December 3, 2004


Homeland Security Nominee Took Rocky Path to Leadership: Rough-and-tumble early years prefaced Bernard Kerik's law-and-order record. (Edwin Chen, December 3, 2004, LA Times)

Bernard Kerik easily would bring the most colorful background to an otherwise uniformly button-down Bush Cabinet — standing in sharp contrast to Tom Ridge, the by-the-books public servant he is expected to succeed as Homeland Security secretary.

Kerik, 49, is the son of an alcoholic prostitute who was found murdered in a pimp's bed, as he recounted in his 2002 autobiography, "The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice." He described himself as a troublemaker; by age 16, he said, he was a veteran of countless street fights. A student of martial arts, he dropped out of high school and joined the Army.

Assigned to South Korea as a military policeman, Kerik got a young local woman pregnant, and was transferred back to the United States. Through discipline and determination, he changed course, eventually earning a bachelor's degree in public administration from Empire State College in New York.

After working briefly as a security guard in Saudi Arabia, Kerik worked his way up the law enforcement ladder. By 30, he was warden of the largest county correctional facility in New Jersey.

But he took a 50% pay cut to fulfill a lifelong dream — becoming a New York City police officer. It didn't take Kerik long to stand out, and he soon joined the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force, participating in many spectacular sting operations.

In 1993, he joined the security detail of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the crime-busting U.S. attorney who was running for New York mayor. When Giuliani was elected the following year, he named Kerik the corrections department's first deputy commissioner, a position overseeing what many regarded as an explosive prison system on Rikers Island. But under Kerik's supervision, violent incidents dropped by 93%.

In 2000, Giuliani named him New York's 40th police commissioner. Kerik resigned after Giuliani left office in 2002, then joined the former mayor at Giuliani Partners, a strategic consulting firm, as senior vice president.

Kerik finished writing his autobiography at 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, just hours before the first hijacked passenger jet slammed into the World Trade Center.

Like Giuliani, albeit to a lesser extent, Kerik won broad recognition for his response and leadership in the aftermath of the attacks.

Many countries have leaders who are figurative whoreson, but in few would a literal one be welcomed to the councils of state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 3, 2004 9:12 AM

Miramax bought the movie rights to his book. If that happens, I think he'd be the first member of cabinet to have a movie made about his life before he was a cabinet member. Of course, now that he's a Bushie, they may be less keen on the story...

Posted by: Timothy at December 3, 2004 10:02 AM

Will the South Korean mother & child get their share of royalties? I wonder how long it will take Old Media to locate and interview them.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at December 3, 2004 11:26 AM

If nothing else, Kerik's appointment shuts up the New York-based media for a while, since too many of their fellow NYC metro area neighbors remember what a mess the crime situation was in the city in the early 1990s. But he will need to by a tough SOB to handle all the Washington, D.C. turf wars he's about to become involved with in his new job.

Posted by: John at December 3, 2004 12:16 PM