Rudolph Giuliani’s onetime police commissioner and current business partner, Bernard Kerik, certainly had a lot of people fooled. When President George W. Bush nominated Mr. Kerik to be Secretary of Homeland Security, few people were louder in their praise than New York’s Senators, Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton. They were joined by a chorus of politicians, commentators and editorial boards, which greeted Mr. Kerik’s rise to national prominence with hosannas.
It turns out, of course, that everybody (including this page) had it wrong about Mr. Kerik. Or, more precisely, people didn’t realize that there were two versions of the would-be Homeland Security Secretary, who has withdrawn his nomination amid troubling revelations about his past.
There was Bernie Kerik, the story, promoted by Mr. Kerik, Mr. Giuliani and others. This Bernie Kerik was the kid from New Jersey who’d survived a tough childhood and willed himself to positions of leadership. This was the Bernie Kerik who found himself at the head of the New York Police Department on that terrible day in September more than three years ago. This version of Bernie Kerik won praise and admiration.
But we now know there was another Bernie Kerik-a man who declared bankruptcy several years ago, who faced lawsuits and an arrest warrant in 1998 for unpaid condominium fees, who accepted lavish, unreported gifts from people who did business with the city while he was the city corrections and then police commissioner, and who sent homicide detectives to grill Fox News employees because his publisher reportedly suspected them of stealing from her. This Bernie Kerik bragged about his luxurious lifestyle and used police officers for personal business, including doing research for his memoir, which earned him a $2,500 fine from the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board. This Bernie Kerik befriended Frank DiTommaso, whose construction company, Interstate Industrial Corporation, is considered mobbed-up by law-enforcement officials; Mr. Kerik also vouched for Lawrence Ray, the security director of a related company, Interstate Materials, who was later charged with stock fraud and who just happened to help pay for Mr. Kerik’s wedding, as a “top-shelf guy.”
Mr. Kerik says he asked Mr. Bush to withdraw his nomination because he suddenly remembered that he employed a housekeeper who may have been an illegal alien. Nonsense. Here’s what he suddenly remembered: that he has conducted his personal and professional life with little regard to propriety. That he is, in fact, an embarrassment to himself, to the city that employed him, and to his business partners.
Which leads us to Mr. Giuliani. What did he know about this guy, and how long has he known it? The former Mayor would have us believe that all of these revelations have come as a great shock to him, but let’s recall that Mr. Giuliani named Mr. Kerik as his police commissioner and became so friendly with him that they went into business together. Surely a good administrator and a good lawyer like Mr. Giuliani performed due diligence. Did Mr. Giuliani simply choose to ignore what he knew about his police commissioner and partner because Mr. Kerik, his former driver, was willing to provide yeomen service as an all-purpose yes-man? By putting forth such a flawed candidate for a national position, in which Mr. Kerik would have doled out $7 billion in federal funding, Mr. Giuliani raises serious questions about his own character, judgment and motives. Even more absurdly, Mr. Giuliani now says that even if he had been aware of the recent revelations, he would not have changed his mind about backing Mr. Kerik for the prominent post. “I have the advantage of knowing him under very, very stressful and difficult circumstances,” Mr. Giuliani said, “so I know this is a man of great courage, great dedication, tremendous focus and sometimes not the greatest attention to detail.” How about the fact that he’s a crook?
Mr. Giuliani has apologized to Mr. Bush for advocating Mr. Kerik, but all the mea culpas in the world won’t remove the impression that Mr. Giuliani’s actions were those of a self-serving, discredited fool.
The Shrill Randi Weingarten
As a result of policies put into place by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, profound changes have been implemented in the city’s public-school system. To name a few: parents now have a greater voice in running schools; the ineffectual Board of Education is no more; new curricula in math and language skills have been introduced; 45 principals have been fired for lousy performance and a training academy opened for new principals; 90 new schools have opened; elementary-school students with poor reading and math skills are no longer automatically promoted; and several wealthy individuals have created unprecedented public-private partnerships. Indeed, in the past two years, contributors have given $175 million to New York City public schools, including $51.2 million from Bill and Melinda Gates to create 67 small high schools, and $20 million from Hartford money manager George Weiss to send 400 Harlem kindergartners to college.
Naturally, given the above record, Randi Weingarten, the president of the teachers’ union, thinks the Mayor has done a terrible job, and two weeks ago came close to calling for Mr. Klein’s dismissal. The fact is, Mr. Klein’s strong leadership has given parents and students reason for hope.
Ms. Weingarten’s union is in contract talks with the city. She wants teachers to receive a 14 percent raise over three years; the city is asking union members to work harder in return. The larger issue is that the Mayor is seeking more control over the deployment of teachers, while the union resists almost any change in work rules. For the uninitiated, the current teachers’ union contract is 200 pages long; Ms. Weingarten cried foul when the Mayor had the temerity to propose an eight-page version.
Ms. Weingarten complains about the Mayor’s “micromanaging,” apparently preferring the days when teachers and principals were responsible only to the hacks at 110 Livingston Street. Rather than weighing her union’s contract by the pound, Ms. Weingarten should weigh the needs of teachers and students.
The Birdbrains of 927 Fifth
Some say that if one is blessed with great wealth, either inherited or earned, one bears a measure of extra responsibility to the wider world. But such altruistic sentiments are lost on several of the residents of 927 Fifth Avenue. Years of lavish living behind the building’s neo–Italian Renaissance façade has dulled the finer instincts of some of the co-op’s board members. And so the profusion of nature that had been nesting for 11 years on a cornice on the 12th floor-a red-tailed hawk, Pale Male, and a succession of mates, the current being the demure Lola-moved them not to wonderment and appreciation, but rather to indignation and aggrieved action. As the world now knows, on Dec. 7, the nest was removed at the direction of the co-op board-over the objections of some of the building’s residents, including Mary Tyler Moore-and Pale Male and Lola were left without a home.
The crass arrogance of the co-op board made headlines across the globe. Their claims that the birds were a health hazard, and that bird-watchers were invading their privacy, were like the squawks of spoiled children. It emerged that the board’s chairman, real-estate developer Richard Cohen, who is married to CNN news anchor Paula Zahn and whose reputation in real-estate circles is not so hot, was determined to evict the hawks and had not bothered to bring the matter before shareholders for a vote. If he had done so, he might have found that not everyone who lives in 927 Fifth’s $10-million-plus apartments has a heart of stone. After the nest was torn down, Ms. Moore joined protesters outside her own building and became the birds’ beatific champion. Other residents-such as Lazard chief executive Bruce Wasserstein and Robert Belfer, the son of the founder of Belco Oil and Gas-lacked either Ms. Moore’s compassion or courage and remained silent.
But the rest of the world did not. As Adrian Benepe, the commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation, noted, Pale Male is “the most famous red-tailed hawk in the world.” The subject of a book and a PBS documentary, Pale Male sired 23 offspring and served as a reminder that Central Park is no mere mock-up of nature, but the real thing.
While Mr. Cohen now says that the board will find a way to make possible the birds’ return to their nesting place, he’s been short on specifics. Meanwhile, Pale Male and Lola fly in widening circles above Central Park, perhaps considering a friendlier perch-or, more sadly, no place at all.