(AP) WASHINGTON – Former NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik, who helped rally New York City’s police force and its citizens following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, is President Bush’s pick to run the Homeland Security Department.
But Bush is losing his ambassador to the United Nations, John Danforth, who has submitted his resignation and plans to retire after serving as a troubleshooter for Democratic and Republican presidents alike. Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, served less than six months in the post.
Bush was formally announcing the Kerik selection on Friday, a senior administration official said.
Bush on Thursday also announced that Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns, 54, was his choice as the next agriculture secretary, replacing Ann Veneman.
As Bush lines up his second-term team, seven members of his 15-member Cabinet have submitted their resignations. Another departure, by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, also appeared to be near.
The 49-year-old Kerik’s path to the top homeland security position, where he will replace Tom Ridge, was unconventional, but he campaigned arduously for Bush this year.
A military policeman in South Korea in the 1970s, Kerik’s first anti-terrorism work was as a paid private security worker in Saudi Arabia. He joined the New York Police Department in 1986, first walking a beat in Times Square when it was still a haven for small-time hustlers.
He eventually was tapped to lead the city’s corrections department, and was appointed police commissioner in 2000.
It was in that position that he became known to the rest of the country, supervising the NYPD’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, often at the side of then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Kerik helped repair a department that lost 23 members and became a steady hand for a population deeply shaken by the attacks.
Most recently, he has been a consultant for Giuliani Partners, working to rebuild Baghdad’s police force.
“Coming from New York, Bernie Kerik knows the great needs and challenges this country faces in homeland security,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, who, along with his Senate colleagues, will need to confirm Kerik to his new post. “He has a strong law enforcement background and I believe will do an excellent job in fighting for the resources and focus that homeland security needs and deserves in our post-9/11 world.”
Kerik inherits a new and sprawling bureaucracy. The creation of the department in 2003 combined 22 disparate federal agencies with more than 180,000 employees and a combined budget of $36 billion. The organization is still learning to work together and faces criticism over aspects from the coordination of finances to computer systems.
Bush initially opposed the creation of the department, but changed his tune as its support on Capitol Hill grew.
Danforth had been mentioned as a possible successor to Secretary of State Colin Powell, but Bush picked Condoleezza Rice.
Danforth sent the president a letter Nov. 22 saying that on Jan. 20 it was his intention to retire to his home in St. Louis. He also said he would continue to be available for short-term projects, but that he wanted to spend time with his wife, Sally, who suffered a major fall about 18 months ago.
The administration kept the resignation secret until Thursday.
Danforth received a reply from Bush on Nov. 27, though Danforth’s spokesman, Richard Grenell, would not disclose its contents.
Danforth, 68, led a Clinton-era investigation into the deadly 1993 federal siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, and Bush named him special envoy for peace in Sudan. Danforth took over at the United Nations when Bush’s first ambassador, John Negroponte, became U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
At the United Nations, Danforth kept the spotlight on the need to end Sudan’s 21-year civil war and the more recent wave of killings, looting, and village burnings in the western Darfur region.
Danforth’s outgoing personality and politician’s ease with people made him popular with fellow ambassadors on the U.N. Security Council, though many disagreed with U.S. policy, particularly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On Iraq, he has been pressing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to send more election staffers to help with the Jan. 30 vote.
White House officials said Bush was not very far along in finding a successor.