Seattle Police Chief to Be Named Drug Czar

The Obama administration has nominated Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske as the nation's drug czar. Video by AP
By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

President Obama will name Seattle Police Chief R. Gil Kerlikowske as the nation's drug czar today, ending a long search that was slowed as details of drug arrests involving Kerlikowske's son came to light.

The administration will remove the job's Cabinet designation -- reversing an elevation of the office under President George W. Bush -- although one senior official said that Kerlikowske would have "full access and a direct line to the president and the vice president." The source also noted that Vice President Biden was instrumental in the creation of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and would continue to be an outspoken advocate on the issue.

Kerlikowske has long been speculated to be the front-runner to serve as the drug czar. But revelations concerning the arrests of his son, Jeffrey, on drug-related charges complicated the process.

The White House acknowledged Jeffrey Kerlikowske's past drug use but offered no specifics or comment.

In his remarks today accepting the nomination, Kerlikowske is expected to reference his family struggles with drug abuse. "Our nation's drug problem is one of human suffering," according to his prepared remarks. "As a police officer, but also in my own family, I have experienced first-hand the devastating effects that drugs can have on our youth, our families and our communities."

In formally nominating Kerlikowske, Obama -- who admitted using cocaine as a teenager in his memoir "Dreams From My Father" -- offers a vote of confidence for a man who could face uncomfortable questions during his confirmation process. The position requires confirmation by the Senate.

Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton praised the pick, saying, "As a City Police Chief, Gil sees every day the violence and tragedy that results from drug abuse in this country and will require no 'on-the-job training.' "

Historically, the White House's broad drug-control strategy has revolved around prevention, helping drug users and disrupting the market for illegal drugs. During the campaign, Obama supported prevention efforts as a way to combat not only drug abuse but also unemployment and crime.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have met in recent weeks with Mexican authorities to discuss the flow of drugs and violence across the border.

During the Bush years, the number of high-schoolers using drugs declined by more than 900,000, according to a January report issued by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. A separate national survey on drug use and health concluded, however, that nearly 7 million people in the United States show some signs of drug use or dependence, most often involving marijuana.

Kerlikowske served as police chief in two Florida cities, Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie, before becoming police commissioner in Buffalo in 1994. He left that job after 4 1/2 years to work in the Clinton Justice Department as the director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. During that time, he became close with Holder.

In his most recent stint, in Seattle, Kerlikowske drew national media attention in 2004 when, seeking to demonstrate the efficacy of the Taser stun gun, he allowed himself to be zapped with 50,000 volts of electricity in front of reporters and television cameras. He commanded less favorable media attention in 2001 when his department was criticized for its lack of aggressiveness in dealing with Mardi Gras riots that left one man dead and 70 injured.

In 2004, Kerlikowske's personal gun was stolen after he left it under the seat of his unmarked police car.

He currently serves as president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Staff writer Carrie Johnson contributed to this report.

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