President Bush has nominated former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to be the nation's second Secretary of Homeland Security. If his appointment is confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Kerik will bring an unconventional style and compelling personal story to the job as the United States' top anti- terrorism official.
Mr. Kerik gained a national reputation as the New York Police Commissioner who oversaw the city's response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. Announcing his nomination, President Bush said Mr. Kerik's passion for his country and the law make him eminently qualified to lead the nation's anti-terror effort. "Bernard Kerik has devoted his life to protecting his fellow citizens and his example has led many others to take up that calling. He loves his country. He has gained the trust and admiration of millions," he said.
Four hundred members of New York City's uniformed services, including several of Mr. Kerik's personal friends, were among the almost 3,000 people who died on September 11. Mr. Kerik says the experience will guide him in executing the responsibilities of his new job. "I promise you , Mr. President, that both the memory of those courageous souls and the horror I saw inflicted upon our proud nation will serve as permanent reminders of the awesome responsibility you place in my charge," he said.
As head of Homeland Security, Mr. Kerik will be in charge of overseeing the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, the Customs and Immigration Services, and the nation's seaports, airports and borders.
It is not the first time that President Bush has tapped Mr.Kerik for service. He went to Iraq for four months to help train the local police force.
Mr. Kerik brings an unconventional style and personal history to the role of Cabinet secretary. He earned a secondary school equivalency degree while serving with the U.S. military police in South Korea in the 1970s. He worked as a security guard in Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s. In 1986, he left a better paying job to join the New York Police Department and rose to become a highly decorated narcotics detective.
Mr. Kerik rose further through the ranks to head the city's corrections department. Mayor Rudolf Giuliani appointed him Police Commissioner in 2000. Two years later, he finally completed a college degree he had been working on part-time.
During his tenure as commissioner, the crime rate continued to decline, and Mr. Kerik worked to improve relations between the police and minority groups. After Mr. Giuliani left office, Mr. Kerik joined him in setting up an international security consulting firm.
In a remarkably frank autobiography published in 2001, Mr. Kerik revealed that his mother was a prostitute who abandoned him as a young child and was probably beaten to death.
Robert Louden heads the criminal justice center at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He served as a member of the New York Police Department for 21 years, working his way up the ranks from police officer to chief hostage negotiator. Professor Louden describes Mr. Kerik as a "diamond in the rough." "What you see is what you get. When you see him on television he is very straightforward. He is very quiet. He seems always to be thinking. When he is scanning a room he is just not idly looking around. When he makes up his mind on something he goes forward with it. He is very determined. When tasked with something he takes it very seriously and tries to do the best job that he can. Determination, I think, is one of the key attributes that he brings to anything," he said.
Mr. Kerik is known as a quiet, energetic tough-talking man who is willing to make waves. But some observers say his lack of experience in Washington will make it difficult for him to navigate the federal bureaucracy, including his own department with its 180-thousand employees in 22 agencies. He also has no experience dealing with congress, which provides the funding for all federal government departments.
But Professor Louden said Mr. Kerik's determination and his experience as an ordinary policeman, and then running the nation's largest, most diverse police department, have prepared him for almost any challenge. "You work in a large bureaucracy, at the lower level you have more discretion than you do when you go up through the ranks. You are dealing with the best of people in the worst of times and the worst of people in the best of times. It just gives you world view that you literally could not pay to receive. You start with the premise that an individual has certain qualities and certain qualifications and is immersed into the world of policing in some place like New York," he said.
Mr. Kerik is 49 years old. He has two young children with his second wife, Halah, who is from Syria, and an older son from his first marriage. After the September 11 tragedy thrust him into the limelight, he was able to find a daughter he had fathered while stationed in Korea as a young U.S. military policeman.