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Obama’s drug czar pick has stepson with drug record

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2009

UPDATED:

The Obama administration nominated as drug czar Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, who said when accepting the post Wednesday that he has experienced the effects of drugs in his own family, but did not specifically mention his stepson, who is currently being held without bail in a Florida jail.

Mr. Kerlikowske's adult stepson was arrested last month for a parole violation and faced misdemeanor drug charges in 2006 and 1998.

"Our nation's drug problem is one of human suffering. And as a police officer, but also in my own family, I have experienced the effects that drugs can have on our youth, our families and our communities," said Mr. Kerlikowske, a 36-year law enforcement veteran.

He said the success of the nation's drug control efforts are "largely dependent" on the ability to decrease demand, especially among young people.

"Tackling our nation's complex drug problem takes a coordinated and multi-faceted effort," Mr. Kerlikowske said. "There is much work to be done, I'm looking forward to getting to work."

President Obama removed the czar post - with the official title head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy - from his Cabinet. Former President George W. Bush had elevated the post to the Cabinet level.

The White House said the Cabinet designation was not necessary since Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has worked on drug policy for decades and he will be right there with the president while the czar will have direct access to them both.

Mr. Biden said Wednesday there was "no one more qualified" to take the job. He also said the chief would aim for a balanced approach to the drug problem, which he said is one of the nation's "most pervasive" and has the most direct relationship with violent crime

"The chief has been in the frontlines in the battle against drugs," Mr. Biden said Wednesday, adding he fought to create the position decades ago. "He knows we need a comprehensive answer."

The vice president said the challenges facing the new drug czar "are going to be daunting."

Mr. Kerlikowske will work with the vice president to oversee international and domestic anti-drug efforts, the White House said.

Under Mr. Kerlikowske's leadership, Seattle police drug policy has focused more on treatment and intervention than on drug arrests, which have declined since he became chief in 2000. Interest groups who believe the "war on drugs" is the wrong policy praised him as progressive and a signal Mr. Obama would reform the way the United States handles drug crime.

Mr. Kerlikowske, 59, was named to the chief post in Seattle in 2000. He came from the Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services, working with then Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, who is now Mr. Obama's attorney general.

Mr. Kerlikowske also was police commissioner in Buffalo, N.Y., after serving as police chief two Florida towns.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he worked closely with Mr. Kerlikowske when he served as police commissioner of Buffalo.

Mr. Schumer said the administration had not approached him about the appointment, though he thought Mr. Kerlikowske would be a good choice.

"He's very capable. He did a good job fighting crime in Buffalo," Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Schumer was not aware that Mr. Kerlikowske's 39-year-old stepson was arrested last month for violating probation from a July 2007 felony battery charge and the two drug-related charges on his record. The violation was for not properly reporting his work hours and for not being in his home at the proper time, a joint review of court records by the Florida Sun-Sentinel and The Washington Times found.

Before the nomination, administration officials would not comment on Jeffrey Kerlikowske's arrest, first reported by the blog Web of Deception.

Among the charges from Florida agencies were marijuana possession and distribution charges, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, theft, cruelty to animals and larceny, according to police officials and public records.

For a week before he was nominated, Mr. Kerlikowske would not speak to either his potential nomination or his stepson's arrest through spokeswoman Seattle Police Det. Renee Witt, who said, "He is declining to make any comments at this time," and did not return follow-up phone calls.

Jeffrey Kerlikowske, who appears to have been adopted as a child by Mr. Kerlikowske during a previous marriage, was arrested Feb. 27 for a violation on a warrant related to an original conviction of felony battery out of Broward County, Fla., said a spokeswoman for the Martin County, Fla., sheriff.

In June 2007, after pleading no contest to battery, he was sentenced to one year and one day in state prison, to be followed by two years of drug-offender probation, to be followed by one year of regular probation.

In June 2008, he violated probation for an unspecified reason, and his sentence was modified to house arrest.

The drug charges included possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis in 2006 and distributing marijuana in 1998, both misdemeanors in Florida. Jeffery Kerlikowske was sentenced to one year's probation for the 1998 charge and over the years he has served 32 days in jail.

An attorney representing Jeffrey Kerlikowske said the man's father has not been discussed in any court proceedings.

Mr. Kerlikowske is the second prominent nominee from Washington state - joining Commerce Secretary-designate Gary Locke, the former governor.

The White House said the czar will have "full access and a direct line to the resident and the vice president" and a "seat at the table" for important decisions.

Mr. Kerlikowske will be tasked with developing and implementing an effective national strategy and coordinating drug policy between agencies, the White House said.

Mr. Obama acknowledged his own drug use as a young man in his autobiography, "Dreams from My Father."

Jerry Seper, S.A. Miller, and researchers Clark Eberly and John Haydon contributed to this report.

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