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No Relief For Bernie Kerik

Say what you will about would-be Homeland Security czar BernieKerik. We certainly have. But watching the government’s patheticresponse to the Katrina disaster, we must admit a bit of wistfulness for thehard-ass NYPD police commissioner who heroically guided New York through 9/11.Turns out we’re not alone.

“It’s unimaginable that [FEMA boss] Mike Brownwas still doing TV interviews from Washington, DC, two days after thelevees broke,” says one aghast former high-ranking NYPD official, whorequested anonymity. “If Kerik had been in charge the guy would have beenout there in waders and a bulletproof vest, saving people. This would not havehappened on his watch.”

Sources say Kerik himself—whose nomination to the nation’s topsecurity post was swamped when stories about alleged organized crimeconnections, mistresses, and assorted shady financial dealings flooded themedia—has been gnashing his teeth while watching theadministration’s criminally inept relief effort. But we hear the formertop cop has been careful not to go public with his criticism of the manappointed in his place, Michael Chertoff, a desk-jockeyprosecutor with scant leadership qualifications.

“Kerik doesn’t want to badmouth Chertoff because it would reflectbadly on the president, but he’s told a number of us that he would havedone things much differently,” another former colleague said.“Anyone who worked for Kerik knows that he would never have let thisdisaster spiral out of control. He would have been in New Orleans before thehurricane hit, directing operations—not lounging around DC.”

Asked how he would have managed the catastrophe were he in charge, acircumspect Kerik allowed, “I’d have had a mandatory evacuation fromthe start: Get the people out any way possible, and if they refuse to leave,lock ’em up and get them out of there. We had plans for almost everyeventuality [in New York City].”

Kerik said he doubts he would accept the Homeland Security post now, in theunlikely event Bush offered it to him, saying, “I think my wife would divorceme.” But asked whether he would join ex-mayor Rudy Giulianiif his old boss and partner were charged with righting the bungle inthe bayou, Kerik said he’d be there in “a New York minute.”

To which Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Joanna Gonzalezsaid, uh, fuhgeddaboutit.

“We obviously are welcoming anyone who wants to volunteer,” saidGonzalez, with strained enthusiasm. “But as for any employment, that wouldhave to go through the White House.” A White House spokesperson did notreturn calls for comment.

UPDATE: Brown’s been relieved of his Katrina duties. He’ll be replaced by Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, who was overseeing relief and rescue efforts in New Orleans. Of course, you knew that on Tuesday.

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