- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 18, 2004

Well, enough already about Bernard Kerik. The former New York City Police commissioner and world consultant on dealing with terrorists never got close to Senate confirmation hearings before withdrawing himself from consideration. Yet from the furor over his nomination one would never know it. This guy has had more ink and air time after stepping down than most nominees for a high government post who stay the course.

In fact, Mr. Kerik has become the poster boy for why one should think twice before accepting the nod for an important job at nearly any level of the Executive Branch. Practically no one could withstand the vetting process if diligently pursued by those opposed and, believe me, there always are plenty of opponents, no matter how small the job. (Well, maybe the exception was Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who lived with his mother in the woods and read books and whose experience slate was as unmarked as a baby’s bottom).

But Mr. Kerik, some of whose exploits were described as “colorful” recently by White House communications director Dan Bartlett, should have known this before he rushed to the podium with George W. Bush to accept the job of trying to straighten out the vast Department of Homeland Security.

Did he think for one moment no one would notice his extramarital affairs and an investigation of his dealings while leading the NYPD and his friendship with a contractor said to have ties to the mob? Has he slept through the last 40 years of all-out Senate warfare over controversial nominees? Has he never heard of Abe Fortas or Zoe Baird or Robert Bork or John Tower or Clarence Thomas or Clement Haynsworth?

It is difficult to determine whether he was lucky or unlucky to have the nanny problem to fall back on as a means of escape. Probably he was a little bit of both — lucky for a brief day or two but unlucky since he stimulated the gumshoes determined to discover what else might be in his closet.

Further tweaking the interest of those determined that neither Mr. Kerik nor the White House would get off easy were obvious lapses, careless or deliberate, in the administration’s pre-selection investigations, including making the appointment before a FBI check. How could they be so blind even if everyone’s favorite mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, had recommended him? Heck, he wrote a book about his “colorful exploits” that should have raised red flags.

The answer is that not even the White House can get it right all the time. Mr. Bartlett told reporters the other morning that of the 2,000 appointments vetted since Mr. Bush took office four years ago, only two came up sour, Mr. Kerik’s and Linda Chavez’s nomination as labor secretary. She had the same nanny problem as Mr. Kerik and also withdrew before she could get roughed up in the Senate. That’s not a bad record considering the potential for disaster in appointing any human being who hasn’t spent life in a monastery or a convent. Even that might cause problems these days.

Isn’t all this a “who cares” matter given that Mr. Kerik’s withdrawal made his personal history academic as far as his importance in the current political scene? Certainly that is true outside the Amtrak Corridor between New York and Washington where the media tries to keep the slow days full of news, relevant or not, particularly given an opportunity for some good old-fashioned Bushwhacking.

More important is what the whole process says about getting people to take these underpaid, high-profile jobs at the risk of having their reputations destroyed, often over minor life incidents. Mr. Kerik’s indiscretions might not be considered insignificant, but on the other hand he realized it soon enough to get out. Some have not been so fortunate when overwhelmed with the flattery of a presidential appointment and have been pilloried for their temerity. Many others who might have been fit for important posts never want to take the chance. They can hardly be blamed.

Who knows whether Mr. Kerik with his substantial law enforcement background could have made the Homeland Security Department what it was meant to be? That even after he backs out, the battering continues is enough to make the next potential nominee reconsider. That’s too bad.

Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.

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