Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, a fixture at Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's side after the Sept. 11 attacks, has been tapped by President Bush to succeed Tom Ridge as homeland security secretary, administration officials said yesterday.
Bush also nominated Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns to head the Department of Agriculture. Johanns, who will replace Ann M. Veneman, is the son of a dairy farmer and has championed ethanol and other alternative energy sources.
Johanns and Kerik brought to seven the number of new cabinet nominees Bush has chosen for his second presidential term, and more are expected. Previously, Bush announced new choices for the Departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, Justice and State.
Kerik, 49, a onetime beat cop and drug detective with a black belt, has risen rapidly. He hit the political trail this fall stumping for Bush and delivering a prime-time speech at the Republican Natonal Convention, leading some to speculate that he might have his eye on elected office himself.
In 2003, Kerik took on a temporary assignment as Iraq's interim minister of the interior and senior policy adviser in Iraq for then-U.S. envoy L. Paul Bremer. He has also served with the former mayor's consulting firm, Giuliani Partners.
"Because of his leadership, his knowledge and his experience, he was able to stand up a police force in Baghdad in a very quick period of time," Bush said in an appearance with Kerik on the South Lawn in early October 2003.
If confirmed, Kerik will inherit a sprawling two-year-old department of 180,000 federal employees from Ridge. The former Pennsylvania governor said Tuesday that he would step down as the first head of the Homeland Security Department. The new department has had its share of growing pains, including incompatible computers, hiring freezes, low morale, and turf battles with the Department of Justice.
Kerik found his path after serving in the Army. He got his first taste of antiterrorism work as a private security worker in Saudi Arabia. He joined the New York Police Department in 1986, first walking a beat in Times Square. He later took over the city's Department of Corrections.
He was named police commissioner in 2000 with the department still reeling from racially charged scandals involving Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant assaulted in a station house with a broomstick, and Amadou Diallo, the West African immigrant who was shot 41 times by police who mistakenly believed he was reaching for a gun.
But it was Kerik's steady leadership in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 that earned him a national reputation.
He published a memoir in 2001, The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice, in which he described coming from a broken home. His parents divorced when he was 3, and his mother, an alcoholic and prostitute, was murdered when he was 4. Miramax Films has bought rights to the book.
At the Agriculture Department, Johanns, if confirmed by the Senate, would succeed Veneman. Johanns, 54, a two-term Republican governor, has led delegations of Nebraska's farm and business leaders on missions to Japan, Taiwan, China, Singapore, and other countries. He has taken a leading role in drought relief in the Midwest and has supported ethanol, biodiesel, and other alternative sources of energy, Bush said.
"As a son of Iowa dairy farmers, he grew up close to the land," Bush said yesterday in introducing Johanns at the White House. "I know firsthand his deep commitment to a strong farm economy."
Bush's selection of Johanns to oversee 113,000 employees at the Agriculture Department caused a stir in Nebraska politics.
Johanns had been expected to run in 2006 against Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, who is on the Senate Agriculture Committee and had himself been mentioned as a possible candidate for agriculture secretary.
Nelson praised Bush's selection, saying: "The person who will administer the farm bill and build the future of agriculture in America needs to be somebody with Midwestern agricultural experience."
Johanns was a Democrat when he was elected in 1982 to a county board of commissioners; he left the board five years later and became a Republican in 1988. He became mayor of Lincoln in 1991, was elected governor in 1988, and was reelected in 2002.
"In my campaign for governor, we ran a radio ad and it said, 'After growing up on a dairy farm, the son of John and Adeline Johanns, everything in life has seemed easy after that,' " Johanns said.