Bennett to quit drug job role gets mixed reviews

November 07, 1990|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Bush administration "drug czar" William J. Bennett plans to resign within the next few days, the second Cabinet-level departure from the administration in the past two weeks, administration officials said yesterday.

Mr. Bennett, who served as Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan, is expected to say as he departs that the Bush administration has made substantial progress in its highly touted war on drugs.

But many analysts have criticized his approach for focusing too heavily on law enforcement at the expense of anti-drug education and drug treatment programs. Although funds have increased to attack both the supply and the demand sides of the problem, the increases for law enforcement have vastly outweighed treatment spending.

His supporters point to recent studies showing a decline in the use of cocaine among high school seniors and note that cocaine street prices reportedly have increased, while purity levels have decreased. They further note the successful prosecution of major drug kingpins during Mr. Bennett's tenure.

Others note that middle-class use of drugs was declining well before Mr. Bennett's appointment and that drug-related violence in the inner cities has shown a sharp and murderous upswing during the 18 months he has presided over the nation's anti-drug efforts.

Mr. Bennett has been an assertive and outspoken advocate for anti-drug efforts. As he did in his previous job, he used his post as a pulpit from which to campaign against liberal social theorists, the legacies of the 1960s counterculture and cultural permissiveness in general.

At times, his approach to cultural issues led him into unwanted publicity. Earlier this year, for example, he denounced Bart Simpson, saying that the popular Fox Television cartoon character set a bad example for the nation's youth. The drug czar beat a hasty retreat when his statement became a subject of ridicule.

Mr. Bennett, who delights in combat and relishes being in the limelight, found the anti-drug post a perfect job -- at first. More recently, as the economy, the Persian Gulf and other issues pushed drugs out of the headlines, aides said that the drug czar was becoming bored. Over the past two months, he has spent much of his time on the campaign trail, stumping for Republican candidates from Florida to Hawaii, Republican officials said.

Mr. Bennett's chief deputy, Reggie Walton, a former District of Columbia judge, is considered a leading candidate to replace him.

[The Associated Press reported that personal reasons, including safety concerns for himself and his family, also played a part in Mr. Bennett's decision to resign as director of the Office of National Drug Control Strategy.]

As for his plans, sources said that the 47-year-old former academic could be a leading candidate to replace his old mentor, John Silber, as president of Boston University if Mr. Silber wins his race to become governor of Massachusetts.

Mr. Bennett's departure will open another vacancy in the administration for President Bush to fill. Secretary of Labor Elizabeth H. Dole left the administration late last month to become head of the American Red Cross.

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