Had it not been for Sept. 11, Bernard Kerik might have followed his brother’s footsteps and gone to work for his friend Frank DiTommaso, who runs a construction company suspected of mob ties. He would have been remembered only by those who specialize in New York City trivia: What onetime chauffeur for Rudy Giuliani succeeded Howard Safir as police commissioner? You’d have been hard-pressed to find somebody who remembered.
Mr. Kerik’s life-all of our lives-changed on that terrible day. We know, and we should always remember, that the Mayor and his police commissioner offered a lesson in leadership on that day. They put their lives at risk; they could have been killed. Afterward, they offered fortitude, eloquent words and admirable defiance of those who would have destroyed the city.
All that has come to Bernie Kerik in the years since-high-profile appointments, dollars by the millions, coveted spots on cable television shows-can be traced to his being at Mr. Giuliani’s side on 9/11.
It’s time to remember that the real heroes of 9/11 have not made millions since the attacks and are not getting high-profile jobs. They were inside the towers, and as a result they are now dead or living with horrible memories. It is time to ask ourselves why we placed the likes of Bernie Kerik on a pedestal in the first place. And it is surely time to ask why people like Bernie Kerik have become rich playing the role of symbolic heroes of 9/11 when there are real heroes who are still fighting fires and patrolling the streets.
Because Mr. Kerik was not shy about having us think of him as a hero-even though he was not inside the towers where the real heroes were-people in high places began to think of him as an expert on issues he surely knew nothing about. Suddenly Bernie Kerik was qualified to train police in Iraq? Suddenly he was sought after by the vacuous TV talking heads for his alleged expertise in the matter of Islamic terrorism?
Few people dared to point out that being on the street near the mortally wounded towers did not make one an expert in homeland security or global terrorism. Bernie Kerik, on Sept. 10, was a guy who had run the city’s jails and who was playing out the string as the departing Giuliani administration’s last police commissioner.
On Sept. 12, Bernie Kerik-a guy who ran jails-suddenly knew how to fight the global insurgency of Islamic fundamentalism. Or so we assumed, and Mr. Kerik was more than happy to encourage this mistaken impression. He became rich as an expert in the complex issues of security and crime-fighting when, in fact, he knew how to run a jail system.
The daily revelations tell us that Mr. Kerik knew how to suck up to people like Mr. Giuliani and get his name in the newspaper and have a couple of women on the side without the wife figuring out what he was doing. While the latter attributes do require no small bit of cunning and chutzpah, they surely do not qualify one to teach the Iraqis how to police their cities and fight terrorists and spread democracy.
This was the man that George W. Bush and Rudolph Giuliani wished to place in charge of homeland security. Right, homeland security-which happens to be the most important portfolio in the cabinet in these terrible times. Mr. Bush didn’t tap Mr. Kerik to run the federal prisons or train Federal law-enforcement agents-oh no, Mr. Kerik was too big for this kind of boring work. Why, he was a hero of 9/11! This qualifies him for any job he might wish.
Of course, let it be noted that Mr. Kerik did not simply rest on his laurels in pursuit of a job with the Bush administration. During the campaign season, this great American hero assailed John Kerry with the sort of gusto one associated with deplorable hacks on cable television. He all but predicted that Mr. Kerry’s election would result in another terrorist attack on American soil. He was the warm-up act for Mr. Bush’s appearance in New Jersey a couple of months ago, and used the opportunity to attack Mr. Kerry as a threat to national security. And who would know better about national security than this man who was on the street outside the towers on 9/11 and who on 9/10 was considered a caretaker police commissioner who ran jails and once drove Mr. Giuliani to campaign appearances?
Bernard Kerik wanted fame, and now he has it. He can only wish that one day he will fade into obscurity and resume making bundles of money for being New York’s police commissioner on Sept. 11, 2001.