Ridge, Thomas Joseph

views updated May 23 2018

Thomas Joseph Ridge

Tom Ridge (born 1946) was appointed by President George W. Bush in October 2001 to serve as assistant to the president for the hastily assembled Office of Homeland Security following the terrorist bombings of New York City's World Trade Center and other targets in September 2001. Ridge was in the middle of his second term as governor of Pennsylvania, but stepped down from the post to accept the new position. Ridge was appointed secretary of the new Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security in 2002.

Developed Strong Work Ethic

The oldest of three children, Ridge was born in Munhall, Pennsylvania, a small suburb of Pittsburgh in the state's fabled Steel Valley, on August 26, 1946. His father, who was serving in the Navy at the time of his first child's birth, was a veteran who later worked as a traveling meat salesman. Beginning in 1948 the family lived in housing for veterans that the government provided in Erie, Pennsylvania. As a youth, Ridge was exposed early to politics and rhetoric, since his mother was a staunch Republican and his father an avid Democrat.

Ridge attended the local Roman Catholic schools, serving as an altar boy at church and proving himself both a gifted student and athlete. In particular, he excelled at the art of debate. His work in high school earned him a partial scholarship to Harvard University, and he worked in construction to make up the remainder of his tuition. Ridge graduated with an bachelor of arts degree in government studies and honors in 1967.

Law Career Interrupted by War

Determining that his future lay in the legal profession, Ridge enrolled in Pennsylvania State University's Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. However, he had barely begun his studies there when he was drafted in 1970 to serve in the Army as a staff sergeant in Vietnam. He soon saw combat, and performed his duties with characteristic responsibility and diligence. Ridge was later presented with a Bronze Star for leading an offensive that forced enemy Vietcong from a strategic area. Ridge, like many of his fellow Americans who fought in Vietnam, was a changed man when he returned to the United States after a ruptured appendix ended his tour of duty early. A friend recalled that Ridge seemed more cautious in general.

After his discharge, Ridge returned to the Dickinson School and graduated with his law degree in 1972. He established a small, private practice and then from 1979 to 1981 prosecuted 86 cases serving as an assistant district attorney for Erie County.

Started New Career in Politics

Meanwhile, Ridge had become increasingly active in Republican Party politics. In 1982, he ran successfully for a seat in the U.S. Congress, becoming the first enlisted person who had served in the Vietnam War to be elected to the House of Representatives. He served six consecutive terms there, easily winning each election. Not one to blindly follow the party line, Ridge built a somewhat mixed voting record by backing some liberal causes. These included increasing spending for homeless veterans and more research on post-traumatic stress syndrome, which afflicted so many of the men he fought alongside in the war. In all, he was regarded as a moderate, and garnered a reputation for his ability to charm key people while working quietly behind the scenes. Colleagues in the House later recalled that Ridge had excellent interpersonal skills and a high degree of political aptitude.

Ridge parlayed his popularity and success as a U.S. representative into a 1994 bid to become the forty-third governor of Pennsylvania, winning the contest hands down with a promise to make Pennsylvania "a leader among states" and to cut taxes significantly. He took office on January 1, 1995, and over the course of one-and-a-half terms did indeed cut taxes every year. In addition, many of his supporters–and even some of his detractors–called his electricity deregulation plan a national model for slashing rapidly rising utility rates. Ridge initiated programs to build the state's advanced computing and life sciences industries to help bring in what he called the "jobs of the future," taking an aggressive stance on technology to foster Pennsylvania's economic, health, education, and environmental advances. His social agenda also included reform of the national welfare system.

Made Name as Moderate Republican

As governor, Ridge enacted the Education Empowerment Act to benefit some 250,000 children in Pennsylvania's poorest-performing schools, and his administration raised by 145 percent the number of children who received low-cost or free healthcare through the state's Children's Health Insurance Program. Ridge also won kudos for his Land Recycling Program and passage of the $650 million "Growing Greener" initiative, which made Pennsylvania the nation's largest environmental investor ever.

Perhaps the most controversial point of Ridge's run as governor was his pro-choice stance on abortion, which surprised many people because of his Catholic upbringing. He also strongly opposed Affirmative Action and spoke out against changes to existing civil rights laws, including the legalization of gay marriage. He was perceived as being tough on crime as well, and held a special legislative session that eventually resulted in a "three-strikes" law and an expedited death penalty process. During his time as governor, Ridge signed more than 200 death warrants–more than five times the total signed by his two successors over the previous 25 years. Two of the warrants were for African American activist and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. The governor also passed a bill requiring trigger locks on guns and another making it a felony for a convicted felon to own a gun.

Resigned as Governor to Accept
Homeland Defense Leadership

Ridge's tenure as governor of Pennsylvania was cut short by the terrorist bombings of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. As reports continued to flood the media of thousands of people killed and missing, President George W. Bush appointed Ridge assistant to the president for the Office of Homeland Defense. The Office had been quickly created on September 20 in the aftermath of the attacks, and Bush bestowed Ridge with the authority to supervise and coordinate U.S. efforts to prevent any further terrorist threats or actions.

Ridge, who would have been legally required to step down as governor of Pennsylvania after his second term ended in early 2003, accepted the appointment after two days of intense talks with the Bush administration. Following a midnight press conference during which the appointment was announced and Ridge said he would resign as governor on October 5, 2001, he dove into the organization and leadership of what would become the second-largest federal agency after the Pentagon.

Although he had been a popular governor and had won acclaim for many of his programs, Ridge was suddenly more in the national spotlight than he had ever been. He had been rumored to be considering a run for the presidency, and had also been a candidate for Bush's running mate in the 2000 election, although his pro-choice stance on abortion made him unattractive to many right-wingers.

When Bush announced his appointment of Ridge to head the homeland security effort, the president commended him as reported on ABCNEWS.com as "a military veteran, an effective governor, a true patriot, [and] a trusted friend." Bush declared Ridge to be "the right man for this new and great responsibility." Ridge, who moved into his new office on October 8, 2001 with a staff of almost 100 officials and about a dozen of his own employees, had the added benefit of strong friendships with Vice President Dick Cheney and former President George Bush, for whose 1980 election campaign Ridge had volunteered.

In a speech shortly after taking office as homeland security advisor, Ridge said he was "saddened that this job is even necessary. But it is necessary, so I will give it everything I have," reported the BBC News Website. The former governor announced his belief that citizens would be much safer with the coordination of local, state, and federal emergency and law enforcement efforts, but cautioned that al Qaeda, the group responsible for the September 11 attacks, and other terrorist groups remained an active threat to the country. Ridge also said he took the attacks personally, since one of the hijacked aircraft, Flight 93, crashed to the ground in Pennsylvania after passengers thwarted the terrorists' apparent plans to destroy the White House with it. Ridge expressed confidence in the country's law enforcement agencies, but warned, "There may be gaps in the system. The job of the Office of Homeland Security will be to identify those gaps and work to close them. The size and scope of this challenge are immense."

Promoted to Secretary of New
Department of Homeland Security

On November 25, 2002, Bush (despite his initial opposition to the idea) signed into law a bill creating the Homeland Security Department (HSD), naming Ridge as the first U.S. secretary of Homeland Security-a Cabinet-level position. Congress approved his nomination, and Ridge became responsible for heading the largest reorganization of the government since the Department of Defense was created in 1947. He was sworn in to the position on January 24, 2003 and immediately became one of only a few elite officials who attended top-level daily war council meetings with the president.

Ridge's main task initially was, as he told ABCNEWS.com, "to restructure government in a 21st-century way to deal with the new threat." The scope of the job was staggering: creation of the HSD entailed amalgamating 22 existing government agencies with about $40 billion in combined budgets and 170,000 employees. Such agencies as Border Patrol, the Coast Guard, the Customs Department, the new Transportation Security Administration, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service were to be drawn into the new department, which would also gather information on terrorist threats from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Administration (CIA).

Under Ridge's ministrations, the HSD fortified the nation's borders, analyzed massive amounts of intelligence for clues that could prevent terrorist acts or lead to the capture of terrorist leaders, and worked to develop comprehensive response and recovery programs to be implemented in the event of further attacks. However, critics of the department's creation continued to complain that the country could not afford to spend the months–some experts said years–that it would take to complete the organization's setup. Criticism also worsened for the Patriot Act, a key piece of legislation for the HSD that was passed with little input from an American public still in shock, and that Bush had signed into law in October 2001. The administration had hailed the legislation as a means to give law enforcement personnel more access to information that might lead to the apprehension of terrorists, but civil rights advocates condemned the Patriot Act as the legalization of invasive government prying into private civilian matters. One of the most controversial provisions of the act is that bookstore owners and librarians must, if the government can show probable cause, turn over information on an individual's reading and Internet habits.

As leader of the HSD, Ridge also came under fire from numerous quarters in December 2003 when he suggested that the 8-12 million illegal immigrants then living in the United States be permitted to become citizens. His purpose, Ridge's spokesperson later announced, in making the comment was to "acknowledge a practical problem" concerning the huge number of illegal immigrants in the country and to address increasing pressure in Congress to change what many perceived as ineffective ways of dealing with the issue. Ridge's critics denounced the comment and urged the secretary to find ways to enforce existing immigration laws and to deport those who violate them.

Aside from these sticking points, Ridge and the HSD enjoy support from conservative Americans, although many liberals continue to criticize the department and many of its actions. In March 2004, Bush announced that he would triple the department's original 2001 budget to about $30.5 billion. Under Ridge's leadership, one of the HSD's prime goals for the near future is to establish Project BioShield, a program that will help Americans defend against possible terrorist use of bioweapons such as anthrax and smallpox.

Ridge and his wife Michelle (née Moore), a former Erie County Library executive director, married in 1979 and have two adopted children, Tommy and Lesley.


"Bio: Tom Ridge," Fox News web site,http://www.foxnews.com (March 12, 2004).

"Biography of Governor Tom Ridge," Whitehouse web site,http://www.whitehouse.gov (March 11, 2004).

"Gov. Tom Ridge: Popular Governor and War Veteran Moves into Cabinet to Fight Terrorism," ABC News web site,http://www.abcnews.com (March 8, 2004).

"Person of the Week: Tom Ridge," Time Magazine web site,http://www.time.com (March 11, 2004).

"President Marks Homeland Security's Accomplishments at Year One," Whitehouse web site,http://www.whitehouse.gov (March 11, 2004).

"Profile of Tom Ridge," Issues2000 web site,http://www.issues2000.org (March 6, 2004).

"Ridge Rapped for Immigration Views," Washington Times web site,http://www.washtimes.com (March 9, 2004).

"Secretary: Tom Ridge," Department of Homeland Security web site,http://www.dhs.gov (March 13, 2004).

"The Home Front: Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge," National Public Radio web site,http://www.npr.org (March 16, 2004).

"Tom Ridge: 1995-2001," Pennsylvania Department of General Services web site,http://www.dgs.state.pa.us (March 12, 2004).

"Tom Ridge: Head of Homeland Security: First Day as New Anti-Terror Chief," ABC News web site,http://abcnews.go.com (March 13, 2004).

"Tom Ridge: Homeland Security Secretary," National Public Radio web site,http://www.npr.org (March 16, 2004).

"Tom Ridge: Tough Man for Tough Job," BBC News Americas web site,http://news.bbc.co.uk (March 15, 2004).

Ridge, Thomas Joseph

views updated Jun 11 2018


Tom Ridge, the forty-third governor of Pennsylvania, was thrust into the national spotlight in October 2001 when he was sworn in as the head of the newly created Office of Homeland Security. President george w. bush had established the office shortly after the september 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In January 2003, Ridge became the first Secretary of the homeland security department, which was established after 22 domestic agencies were merged in the most significant reformation of the U.S. government since President harry s. truman's 1947 merger of disparate branches of the U.S. armed forces into the defense department (formerly known as the War Department).

"We can never guarantee that we are free from the possibility of terrorist attack, but we can say this: We are more secure and better prepared than we were [in 2001]. Each and every single day we rise to a new level of readiness and response."
—Tom Ridge

Thomas Joseph Ridge was born August 26, 1945, in Munhill, part of Pittsburgh's Steel Valley. He grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, where his family lived in a public housing project. Hardworking and ambitious, Ridge attended Harvard

University, graduating in 1967 with a B.A. in government studies. He started classes at Dickinson School of Law but received his draft notice that summer. Although he could have been trained as an officer with a three-year commitment, Ridge chose instead to be trained as an infantryman so that he could serve for two years and return to law school. He went to Vietnam, where he quickly rose to the position of staff sergeant and received several awards, including the Bronze Star for Valor.

Ridge returned to law school in 1970 and received his Juris Doctor degree in 1972. He worked in private practice and handled cases for the public defender's office. From 1979 to 1982, he served as an assistant Erie County district attorney. Running as a moderate Republican in a swing district, Ridge was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982, where he served until 1994.

In 1994, Ridge ran as the Republican candidate for governor. Campaigning on a platform that advocated school choice, reducing taxes, and cracking down on crime, Ridge was elected by a margin of five percent. In 1998, he was reelected by a margin of 26 percent. The 780,000-vote difference marked the largest vote for a Republican governor in Pennsylvania's history.

During his tenure as governor, Ridge supported a limited form of abortion rights, but also presided over a special session that led to a "three-strikes" law and hastened the state's death-penalty process. In 2000, Ridge signed the largest tax cut in the history of the state. That same year, Ridge's name was mentioned as a possible vice presidential choice until George W. Bush selected Dick Cheney.

In the days and weeks that followed the September 11th attacks, the Bush administration moved quickly to deal with Al-Qaeda, the organization thought to be behind the terrorist attacks. In addition, the administration sought to reassure an American public that was stunned and alarmed by the strategy and subsequent loss of life that had taken place. The administration established the Office of Homeland Security and created the position of director (and White House Security Adviser) who was charged with developing, coordinating, and overseeing a comprehensive national strategy aimed at strengthening the domestic defenses of the country and its citizens. On October 8, 2001, President Bush swore in Ridge as the first Director of Homeland Security, praising Ridge's strength and experience.

Heeding calls from many sources to upgrade the newly created office to cabinet level, Congress passed legislation that reformulated the Office of Homeland Security as the homeland security departmtnent (DHS). On January 24, 2003, Ridge was sworn in as the first Secretary of the new department. As such, he will oversee the coordination of 22 agencies and 180,000 employees as they transition from other departments and areas of government into a unified department that will have responsibility for improving security of the nation's borders and airports; providing for analysis of threats and intelligence; protecting the nation's infrastructure; including highways, bridges, ports, and nuclear facilities; and coordinating a comprehensive response in time of national emergencies.

In the early part of 2003, the DHS and its new secretary faced criticism from members of Congress and state and local governments, the media, and the public. Some poked fun at the department's color-coded threat-advisory procedure, while others complained that the federal government was burdening cities and states with expensive and time-consuming plans for strengthening domestic security while not providing federal funds needed to carry out the plans.

further readings

"Biography of Tom Ridge." Available online at <www.whitehouse.gov/homeland/ridgebio.html> (accessed May 21, 2003).

"Governor Tom Ridge: Biography." Available online at <www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/_ridge/govplander.htm> (accessed May 21, 2003).

"In Profile: Tom Ridge, Director, White House Office of Homeland Security." 2002. Journal of the National District Attorneys Association 36 (January-February).

LaFleur, Jennifer. 2003. "Ridge Record on Open Government Called 'Mixed Bag'." News Media & the Law 27 (winter).

"Pennsylvania's Tom Ridge Appointed to Bush Cabinet." 2001. MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. PBS. Available online at <www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/september01/ridge_bio.html> (accessed May 21, 2003).

About this article

Thomas Joseph Ridge

All Sources -
Updated Aug 08 2016 About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic