White House to nominate Kerlikowske as drug czar
The White House tomorrow will announce the nomination of Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a position otherwise known as the drug czar, a source close to the appointment has confirmed.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The White House today will announce the nomination of Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a position otherwise known as the drug czar, sources close to the appointment have confirmed.
The announcement will be made in Washington, D.C., the sources say. Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb confirmed Tuesday night that Kerlikowske is in the capital.
The White House has refused to officially comment on Kerlikowske's nomination, but a Washington, D.C., source with knowledge of the administration's plan confirmed last month that Kerlikowske has accepted the post, which has been a Cabinet-level position.
The administration will remove the job's Cabinet designation — reversing an elevation of the office under President George W. Bush — although one senior official said that Kerlikowske would have "full access and a direct line to the president and the vice president," The Washington Post reported.
Kerlikowske, 59, who has led the Seattle Police Department for more than eight years, told the department's top commanders recently that he expected to leave to take a top federal position.
In the weeks after his name surfaced as a front-runner for the position, Kerlikowske has remained publicly silent on the prospect of leaving Seattle.
However, The Post said concerns over the nomination surfaced recently when Kerlikowske's son from a previous marriage, Jeffrey Kerlikowske, was arrested last week for a parole violation in Broward County, Fla.
The younger Kerlikowske has a criminal record that includes arrests for marijuana possession and distribution and was released from prison for battery in March 2008, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
In his remarks accepting the nomination, Kerlikowske is expected to reference his family struggles with drug abuse, The Washington Post reported.
"Our nation's drug problem is one of human suffering," according to his prepared remarks. "As a police officer, but also in my own family, I have experienced firsthand the devastating effects that drugs can have on our youth, our families and our communities."
Kerlikowske, who was appointed Seattle chief in 2000 by then-Mayor Paul Schell, had worked the previous two years as deputy director of the Justice Department's community-oriented policing division during the Clinton administration.
Sources said Kerlikowske established ties in Washington, D.C., and has a strong relationship with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who served as deputy attorney general during the Clinton years.
Kerlikowske began his career as a street cop in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1972 and went on to serve as chief in two Florida cities, Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie.
He led the Buffalo, N.Y., department in the 1990s, and left there for the deputy-director position in the Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
In Seattle, Kerlikowske won credit for stabilizing the Police Department after the stormy departure of Norm Stamper as chief in the wake of the 1999 World Trade Organization riots, as well as the department's initial failure to unearth a detective's alleged theft of money at a crime scene.
Crime rates dipped during his time as chief, reaching historic lows in recent years.
But his tenure has at times been rocky, marked by controversy over allegations that he was too soft when it came to disciplining officers in misconduct cases.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels' spokesman, Alex Fryer, said Tuesday night that the mayor would not comment until the White House makes an official announcement.
When asked last month about Kerlikowske's possible departure, Nickels said "it would be important that we have a strong interim chief quickly and then we take our time and look at a permanent selection so we make sure we make the right choice."
Councilmember Nick Licata, who serves on the public-safety committee, said last month he would like to see someone from inside the department given serious consideration for both the interim and permanent jobs if Kerlikowske were to leave.
Among the names that have surfaced as a candidate for interim chief is that of John Diaz, deputy chief of operations.
Kerlikowske's possible role in shaping drug policy for the Obama administration was applauded last month by local medical-marijuana advocates.
In 2003, Kerlikowske opposed a city ballot measure, approved by voters, to make marijuana possession the lowest law-enforcement priority, saying it would create confusion.
But in doing so, he noted that arresting people for possessing marijuana for personal use was already not a priority.
Joanna McKee, co-founder and director of Green Cross Patient Co-Op, a medical-marijuana patient-advocacy group, said Kerlikowske knows the difference between cracking down on the illegal abuse of drugs and allowing the responsible use of marijuana.
Douglas Hiatt, a Seattle attorney and advocate for medical-marijuana patients, said Kerlikowske would be a vast improvement over past drug czars, who he said used the office to carry out the so-called "war on drugs."
President Obama has looked to the Seattle area for three appointments.
Along with nominating Kerlikowske, the Obama administration has tapped King County Executive Ron Sims for deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former Gov. Gary Locke for Commerce secretary.
Jennifer Sullivan: email@example.com
Information from Seattle Times staff reporters Emily Heffter and Steve Miletich and Times archives is included in this report.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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