- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge yesterday announced he will resign his post after serving nearly two years as the nation’s first Cabinet official charged with protecting Americans against future terrorist attacks.

The former Pennsylvania governor called his resignation a “very difficult decision,” and said he will continue to serve as secretary until Feb. 1, 2005, or earlier if a replacement is confirmed by the Senate.

Mr. Ridge called it an honor to be chosen by President Bush to serve the country as the White House homeland security adviser just days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and later as secretary when Congress created the new Cabinet position.

“I think we’ve accomplished a great deal in a short period of time,” Mr. Ridge said, citing security enhancements at ports of entry and partnerships with the state, local and private sector.

Next in line for the position is Homeland Security Undersecretary James Loy, but administration officials say he is expected to retire this year.

Likely successors include White House domestic security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, and former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III.

In July, the Associated Press reported that Mr. Ridge would resign after the election to earn more money in the private sector and pay for his two children’s college education. Mr. Ridge’s yearly salary is $175,000.

“After more than 22 consecutive years of public service, it is time to give personal and family matters a higher priority,” Mr. Ridge said in his resignation letter submitted yesterday to Mr. Bush.

At a press conference, Mr. Ridge said his successor would face “an enormous challenge and a great opportunity” to keep the country safe and secure “within the constitutional framework.”

Mr. Ridge’s “efforts have resulted in safer skies, increased border and port security, and enhanced measures to safeguard our critical infrastructure and the American public,” Mr. Bush said in a statement. “In the fight against terrorism, he has played a vital role in protecting the American people from a real and ongoing threat.”

Republicans close to the Bush administration say Mr. Kerik — who was in charge of New York City’s police at the time of the September 11 attacks — is a top candidate to take over Mr. Ridge’s post.

Mr. Kerik, who now lives in New Jersey, introduced Mr. Bush at his campaign stops in that state earlier this year. “I know they like Kerik a lot at the White House,” said a Republican official in Washington.

Another prospective replacement, Mr. Gilmore, was asked if the job had been offered to him, but said he would never comment on his interaction with the administration.

“I know the president is going to pick somebody with whom he has confidence. I look forward to working with the new secretary,” the former Virginia governor said. “This is a decision that the administration is going to make and we ought to leave it to them.”

Mr. Gilmore said he is focused on his District-based law practice, where he has clients in the homeland security and national security industries, but said it was “nice to be mentioned” for the Cabinet spot. Mr. Gilmore chaired the advisory panel on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction formed by Congress in 1999. The Gilmore Commission expired in February.

Another possible successor to Mr. Ridge is Joe Allbaugh, who managed Mr. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, then served as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and now has his own lobbying firm in Washington.

Mr. Allbaugh yesterday dismissed the suggestion that he is on the short list for Homeland Security, saying he considers Mr. Ridge “to be a very close friend, and I thank him on behalf of a grateful nation for his service to the president and to our country in what is a tough 24/7 job.”

Republicans close to Mr. Ridge from his days as governor say one place he is likely to land is with the lobbying-legal firm of Blank Rome. A number of Ridge supporters from Pennsylvania work at the powerhouse firm whose chairman, David Girard-di-Carlo, was treasurer of Mr. Ridge’s 1994 gubernatorial campaign.

“There are a lot of Washington lobbying firms that would kill to have [Mr. Ridge],” one Republican said confidentially. “A former congressman, governor, Cabinet officer — who wouldn’t want him?”

Mr. Ridge was confirmed to the Cabinet post in January 2003 and led the largest reorganization of the federal government since the Defense Department was created in 1947.

The Homeland Security Department was criticized for its color-coded terrorism alert system, but Mr. Ridge defended the system yesterday, saying officials “labored over months and months” to create it.

In February 2003, with the alert system at a heightened level and war in Iraq looming, Americans rushed to buy duct tape, plastic sheeting, bottled water and other emergency supplies recommended by Homeland Security officials in case of a terrorist attack. The preparedness suggestions were ridiculed, but Mr. Ridge defended them as minimal measures “to tide you over for a day or two … in the event something occurs.”

Democrats accused Mr. Ridge of playing politics when the terrorist alert level was raised this year prior to the political conventions and election. The level reverted to yellow or “elevated” Nov. 10. Since its inception, the terrorist alert level has not dipped below yellow, and has been raised to orange, or “high,” seven times.

The department was also criticized for a security program to protect against future terrorist attacks, the now-abandoned Computer Assisted Passenger Profiling System (CAPPS2), which included background checks on passengers that critics called intrusive.

Mr. Ridge is the seventh Bush Cabinet member to resign since the election, following Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Education Secretary Rod Paige, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans.

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and Senate Governmental Affairs Committee chairman, said: “Secretary Ridge took on this task with strong leadership and the vision to make Americans safer.”

Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican and chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, said: “Under his stewardship, we have made our homeland more secure on virtually every front.”

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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