’ continued poor ratings.
No one knew it at the time, but Kelly’s journalistic career had come to an end. For a year, he tried, unsuccessfully, to find a media job or one in public relations, but several good-looking possibilities proved false hopes. His bank account dwindled and he gave up his South End apartment to move back to his wife and four children in Framingham. Roughly a year ago, according to his sister, he took a job as night manager of Blackfriars, owned by his friend, Solmonte, and began to talk about owning a bar or restaurant himself.