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President Bush nominates former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security, replacing outgoing DHS head Tom Ridge. Kerik is a close friend and political ally of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who pushed Kerik for the position. Kerik also actively campaigned for Bush in the recent presidential campaign. “Bernie Kerik is one of the most accomplished and effective leaders of law enforcement in America,” Bush says. “In every position, he has demonstrated a deep commitment to justice, a heart for the innocent, and a record of great success. I’m grateful he’s agreed to bring his lifetime of security experience and skill to one of the most important positions in the American government.” Kerik recently returned from a stint in Iraq, where he trained Iraqi police officials (see May 2003 - July 2003). Kerik was also in charge of New York City police activities during the 9/11 attacks (see (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001). Kerik says: “I know what is at stake. On September 11, 2001, I witnessed firsthand the very worst of humanity and the very best.… I saw hatred claim the lives of 2,400 innocent people, and I saw the bravest men and women I will ever know rescue more than 20,000 others.” Bush says of Kerik: “He was there when the Twin Towers collapsed—he knew the faces of the rescuers who rushed toward danger, he attended the funerals for the officers who didn’t come back. Bernie Kerik understands the duties that came to America on September 11. The resolve he felt that morning will guide him every day on his job and every first responder defending our homeland will have a faithful ally in Bernie Kerik.” Congressional Republicans laud Kerik’s nomination. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), the chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees DHS, calls Kerik a “strong candidate” for the post. “He knows first hand the challenges this country faces in guarding against terrorist attacks,” Collins says. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Christopher Cox (R-CA) calls Kerik “the perfect choice for the job,” and goes on to say: “There is no doubt that Bernie is a strong, no-nonsense manager who is intimately familiar with the homeland security mission. The new standing Committee on Homeland Security will work closely with him to build on the strong foundations laid by Tom Ridge to secure America against terrorism.” Some Democrats, including Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), also praise Kerik’s nomination. “Coming from New York, Bernie Kerik knows the great needs and challenges this country faces in homeland security,” Schumer says. “He has a strong law enforcement background and I believe will do an excellent job in fighting for the resources and focus that homeland security needs and deserves in our post-9/11 world.” Kerik’s biggest drawback as the choice to head DHS may be his lack of experience in managing a federal bureaucracy, some observers say. Former New York Police Commissioner Howard Safire says of Kerik: “Bernie is a very good operational person, he knows how to run the operation. What he needs to learn and what he’s going to need help with is the Washington bureaucracy.” DHS is an umbrella department overseeing and managing 22 separate federal agencies and some 200,000 employees and contract workers. (Stevenson and Drew 12/2/2004; Porteus 12/3/2004; McClellan 2008, pp. 245-246) “People here are waiting to find out who this guy is and what changes he’ll bring,” says an anonymous Homeland Security senior official. “He’s really an unknown factor here in Washington.” (Lichtblau and Stevenson 12/4/2004) In 2008, Scott McClellan, the current White House press secretary, will describe DHS as “still in its infancy and still struggling to define its identity,” and will call it a “vast, unwieldy agglomeration of dozens of formerly independent agencies, now bundled together under one name, and with a new focus (physical threats to the American ‘homeland’) that sometimes contradicted the old mandates. Homeland Security was hampered by bureaucratic infighting, incredibly complex coordination challenges, and slumping employee morale.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 245-246) Less than two weeks later, Kerik will withdraw his name from consideration, ostensibly over a problem with an illegal immigrant he hired to babysit his children (see December 13, 2004), though some believe his withdrawal is spurred by the media’s interest in his business dealings (see December 9-10, 2004).
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