Last week, President Bush nominated former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to be Secretary of Homeland Security.
No one will mistake Kerik for your typical career government employee. This colorful, tough-talking cop helped America's largest city cope with the terrible aftermath of Sept. 11.
And as Correspondent Mike Wallace reported on 60 Minutes three years ago, he brings to his job a surprising life story –- from juvenile delinquent, to high school dropout, to New York City police commissioner.
Kerik said he wanted to be a cop from the very beginning.
"I have a hat and I have a holster, and I have a gun. I have my cousin with his hands up, and I keep that picture in my office," says Kerik. "When people talk about when they started their careers, I point to the picture and I say, 'I started at 4.'"
Kerik grew up on the rough and tumble streets of Paterson, N.J. His family lived paycheck to paycheck. And Kerik lived from street fight to street fight. He admits he didn't exactly have the background one expects from a police commissioner of New York City.
But he says, "At some point in time, my life changed."
His ticket out of Paterson was just a bus ride away. "I would skip school, come to New York City, and get on an A train downtown to Canal Street, get off and go to the martial arts school, the karate school."
"Martial arts was the beginning of any kind of real discipline in my life," adds Kerik, who got his black belt instead of his high school diploma.
Kerik now says that discipline turned his life around. He became a military police officer and eventually ended up back in New Jersey, working at the Sheriff's Department in Passaic County. But Kerik wanted to be a New York City cop like his friend, Jerry Speziale. Kerik went to see him just one day after Speziale had been shot on the job.
"I can remember telling him, 'Bern, this is the greatest job you could ever imagine, if you really want to be a cop,'" recalls Speziale. "He looked at me and said, 'I gotta be on that job.'...He wanted to be a New York City cop."
At 31, Kerik was already an old man by NYPD standards. But he finally became what he wanted to be. Back then, he had a lot more hair, including a ponytail, and wore gold jewelry.
"I had six diamond earrings, and I had a big gold loop at the bottom of my ear," recalls Kerik.
One of his most dangerous jobs was a two-year sting, in which he and Speziale posed as international drug smugglers and confiscated a $1.4 billion worth of cocaine from the Cali Cartel.
"It is probably one of the most difficult jobs in the New York City Police Department, because your identity is taken from you," says Kerik. "You don't carry a shield or a gun. You don't wear a vest."
So why did he want that job? "I wanted a detective's gold shield, the coveted NYPD gold shield," says Kerik. "That's what I wanted."
Now, he'll get a lot more than that if he's confirmed as a member of Mr. Bush's cabinet. He would replace Tom Ridge as one of the most visible and critically important members of the administration.
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