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Former NY Police Chief New Head of Homeland Security

By Richard W. Stevenson and Christopher Drew

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

Bernard B. Kerik, the street-savvy former New York City police commissioner, has been selected by President Bush to replace Tom Ridge as secretary of homeland security, a senior administration official and associates of Kerik said Thursday.

Kerik has been offered the job, created after the Sept. 11 attacks that hit New York and the Pentagon and took a significant toll on the city’s fire department and his police force, and has accepted, the associates said. The senior administration official said the formal announcement would be made Friday.

Word of his selection came on another busy day of comings and goings in the administration as Bush remakes his team for a second term. The president nominated Mike Johanns, the governor of Nebraska, to be agriculture secretary, replacing Ann M. Veneman, who resigned last month.

John C. Danforth, the U.S. delegate to the United Nations, disclosed that he would step down after only six months in the job, citing personal reasons. And a Republican with ties to the White House said he expected Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, to announce his resignation within days, with Thompson most likely to be replaced by Mark B. McClellan, the administrator of the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Thompson would be the eighth Cabinet secretary to leave since Election Day, part of what has become a wholesale reshaping of the administration and an effort by Bush to rejuvenate its ranks for policy and political battles in the next four years.

Assuming he is confirmed by the Senate, Kerik would take on the job of running the Department of Homeland Security, established by Congress two years ago out of 22 existing agencies to bolster domestic defenses against terrorism.

Ridge, who announced Tuesday that he intended to step down by Feb. 1, was widely credited with getting the department up and running and beginning to focus its 180,000 employees more intently on improving security.

But many Democrats and some outside analysts said Ridge had not done enough to fight for bigger budgets or to secure chemical and nuclear plants and ports. During Ridge’s tenure, the administration frequently came under criticism from the New York congressional delegation and elected officials from other parts of the country for not allocating money for security projects where it was needed most. Kerik’s selection was welcomed by elected officials from New York.

Kerik, 49, is a sharp departure from the usual button-downed mold of Bush appointees.

He dropped out of high school, enlisted in the Army and worked as a private security guard in Saudi Arabia and a jail warden in Passaic County, N.J. In 1985, he joined the New York City Police Department, becoming an undercover narcotics officer who sported a ponytail and diamond earrings when he worked the streets. He went on to run the New York City Corrections Department, where he established a reputation as an energetic reformer, before taking over as police commissioner in 2000.

Now a partner in Giuliani’s consulting firm, Kerik campaigned this year for Bush. A spokeswoman for the firm said Kerik was not available for comment.