Bernard Kerik’s nanny problem might have proved the least of his troubles if he had pressed ahead with his bid to become homeland security secretary.
The past few days have seen news reports about a rash of possible personal and professional improprieties on the part of the former New York City police commissioner, including big stock-option windfalls, connections with people suspected of doing business with the mob and, on Monday, allegations he had simultaneous extramarital affairs with two women.
Citing unidentified sources, the New York Daily News said Kerik had overlapping affairs with Judith Regan, the publisher of his recent memoir, and a city correction officer. He used the same New York City apartment for liaisons with the women during his 18-month tenure as head of the nation’s largest police department ending in 2001, the paper said.
On Monday, Kerik said he wanted to apologize “to anybody who’s been brought into this unnecessarily,” including Regan and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a close friend and business associate who had promoted the former street cop’s Cabinet candidacy.
“What happened between me and the White House is my fault and nobody else’s,” Kerik told reporters outside a consulting firm run by Giuliani. “I’ll deal with it.”
Giuliani earlier refused to discuss allegations about Kerik’s personal life, saying Kerik would “have to answer for himself.” A call to Regan was not returned.
Kerik, 49, who married his current wife in 1998 and has two children with her, apparently became close with Regan while writing his book, “The Lost Son,” in which he described being abandoned by his prostitute mother.
The relationship first drew scrutiny in 2001 after Kerik reportedly dispatched detectives to question people whom Regan had accused of stealing her cell phone. In 2002, Kerik was ordered to pay a conflict-of-interest fine for using three police officers to do research about his mother for the book.
Other recent reports claim that around the time of the alleged affairs, Kerik accepted unreported gifts of thousands of dollars in cash and other items from associates at a New Jersey construction company while serving under Giuliani, first as correction chief, then as police commissioner. Authorities suspect the company, Interstate Industrial Corp., has ties to organized crime.
Kerik said he was unaware of any mob allegations involving Interstate, which has denied any wrongdoing.
The nominee withdrew his name Friday night because, it turned out, he had briefly employed an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper and nanny.
Giuliani insisted Kerik would have been a “very, very good choice” for homeland security secretary if not for the nanny problem.
“Everyone thinks he would have been superbly qualified,” he said, adding that Kerik would remain a partner at the firm, Giuliani Partners.
President Bush also remains convinced Kerik “is someone who has a solid record of achievement,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said at a briefing in Washington.
When Bush picked Kerik on Dec. 3 to succeed Tom Ridge as homeland security chief, he won early support in Republican and some Democratic quarters based on his leadership of the Police Department following the Sept. 11 attacks.
But others questioned whether Kerik had the management experience to continue the nearly 2-year-long effort to meld the pieces of the sprawling Homeland Security Department, which has more than 180,000 employees from 22 federal agencies.
Democrats also were focusing on Kerik’s recent windfall from exercising stock options in a stun gun company that does business with the department. He earned $6.2 million from the options received from Taser International.
Those around Kerik — and even Kerik himself — may have paid the price for becoming too enamored of his image as a brash, self-made law enforcer, said Stanley Renshon, a political scientist and psychoanalyst at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center in Manhattan.
“Kerik is a great rags-to-accomplishment story and Bush really likes that because it fits into is view of the American dream,” Renshon said. “What’s different about them is that Bush is pretty much a straight shooter. He’s a straight-and-narrow kind of guy, and Kerik clearly is a lot less that.”