Tom Ridge

From Academic Kids

Thomas Joseph Ridge (born August 26, 1946) is a former Governor of Pennsylvania (19952001), Assistant to the President for Homeland Security (20012003), and the first United States Secretary of Homeland Security (20032005).


Early life

Born in Munhall, Pennsylvania, in Pittsburgh's Steel Valley, the son of a travelling salesman and Navy veteran, he was the oldest of three children. His mother's family of Ruthenian ethnicity came from Slovakia, his father's ancestors were the Irish and the Cherokee. Ridge was raised in a working class family in veterans' public housing in Erie, Pennsylvania from 1948. He was educated at local Catholic schools and did well both academically and in sports. He earned a scholarship to Harvard College, paying his way through with construction work and graduating with honors in 1967.

After his first year at the Dickinson School of Law, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he served as an infantry staff sergeant in Vietnam. His awards included the Bronze Star Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm, and the Combat Infantry Badge.

A ruptured appendix cut short his tour and he returned home in 1970; a childhood ear infection was also aggravated by his service and Ridge has needed a hearing aid in his left ear since then. After returning to Pennsylvania, he earned his law degree at Dickinson Law School, graduating in 1972, and entered private practice.

Public service in Pennsylvania

He became Assistant District Attorney in Erie County, Pennsylvania in 1980 and prosecuted 86 cases in two years. In 1982 he successfully ran for a Pennsylvania House seat, and was re-elected six times. Ridge was notable as the first enlisted Vietnam combat veteran elected to the U.S. House. As of 2005, Ridge has never lost an election for public office.

In 1994, Ridge ran for governor of Pennsylvania, winning the election as a Republican. He was reelected in 1998 with 57 percent of the vote in a four-way race. Ridge's share of the vote was the highest for a Republican governor in Pennsylvania (where Democrats outnumber Republicans by almost 500,000) in more than half a century. [1] ( Ridge served as Governor until his resignation to become the Director of Homeland Security in 2001.

As governor, he promoted "law and order" policies, supporting a three-strikes law and a faster death penalty process. He signed more than two hundred execution warrants, five times the number signed over a 25-year period by the two previous governors. On social issues, he opposed gay marriage, and, despite being a Roman Catholic, supported abortion rights.

Over Ridge's tenure, the Commonwealth’s budget grew by two to three percent per fiscal year and combined tax reductions totaled over $2 billion. Ridge created and grew a “Rainy Day” Fund balance to over $1 billion to be utilized during an economic downturn or recession.

Ridge pushed for legislation permitting competition among electric utilities and enhanced federal and state support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). He also separated the Commonwealth’s environmental regulatory and conservation programs into two new agencies; the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Ridge proposed the creation of public charter schools in Pennsylvania and in establishing alternate schools for disruptive students. He launched new academic standards ( that established academic expectations for what students were expected to know in different grades. Ridge also proposed a school choice demonstration program.

Ridge oversaw a number of egovernment projects including renewing drivers’ licenses and vehicle registrations to viewing historical documents and library catalogs. The Commonwealth's portal won several national awards. One of the nation's first electronic grant systems was put into place at the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Ridge also created the Link-to-Learn ( intiative to increase the effective use of technology in public schools and universities.

Homeland Security Advisor and Secretary

Following the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks, U.S. President George W. Bush created the Office of Homeland Security within the White House, and named Ridge to head it. The charge to the nation's new director of homeland security was to develop and coordinate a comprehensive national strategy to strengthen the United States against terrorist threats or attacks. In the words of President George W. Bush, he had the strength, experience, personal commitment and authority to accomplish this critical mission.

In January 2003 and after the passage of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Office of Homeland Security split into a Cabinet-level Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the White House Homeland Security Council. Ridge left the White House and became the first Secretary of Homeland Security Homeland Security Secretary. The Department's Mission "is to (A) prevent terrorist attacks within the United States; (B) reduce the vulnerability of the United States to terrorism; and (C) minimize the damage, and assist in the recovery, from terrorist attacks that do occur within the United States" (From H.R. 5005-8 the Homeland Security Act of 2002). The newly created Department was the most comprehensive reorganization of the Federal government since the National Security Act of 1947. The Department of Homeland Security consolidates 22 agencies and 180,000 employees, unifying once-fragmented Federal functions in a single agency dedicated to protecting America from terrorism. Ridge worked with the employees from combined agencies to strengthen borders, provide for intelligence analysis and infrastructure protection, improve the use of science and technology to counter weapons of mass destruction, and to create a comprehensive response and recovery division.

Organizing and operating the office proved to be a significant bureaucratic challenge. On November 30, 2004, he submitted his resignation to the President, citing a desire to devote more time to his family, saying, "After more than 22 consecutive years of public service, it is time to give personal and family matters a higher priority." [2] (,,3-1382726,00.html)

He has also indicated that, with one daughter in college and another entering shortly, he was seeking a higher paying position in the private sector, and that the job had indeed worn him down somewhat, leaving him with little or no desire to serve another term.

Work in the private sector

In February 2005, Tom Ridge was named to the board of Home Depot. Critics of Ridge question this move, noting that Home Depot experienced a highly profitable run on duct tape and plastic sheeting after Ridge's controversial 2003 announcement proclaiming these items to be viable protection from chemical weapons. Ridge once responded, "Obviously, I think there has been some political belittling of duct tape." Many Home Depot stores set up Homeland Security product displays near the front of the store in response.

Based on an article from the Atlanta Business Chronicle (, Ridge's compensation was expected to be in the area of $100,000 per annum for this position.

The Erie International Airport has been named Tom Ridge Field in Ridge's honor.

Personal life

Ridge and his wife, Michele, the former executive director of the Erie County Library system, have two adopted children, Lesley Hannah and Tommy Ridge, and have been married since 1979.

External Links

News links

Official links

Commentary (anti-Ridge)

Preceded by:
Robert P. Casey
Governor of Pennsylvania
Succeeded by:
Mark S. Schweiker
Preceded by:
United States Secretary of Homeland Security
Succeeded by:
Michael Chertoff

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