Jewish World Review Dec. 13, 2004 / 30 Kislev, 5765

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Consumer Reports

Life catches up to Bernie | A few years back, when he was police commissioner, I came away from a lunch with Bernie Kerik shaking my head. The table chatter was pleasant, but what stood out was Kerik's enthusiastic description of his lifestyle. He was sleeping only a few hours a night, often got home to his wife and baby after midnight, yet hardly ever missed a workout in the gym.

"He can't keep that up," I said to myself.

Indeed he couldn't, and the lunch immediately flashed through my mind when I heard that Kerik had withdrawn his nomination to be the next head of Homeland Security.

Bernie Kerik's messy personal life finally caught up with him. It was only a matter of time.

His statement that he had a nanny problem is no doubt true, but hardly the whole truth. Kerik was a walking contradiction, a terrific head of the NYPD but also someone who lived too fast and too close to the edge. Nobody can keep that up, especially in the public eye.

His biography could be summed up as going from zero to hero. Thanks to his steely steadiness after Sept. 11 and some publishing house sandpapering, he was becoming the stuff of legend.

A successful autobiography was being turned into a movie. A little more than a decade out of bankruptcy, he was a multi-millionaire thanks to stock options he received in his new consulting gig. Bernie the street cop was now Bernie the Star. Not bad for a hooker's son.

Reality has crashed the party. Not paying the proper taxes and maybe hiring an illegal immigrant are no-nos for any cabinet spot, especially one whose job includes cracking down on illegal immigration.

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Yet if it hadn't been that, it would have been something else. Kerik was running as fast he could, but he got such a late, rotten start in life that he could never keep up.

That can happen when your mother abandons you when you're 4 and is killed a few years later.

Kerik often made it seem he'd escaped his past, and maybe he even believed it. But the drumbeat of newspaper articles in recent days had him neck-deep in a mud bath. The rumors of more to come were beyond the whisper stage.

This is not just a personal tragedy. It is a loss for America, too. I believe Kerik, warts and all, would have been a dedicated and successful director of Homeland Security.

Finding a replacement is President Bush's problem, but not his only one. For even if Kerik had been confirmed, there was plenty to worry about in the still disorganized behemoth of the Homeland Security agency.

Start with the fact that Congress has treated security funds as routine political pork, a process that wastes millions and millions of dollars in rural areas without making a single American safer. It is a disgrace that some Podunk in Wyoming gets state-of-the-art equipment while New York and other cities that are the real terror targets go begging. Kerik might have been able to change that.

Then there's the Swiss-cheese safety net. Security at many nuclear and chemical plants has barely budged despite the clear goal of terrorists to use weapons of mass destruction against us. And, as Sen. Chuck Schumer has pointed out, as little as 2% of the ship cargo entering U.S. ports gets inspected.

Finally, outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson's candid blast about the food chain curbed my appetite. "I, for the life of me, cannot figure out why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do," Thompson said.

There is, then, no shortage of things to do for the new man at Homeland Security. But first, we have to find somebody worthy of the challenge.

Michael Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Daily News Comment by clicking here.


11/25/04: Dan's fall is Nixonian: Rather's smearing of his critics was even worse than the bogus hit on W
11/23/04: Forget about Bubba: Clinton still craves the spotlight, but he's no longer relevant
11/18/04: Prez, by ignoring race, makes racial history
11/08/04: Bush won — get used to it
10/29/04: This isn't an election, it's a living nightmare
10/27/04: Why Teresa Heinz Kerry is such a flake
10/14/04: Kerry's scary on terrorism: Unchanged by 9/11, he says, and no real ideas about what to do
10/05/04: The Big Mo still looking for its lover
09/28/04: What we're up against: The war on terror & the war in Iraq are now one and the same
09/14/04: Media bias is doing nation a disservice
08/18/04: Kerry confusion will soon be unforgivable
07/29/04: Why are the wackadoos still dear to Dems' hearts?
07/21/04: Kerry couldn't say no: Hillary waffle was just part of a wimpy week

© 2004, New York Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.