NEW YORK, Dec. 3 -- Mustachioed, plain-spoken and built like a .45 bullet, Bernard B. Kerik brings a cop's street savvy to the job of the nation's secretary of homeland security.
If former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was a symbol of New York's resilience after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Kerik, 49, became his shadow and trusted right-hand man. A few years earlier, as city corrections commissioner, he fought gang violence and brought order to the toughest cellblocks.
As New York police commissioner, Bernard B. Kerik, right, stands next to then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani at Ground Zero on Sept. 12, 2001.
(Pool Photo Bridget Besaw Gorman)
But Kerik's track record combating terrorism and working on the national stage is more spotty. Appointed by President Bush to train a new Iraqi police force in 2003, Kerik came under criticism for inadequate screening of recruits as U.S. authorities rushed to deploy the force. It has been plagued by desertions and by allegations that insurgents have infiltrated theranks.
Kerik quit four months into his six-month tenure in Iraq, telling New York reporters later that he needed a vacation.
A prominent Republican member of the Sept. 11 commission, former Navy secretary John F. Lehman, sharply criticized Kerik and former fire commissioner Thomas Van Essen for failures of leadership during the terrorist attacks, saying that rivalry between the departments hampered rescue efforts. The command and control of their departments, Lehman said, were "not worthy of the Boy Scouts." Kerik heatedly disputed the charge.
The commission's final report contained much muted criticism of the two departments and framed the overarching question this way: "Whether the lack of coordination between the FDNY and the NYPD had a catastrophic effect is a subject of controversy."
Bush nominated Kerik to be the second homeland security secretary Friday at a White House ceremony, hailing him as "one of the most accomplished" law enforcement officers in the nation. Kerik is expected to face questions about his record, but few voices of opposition were heard immediately. If confirmed, Kerik will inherit one of the most complicated managerial tasks in federal government, overseeing 22 agencies and 180,000 employees in a department still working out the biggest government reorganization in nearly half a century.
New York's two U.S. senators, Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer, hailed Kerik's appointment, as has the city's Republican mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg. Police chiefs and national security experts from Miami to Chicago spoke optimistically Friday of having a homeland security chief who knows the frustrations and perils of those on the front line.
"The relationship between the Bush administration and the nation's first responders has not been the best," said Michael Greenberger, a Justice Department official in the Clinton administration who heads the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland. "I think Kerik will help change that dramatically."
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) noted, however, that Kerik inherits a department that distributes vastly more money, per capita, to states such as Wyoming, Montana and Alaska than to New York and California. Wyoming, for instance, receives $28 per person, compared with $4 per person in New York. "The administration continues to insist on sending a disproportionate amount of security funds to states with more cows than people," Maloney said.
In 2002, Kerik was appointed to the board of Taser International Inc., which manufactures high-voltage stun guns. Critics have accused the company's weapons of contributing to dozens of deaths. Kerik received options on more than 100,000 shares of stock. Company records show Kerik recently exercised those options and sold $5.8 million worth of stock, whose value increased by more than 19 times in the past two years.
Kerik's tenure as a high-level city manager was a mix of accomplishment and nagging questions about his judgment. The city's Conflicts of Interest Board fined him $2,500 for sending two police officers to Ohio to help research his best-selling 2001 memoir, "The Lost Son." And when his publisher and friend Judith Regan reported her cell phone stolen after a visit to a Fox Television studio, detectives showed up at the homes of Fox employees who had been on the set at the time.
At the Corrections Department, Kerik instituted much-lauded reforms. But he relied on a close-knit group of top aides, several of whom were active in Republican Party politics. (Kerik made no secret of his political leanings, reportedly keeping in his office a portrait of retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, now a conservative commentator.)
Kerik several times promoted Anthony Serra, finally to bureau chief. But this summer -- well after Kerik left the department -- the Bronx district attorney filed a 146-count indictment against Serra, charging that he had over several years used corrections officers to work on his home and in Republican Party campaigns. There was no indication that Kerik knew of the alleged crimes.