Video: Who's in charge

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updated 9/8/2005 3:30:26 PM ET 2005-09-08T19:30:26

Days after Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast many are still asking, who is in charge?

That's a question New Yorkers didn't have to ask after 9/11 when Bernard Kerik was New York's police commissioner he worked side by side with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, bringing order out of the chaos of that city. 

Kerik joined MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Wednesday to discuss how leaders on the local, state and federal level have responded to Katrina's aftermath.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Do we need a face down there in New Orleans to take charge, Mr. Commissioner?

BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER:  Honestly,
Chris, I think you do.  I think that's what you have needed from the beginning. 

You know, I know people are sort of laying blame all over the place.  The bottom line is, the state and local authorities, they have the ultimate responsibility, the first line of responsibility for the planning, preparedness, response, first-responders.  And we really haven't seen that face. 

You know, we have heard the mayor saying the feds don't know what they are doing, the feds saying they are not getting cooperation from the locals.  You know, New York City sent 200 or 300 cops down to New Orleans and that area.  They got a call to send them.  Then they got a call from somebody else, don't send them.  Then they got a call to send them, then not to send them. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KERIK:  I think one thing that we learned out of 9/11, we had one person in charge of New York City.  It was Rudy Giuliani.  It was very clear.  We all sat in one room.  Every commissioner, every state agency head, even the governor sat in that room.  Rudy made the decisions.  And we followed.  And I don't think we have seen that type of leadership in this event. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, one way to get authority, I mean, by true authority, not that you have a nice title, like mayor, but people look up to you in a time of crisis, true authority, is to have authenticity, to give people what they need to know in terms of information.

One thing I liked about Mayor Giuliani during the hell of 9/11 is, I remember him standing on a street corner in his trench coat one night saying, we have got three cases of that, maybe four.  He was giving us information-I think it was anthrax or whatever it was-as he was getting it.  In other words, we knew, when we put the cameras on Giuliani, we would be finding out what was going on, no rolling disclosure, no, I will tell you when it feels good to tell you or when it's convenient to tell you. ... I don't know if there's anybody around even doing that right now, Mr. Commissioner.

KERIK:  Well, I think the problem is, Chris, you don't have that direct leadership. 

And those meetings I'm talking about, we had meetings in New York City 7:00 a.m., 12:00 in the afternoon and 7:00 at night, 5:00 to 7:00 at night.  Every commissioner, every state agency head, when we walked out of there, nobody left that meeting not knowing what was going within ground zero, outside of ground zero.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KERIK:  The security of the city. 

No matter what it was, every principal member of the city's and the state's Cabinet, they were aware of what is going on.  We don't have that down South right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it was smart to bury FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency in a government department, to bury it as a sub-Cabinet department? 

KERIK:  Honestly, Chris, I don't see a problem with it.  Really, FEMA is supposed to be a coordinator and an assistant to state and local authorities. ... We had FEMA here after 9/11.  Joe Allbaugh was the FEMA director, (he) did a phenomenal job.  He was basically living at ground zero for the first three or four weeks, five weeks after the attack. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but he was the president's good friend.  He came with the authority of the president of the United States.  ... The fact is, they buried this authority of the FEMA director down under somebody else, Mike Chertoff, who is an impressive guy, an impressive prosecutor.  But you don't think there's any problem with that kind of bureaucratic burial job? 

KERIK:  No, I think it's a chain of command.  He reports to Chertoff.  Chertoff reports to the president.  ... He has got to follow the chain of command.  But he has a job to do.  If he does that job and does it right, fine.  If he doesn't, then he will be held accountable, I would imagine.

MATTHEWS:  You know, whenever we have, Mr. Commissioner, a big challenge, like rebuilding Tokyo after World War II or rebuilding Berlin or saving Berlin from the communists, the president of the United States, whoever he was, would name a big figure, Lucius Clay in Berlin airlift, of course, General MacArthur in Tokyo. 

He became basically an American Caesar over there.  I want to ask you when we come back whether the president doesn't have to do something like that now and pick somebody big to go in there, whether it's the vice president, to go down there and move down in New Orleans for six months, or put in Rudy Giuliani or Colin Powell in there, somebody who is a power figure who will give orders and put everything together and do something like you folks did up in New York during 9/11.

MATTHEWS: Mr. Commissioner, three big questions.  Do you think the vice president is being detailed with a big job down there to maybe take over the operation or something less than that, to go down there and maybe execute a couple people, like Michael Brown, have him fired, or maybe just for public relations?  How do you see the vice president's role in the next couple days?

KERIK:  Well, I think the vice president is going to go down and get a debriefing on -- after the fact, what's happened thus far, where they think they have to go in the future, what it's going to take in resources from the federal government.  And then he's going to go back, basically, and brief the president and tell the president, give the president his recommendations.  That's what I think will happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think the president didn't do the job himself, if that's all it is? 

KERIK:  Well, I think it's going to take a little bit more time than the president would have to be down there, you know, listening to briefings and conducting inquiries and doing the things that the vice president would do. ... that's his designee.  I think it's right within the chain of command. ... The vice president is an experienced guy.  He will get the job done. 

MATTHEWS:  What about Rudy Giuliani?  There's been a lot of buzz around this studio, around my world here, that the president needs to name a real hot shot, somebody who can go down there and take the heat and be the man in charge or the woman in charge.

Rudy Giuliani, your longtime colleague, has been named.  He said to the press the other day that -- depending on who made the offer and what the offer was -- he would be open to helping out.  Do you think he would accept the job as the president's top man down there to make this thing work the next several months? 

KERIK:  Well, I don't know.  He has to make that decision.  He has got a great private life.  He has got a political life, a future ahead of him, if he wants. 

This is an enormous task.  It's going to take a lot of time, a lot of effort.  Is he the right guy for the job?  I will be the first one to say he's probably one of the best for the job.  Look at what he did from New York City ... from '94 to 2000, how far it came, how clean it got, so forth and so on.  Look what he did on 9/11.

He's the perfect guy for job, but he has to make that decision.

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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