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9/11: A Year After / WHO WE ARE NOW

Bernard B. Kerik

September 11, 2002

At 1:30 a.m. Sept. 11, then-New York Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik finished writing what he thought would be the final chapter of his autobiography. A few hours later, he was at headquarters working at his massive desk--the same one Theodore Roosevelt used when he headed the Police Department. Minutes later, aides rushed in and shouted that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Kerik looked out a window, saw the huge hole in the north tower, jumped into a car and, with siren wailing, headed for the vast complex only blocks away.

*

"Two things I remember most about Sept. 11 a year later: The people jumping from the buildings. I can remember watching the debris fall to the ground. As the debris got closer to the ground, I realized it wasn't debris. It was bodies. And they were jumping, one, two, some three at a time.

And then when Flight 175 hit [the south tower], I was underneath it. I was at the base of [the north tower], and when the explosion came through the north end of the building, I heard this cracking, breaking sound, and then I saw the explosion itself.

My schedule has changed. It is not as stressful as it was. [On] Dec. 31, Mayor [Rudolph W. Giuliani] and I left. I am in a new venture, working with him. But it is not the same being in civilian life. I worked for [Giuliani] for nine years, and that's probably the equivalent of 27 with anyone else because of his energy level.

He's got this perpetual, tireless energy. He's still the boss. Now I just don't get phone calls at 5:30 in the morning, at 2:30 in the morning. It's a little different, but my life has changed pretty dramatically in the last year.

I am spending more time with my kids. My daughter Celine was a lot younger then. She is almost 2 1/2 now. As police commissioner, I missed almost everything. I missed her first steps, I missed her first words, I didn't get to spend much time with her.

After Sept. 11, there was no time, really. I lived in headquarters for the first three weeks and then I moved back home. But I didn't spend any time with my kids, my family, and that's all changed.

If she is in a really good mood in the morning at 7 when I get up, I wind up staying home until 9. We hang out, we play and we dance, and we do a bunch of things I didn't get a chance to do before.

Since the book was done, I got my final eight credits and graduated from the State University of New York on June 5, and got a [bachelor's degree] in public administration.

I went to the graduation. It was a little odd, getting to speak before the graduating class. What's ironic, this year I did eight commencement speeches, six colleges and universities and two high schools. And then I spoke at my graduation.

I guess the thing I wanted to get across to them the most was don't make this sort of your final dream, don't believe people when they tell you they can't achieve anything in life.

The president came as you know to ground zero a few days after Sept. 11. He came down and met with the mayor and me. We all piled into his truck, six of us in the back of his Suburban. I am not sure if it was the governor, but somebody was sitting in his lap, basically.

We drove down to ground zero and people were cheering and yelling and had signs--'We love New York,' 'We Love the President,' 'Bush You're the Best'--and the president looks over at the mayor and says, 'Look at these people. There are thousands and thousands. It's unbelievable.' And the mayor says, 'I hate to be the one to tell you this, Mr. President, but not one of those people voted for you.'

And the governor started laughing and [Giuliani] looked at the governor and says, 'Only about four voted for you.'

I never thought I'd see a day when the police commissioner or a police car could drive in Greenwich Village and be cheered. It really brought this city together, and it showed the best in people."

*

As told to John J. Goldman

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