Profile: Bernard Kerik

ByABC News

— -- A lifetime of policing has prepared Bernard Kerik to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Kerik first rose to national prominence following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when he was New York City's police commissioner. He managed the department's response to the attacks and was a steady -- if stoic -- presence by Rudolph Giuliani's side as the then-mayor and President Bush tried to reassure New Yorkers and the nation following the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

But Kerik brings more than his tenure as leader of the NYPD as Bush's nominee to succeed Tom Ridge. After leaving the police department, he joined Giuliani Partners, where he was a security consultant. In 2003, he was tapped by the Bush administration to be Iraq's interim minister of the interior and helped rebuild and train the country's police force following the U.S.-led coalition's overthrow of Saddam Hussein. While in Iraq, Kerik was dubbed the "Baghdad Terminator" after he dismissed a reinstated Iraqi official who turned out to be a member of Saddam's Baath Party.

Kerik, 49, grew up in Paterson, N.J. He never knew his birth mother, learning as an adult that she was a convicted prostitute who was killed when he was 9. He detailed his quest to find out what had happened to her in his 2001 book, "Lost Son."

Kerik was not a law-abiding high school student. He usually cut classes at Eastside High School -- which was depicted in the 1989 film "Lean on Me" -- and eventually dropped out. He earned an equivalency degree and joined the Army. He became a military police officer stationed in South Korea, where he fathered a daughter.

After leaving the military, Kerik worked for a private security firm in Saudi Arabia and served as a prison warden at the Passaic County jail in New Jersey in 1986. He then became a New York police officer, walking the beat in Times Square when it was dominated by hustlers, drug dealers and prostitutes.

As a detective, Kerik worked undercover on several drug busts in Harlem, seized millions of dollars of cocaine from the druglords of the Cali cartel and was awarded the department's Medal of Valor for saving the life of a fellow police officer. In the 1990s, he was head of the New York Department of Corrections and credited with cleaning up the jail system, particularly Riker's Island, where violent fights and mayhem had made the prison legendary.

Kerik is twice-married and has three other children -- a son with his first wife and two young daughters with his current wife, Halah. Some believe Kerik's hands-on experience as a police officer and in handling international security make him an ideal candidate for Homeland Security secretary. His most daunting challenge may be managing a department that was created in 2003 and has 22 different federal agencies that are still learning how to work together.