On Sept. 11, 2001, high school dropout and onetime street cop Bernard Kerik was serving as the third New York police commissioner of a lame-duck mayor. He caught the attention of President Bush, who sent Kerik to Iraq to create a police force after the invasion, gave him a speaking role at the Republican National Convention, and nominated him today as the next secretary of homeland security.
The New York Times says that Kerik’s rise from a harsh upbringing to likely Cabinet nominee has much to do with his powerful patron, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whom he first served as a bodyguard. Kerik has developed a reputation as a tough-talking, sometimes coarse law enforcer who rarely stands on ceremony. He is known as a relentless boss who likes to shake up the status quo and toss out subordinates he considers slackers. His style is likely to contrast with that of current Secretary Tom Ridge, who was widely seen as diligent but not hard-charging enough to cut through the turf battles that hamper the effort to meld 22 agencies into one domestic security department. Running Homeland Security – the largest federal department created since the Defense Department in 1949 – goes far beyond anything Kerik has done. The Times profiles Kerik, 49, from his days in Newark, Paterson, N.J., and Ohio, where his mother abandoned the family when he was 2 years old. “I’m not big on doing things that are a waste of time,” Kerik said in a 2001 interview. “If it’s a waste of time, get rid of it. If it’s a bad manager, get rid of them.”