Bush to tap Kerik for security chief

/ Source: msnbc.com and NBC News

President Bush will nominate former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to succeed Tom Ridge as secretary of homeland security, NBC News learned Thursday.

Ridge, the nation’s first homeland security secretary, announced Tuesday that he was resigning after three years of reworking U.S. security and presiding over color-coded terror alerts. Kerik’s nomination, which is subject to confirmation by the Senate, could be announced as early as Friday, sources told NBC’s Pete Williams.

Several New York newspapers reported Wednesday night that Kerik had emerged as the leading candidate to replace Ridge. White House sources who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity confirmed the decision Thursday.

Law enforcement perspective Kerik, 49, a close associate of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, headed the New York police on Sept. 11, 2001.

After leaving his position, Kerik joined Giuliani Partners, the former mayor’s consulting firm, which sent him to rebuild the civilian police force in Iraq, where he put together a force of 40,000 officers in Baghdad alone.

During the presidential election, Kerik was one of Bush’s most visible supporters, speaking graphically about conditions in Iraq under former President Saddam Hussein.

“I think he’s uniquely qualified” to lead the Department of Homeland Security, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton said in an interview with MSNBC-TV, predicting that local law enforcement agencies would welcome his appointment.

“Bernie brings a law enforcement, an urban perspective, an I-was-there perspective to this issue,” Bratton said.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also praised Kerik’s nomination.

“Coming from New York, Bernie Kerik knows the great needs and challenges this country faces in homeland security,” Schumer in a statement. “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.”

Ridge leaves behind a department that is still learning to work together. Culled from 22 often-disparate federal agencies, the 180,000-employee organization still faces criticism over aspects of its massive government merger, including matters from the coordination of finances to computer systems.

In October 2001, Ridge became the nation’s first White House homeland security adviser, leading a massive undertaking to rethink all aspects of security within the U.S. borders in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Congress later passed legislation establishing the Homeland Security Department, with Ridge taking over as the first secretary in January 2003.