WASHINGTON -- Tom Ridge's down-home schmoozing made him a star among national Republicans when he was Pennsylvania governor and has given him an easy, 22-year friendship with President Bush, who doesn't care for airs.
But the winning geniality that took Ridge from a housing project to Harvard has brought him only a mixed record during his 13 months as the first presidential adviser on homeland security, a job he took just days after the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
Nominated Monday for an even more daunting assignment as secretary of the sprawling new Department of Homeland Security, Ridge leaves few concrete accomplishments beyond a color-coded threat alert system that late-night comics find hilarious and state and local authorities find confusing. His chief public crisis was the still-unsolved string of anthrax attacks.
"I'm not saying everything we've done has been met with standing ovations around the country or that we didn't stub our toe or even make some mistakes," Ridge said in an interview Monday. "We'll be forever in pursuit of the perfect system."
Ridge has struggled against officials who are jealous with information and set in their ways. Despite the prestige of his West Wing office, Ridge often had a low profile during the first year of the war on terrorism, rarely mentioned as a factor in major White House decisions. Senior aides to Bush were unable to think of a bureaucratic battle he won.
Some outside critics have been harsh. "We've wasted a year," said former Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., who has recommended a more muscular homeland security apparatus for years. "We're starting almost from scratch."
Ridge's defenders point out that his job was by nature amorphous. And with little authority on paper, he had no way to compel other parts of the government to work with him, or with each other
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