msnbc.com and NBC News
updated 12/3/2004 7:29:32 PM ET 2004-12-04T00:29:32

President Bush on Friday nominated Bernard Kerik to run the Homeland Security Department during his second term, calling the former New York police commissioner "one of the most accomplished and effective leaders of law enforcement in America."

“In every position he has demonstrated a deep commitment to justice, a heart for the innocent and a record of great success," Bush said in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, with Kerik at his side. "I'm grateful he's agreed to bring his lifetime of security experience and skill to one of the most important positions in the federal government."

“I know what is at stake,” Kerik said in accepting the nomination.

Kerik says Sept. 11 prepared him for job
“On Sept. 11, 2001, I witnessed the very worst of humanity, and its very best,” said Kerik, who faces confirmation by the Senate. “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.”

Kerik said what he witnessed in the days after the attacks would be etched in his mind if he were confirmed to lead the department.

“Both the memory of those courageous souls and the horrors I saw inflicted upon our proud nation will serve as permanent reminders of the awesome responsibility you place in my charge,” Kerik said.

Also attending the Roosevelt Room ceremony were Kerik’s wife and children; Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s pick to be the next secretary of state; Fran Townsend, Bush’s homeland security adviser, whose name had been mentioned for the job; and Karl Rove, Bush’s political adviser.

Before the announcement, New York’s Democratic senators, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, both indicated they consider the choice of the man who helped rally New York City’s police force and its citizens following the Sept. 11 terror attacks a good one — a positive signal that he will win bipartisan support in his Senate confirmation vote.

Continuing changes in inner circle
Word that Kerik was Bush’s selection to replace Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge came amid continuing changes in Bush’s inner circle. On Thursday, former Missouri Sen. John Danforth became the latest senior administration official to leave, submitting his resignation as ambassador to the United Nations.

Video: So far, seven members of Bush's 15-member Cabinet have submitted their resignations for his second term. Another departure, by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, also appears to be near.

The 49-year-old Kerik’s path to the top homeland security position was surprising to many observers, but he campaigned arduously for Bush this year and has solid credentials for the post.

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A high school dropout who served as a military policeman in South Korea, Kerik walked a beat in New York City's Times Square before rising to become police commissioner in 2000.

It was in that position that he became known to the rest of the country, supervising the NYPD’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, often at the side of then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Kerik helped repair a department that lost 23 members and became a steady hand for a population deeply shaken by the attacks.

Most recently, he has been a consultant for Giuliani Partners, working to rebuild Baghdad’s police force.

Kerik inherits a new and sprawling bureaucracy. The creation of the department in 2003 combined 22 disparate federal agencies with more than 180,000 employees and a combined budget of $36 billion. The organization is still learning to work together and faces criticism over aspects from the coordination of finances to computer systems.

Bush initially opposed the creation of the department, but changed his tune as its support on Capitol Hill grew.

NBC’s Pete Williams and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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