New man at Homeland Security


PRESIDENT Bush's appointment of former New York Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik as Homeland Security secretary is inspired, even though this close associate of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is not a Washington insider.

Mr. Kerik's street smarts, toughness, sophistication, and discipline will be essential qualities in Washington.

Though news reports suggest Mr. Bush named him to this post at the behest of Mr. Giuliani, it is also true that Mr. Kerik was an enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Bush's re-election aspirations.

His appointment may also signal a shift away from the administration's determination to declare the nation at perpetual war with terrorism, the choice of neocons and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, rather than treat terrorist acts as crimes that are police business. Because the latter is where Mr. Kerik's expertise lies, one can at least expect a better balance.

This man is big on loyalty. He will not undercut the President. Nor will he sit quietly in the face of counterproductive nonsense. His style has been to lead by example. He investigates, gets the facts, identifies problems, and creates solutions. He did this running the jail in Passaic, N.J., and later the New York Police Department.

Mr. Kerik also knows the Middle East, having spent time in his 20s doing security in Saudi Arabia - the royal family were among his clients - and more recently in Iraq, where he oversaw training of the nation's police.

Mr. Kerik is adroit at smoothing over conflict effectively. He tirelessly worked to rebuild New York minorities' trust in their police and improve police response times.

His disciplined approach to law enforcement problems, he has said many times, comes from a nearly innate sense that there must be justice. That zeal was the outgrowth of his prostitute mother's abandonment of him as a toddler, and her 1964 murder in Ohio, neither of which attracted much attention from police.

"There was a lot of injustice in her life," he told Oprah Winfrey after his book, The Lost Son, A Life in Pursuit of Justice, was published in November, 2001: "The brutality, the torture - those are all things I've now fought against in the last 26 years. That had a lot to do with who I am today."

His experiences will help shape Mr. Kerik's approach to homeland security. This is not a man who sees things narrowly, so it would be no surprise to see his influence extend, as it has in the past, to others who cry out against injustice.

Ideally it would reach past Mr. Rumsfield to the torture camps in Guantanamo and elsewhere, which are a threat, in their own way, to homeland security.