Jewish World Review Dec. 6, 2004 / 23 Kislev, 5765

Zev Chafets

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Kerik's got a big future | The choice of Bernard Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security gets more interesting the more you think about it.

Especially if you live in New Jersey.

From the national point of view, Kerik seems like a good pick. He knows something about security, he has experience running a large bureaucracy and he's equipped with good instincts. That became obvious when he slipped out of his Iraqi police adviser gig after just a few months. Kerik is the kind of guy who knows an unwinnable hand when he's dealt one.

The Department of Homeland Security is almost as big a mess as the Baghdad PD. Nobody knows exactly what it does or even what it is. But the secretary's role is clear; he serves as the public face of the war on terror. In other words, it is a PR job (at least until the next attack). Success in office means being more impressive than Tom Ridge.

This should be a snap for Kerik, who is Manhattan media-savvy. All he has to do is drop Ridge's laughable color-coding, and limit his emergency press conferences to actual emergencies.

But Kerik has more than common sense going for him. Unlike Ridge, he's got star quality.

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Kerik is the son of a Jersey hooker who was murdered when he was a young boy. He was raised in the streets of Paterson, dropped out of high school, joined the service, bummed around the world and eventually found his vocation as a street cop.

This is folk hero stuff, and, in fact, a Hollywood biopic is on the way. When it comes out, the new secretary of homeland security will be the national badass, bigger than Arnold and twice as real.

Assuming, of course, he gets confirmed. The NYPD isn't known for producing angels, and there are possibly a few rough patches in Kerik's career. Still, since he already has the blessing of Democrats Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, he ought to sail through Senate confirmation without much scrutiny.

Kerik dishing out dollars in Washington, would obviously be very good for New York. But it is New Jersey, his native state and current residence, where his future lies.

Bernard Kerik is an ambitious Republican. He considered running for governor before learning that the New Jersey state Constitution has a seven-year residency requirement. But there is no such limit for U.S. senators.

New Jersey Sen. Jon Corzine recently announced that he's running for governor in 2005. Corzine has a good reputation, particularly for raising money. If he wins the statehouse, there will be an opening in the Senate. It will be filled by a lame-duck candidate who will have to win the job in 2006.

The Republicans naturally want that seat, and they've got a shot - with the right candidate. After all, New Jersey trended toward the GOP in 2004, largely because of post-traumatic concerns over terrorism. And who would make a better senator than homeboy Bernie Kerik, just returned from Washington after a year as America's homeland security chief?

Like all political scenarios, this one depends on circumstances. A terror attack on Kerik's watch could discredit him. So could a scandal, always a possibility in a department with an immature administrative structure and a lot of money to give away.

But, if Kerik's luck holds, he'll be able to dole out national security pork for the next year (or three, if he wants to wait for 2008); then head home to Jersey with a pocketful of IOUs. That's the last thing the Democrats need: a Republican working-class superhero with red-hot

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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