As corrections commissioner, Kerik also ran the New York City Correction Foundation, which was funded by money from court settlements with tobacco companies. The foundation was supposed to fund programs that strengthen the department. But it had few fiscal controls, and Kerik appointed a deputy commissioner who later pleaded guilty to defrauding it of $142,000. The former aide is serving a federal prison term.
Kerik's personal story is, literally and figuratively, a saga worthy of a bestseller. Born in Paterson, N.J., he never knew his mother, learning as an adult that she had been a convicted prostitute who was killed when he was 9 years old. Kerik bounced through childhood, cutting classes and eventually dropping out of high school. (He has since earned a GED and a mail-order bachelor's degree from Empire State College.)
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)
Kerik joined the Army, where he honed a rock-hard body and earned a black belt in karate. He served in Korea -- where he fathered a child out of wedlock -- and as a contract security officer in Saudi Arabia. Returning to the United States, he typed out a letter to New York Mayor Edward I. Koch and received an application to become a police officer. Within a few years, he was working as a ponytailed and decorated undercover detective.
Loyalty to his patrons -- and his troops -- has been one of Kerik's calling cards. Kerik came to Giuliani's attention when he volunteered as a campaign worker in the mayor's 1993 campaign, when he often worked as Giuliani's chauffeur. When Giuliani took office, he appointed Kerik as the number two man in the Corrections Department. A few years later, Kerik became commissioner.
"Commissioner Kerik was very helpful in resolving problems of staff brutality in the segregated units," said John Boston, director of the Prisoners' Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society of New York. "He did some draconian things, but he also carried out steps that were worthwhile and valuable."
Kerik later became police commissioner, serving for 16 months, until the end of Giuliani's term. He drew applause for taking steps to assuage black and Latino resentment of Giuliani's harsh personal style. "He was better than his predecessor," said City Council member Bill Perkins, who represents Harlem. "But his most consistent trait is blind loyalty to his boss."
On Sept. 11, Kerik stood next to Giuliani as the World Trade Center towers collapsed, nearly burying the pair. In the weeks to come, Kerik rarely returned home, sleeping on a cot in his office. No one questioned his dedication. But when the city commissioned McKinsey & Co. to examine New York's response to the attacks, and later when the Sept. 11 commission held hearings, Kerik heard sharp criticism of the fire and police departments, particularly of the failure to establish a clear line of command.
"I think that the command and control and communications of this city's public service is a scandal," Lehman, the former Navy secretary, said at the first commission hearing in New York. Kerik -- who later went to work for Giuliani's private consulting firm -- angrily objected.
"Everybody's trying to judge who should have, could have, would have," Kerik told the commission. "Everybody cooperated and did the best they could have done under the circumstances."
Sally Regenhard, whose husband served 39 years in the police department and whose firefighter son died at the World Trade Center, attended those hearings and applauded Lehman. "Kerik and his boss, Mr. Giuliani, were part of the shortcomings and the failure of that day, and they deserve some of the blame for those caught in the towers," she said.
After leaving city government at the end of 2001, Kerik joined Giuliani Partners LLC, a consulting firm that has worked on matters including fighting crime in Mexico City, disaster preparedness and promoting cell phone companies. He also plunged into national Republican politics, blasting the president's war critics. "Political criticism is our enemy's best friend," Kerik said.
In August, Kerik gave a speech at the Republican National Convention. Four months later, he stood alongside Bush at the White House.
"I am deeply honored and humbled," Kerik told the president Friday. "On September 11, 2001, I witnessed firsthand the very worst of humanity and its very best."
Eggen reported from Washington. Staff writer John Mintz in Washington contributed to this report.