President Bush announces his nomination of Bernard Kerik as the new Department of Homeland Security Secretary in the Roosevelt Room Friday, Dec. 3, 2004 (White House photo).
Today's nomination of former New York City police commissioner Bernard B. Kerik to succeed Tom Ridge as secretary of homeland security presents a new challenge to AOPA to establish a relationship with the top nation's security official and and to advise him on the realities of general aviation.
Mr. Kerik's many accomplishments - especially those surrounding 9/11 - have given rise to his stellar reputation and certainly facilitated his appointment. However, any views he might have toward GA were not demonstrated in his past jobs. As a result, many questions remain as to his posture on "America's largest air force."
For instance, will his strong security bias translate to proposing more airspace restrictions like the ADIZ that has had a stranglehold on GA in the Washington, D.C., area? Or will he, like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), recognize that GA airplanes and airports do not pose a security threat? AOPA and its members will hopefully get some near-term glimpses into these and related issues during his upcoming Senate confirmation hearings.
"We hope that Mr. Kerik will continue on the path set by Secretary Ridge, recognizing that security must be balanced with the freedom of movement and commerce that general aviation represents and are fundamental to our rights as American citizens," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We look forward to establishing with him the same kind of cooperative relationship that we had with Tom Ridge."
Assuming he is confirmed by the Senate, Kerick, 49, would take on the job of running the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the TSA.
Kerik helped oversee New York City's immediate response to the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. More recently, the White House sent him to Iraq to help rebuild the police force as well as customs, immigration, and border forces.
He began his professional career in the U.S. Army as a military policeman, assigned to Korea and to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he trained Special Forces personnel. He worked as a private security guard in Saudi Arabia and a jail warden in New Jersey.
He joined the New York City police force in 1985, serving as a uniformed officer and an undercover narcotics detective. He was part of the large investigation that led to the conviction of more than 60 members of the Cali (Colombia) drug cartel.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani appointed him police commissioner in 2000. The New York Police Department is the largest in the United States with more than 55,000 employees and a budget of $3.2 billion. (The Department Homeland Security, which was created from 22 federal agencies, has 180,000 employees and a $40.2 billion budget.) He left office at the end of the mayor's term and later joined Guiliani's consulting firm. Press reports quote administration officials saying that Guiliani made personal pitches to President Bush for Kerik to succeed Ridge.
President Bush said this morning, "Bernie Kerik is one of the most accomplished and effective leaders of law enforcement in America.... In every position, he has demonstrated a deep commitment to justice, a heart for the innocent, and a record of great success." Bush said that Kerick is a "dedicated, innovative reformer who insists on getting results."
Kerik campaigned hard for Bush's reelection, giving the President a ringing endorsement as a speaker at the Republican National Convention. "For the future and the safety and the security of this country, I pray to God that he [President Bush] has your vote," he said.
New York's two senators, both Democrats, were quick to endorse Kerik.
"If ever a state deserves to have a citizen appointed to Homeland Security, it is New York," said Sen. Charles Schumer.
"Bernard Kerik knows firsthand the challenges and needs of New York and other high-threat areas," Sen. Hillary Clinton said in a statement. "As a member of the president's Cabinet, he can make that case every single day."
New York's congressional delegation has frequently criticized the administration for not allocating enough money to security projects in New York City and state.
December 3, 2004