LITTLE ROCK -- In his first personnel decision as president-elect, Bill Clinton yesterday named former National Urban League President Vernon Jordan and former Carter aide Warren Christopher to head his transition team.
As transition director, Mr. Christopher, who headed Mr. Clinton's vice presidential search team and served as deputy secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter, said yesterday he expected "to have day-to-day control" of the operation and work closely with Mr. Clinton.
A Washington lawyer and former civil rights activist, Mr. Jordan, who was also part of the vice presidential search team, will serve as chairman of the Clinton/Gore transition board and work largely with the transition office expected to open next week in Washington.
"Our first priority is to help President-elect Clinton and [Vice President-elect Al] Gore begin to choose Cabinet officers and the team they will use and depend upon to run this government," Mr. Christopher said at a news conference yesterday afternoon.
He said the process of selecting Cabinet officials would be modeled after the vice presidential selection process, which he headed.
Mr. Christopher said the first order of business was to put together a standard of ethics to guide the appointments, including, for instance, a time restriction on when former Clinton officials could become lobbyists.
"You'll see the most stringent set of ethics rules that have ever been promulgated for our country," said Mr. Christopher, a Los Angeles lawyer who chaired the commission that reviewed the conduct of the Los Angeles Police Department after the Rodney King beating in 1991. "What we intend to do is try to avoid anybody misusing participation in the transition process in any way in the future."
But in a year when some people, such as former candidate Ross Perot, have criticized the involvement of lobbyists with foreign interests in presidential campaigns, Mr. Jordan and Mr. Christopher may be particularly ironic choices.
Mr. Jordan, who stayed in Washington yesterday, is a senior partner in the firm of Akin, Gump, Hauer and Feld, one of the largest law/lobbying firms in the nation's capital, and is a lobbyist for American Airlines.
Among the firm's clients are the governments of Chile and Colombia, the Bank of Nova Scotia, the Association of Venezuelan Cement Producers and the Korean Foreign Trade Association.
The Washington office of O'Melveny & Myers, the Los Angeles law firm of which Mr. Christopher is chairman, represents the Brewers Association of Canada, the European chemical conglomerate CEFIC and an Australian mining company.
Widely regarded as a likely candidate for secretary of state, Mr. ,, Christopher said yesterday that he told Mr. Clinton he would recuse himself from being considered for an administration position.
"I just told him that I just assumed I wouldn't be eligible for an appointment because I think it gives a considerably greater assurance of objectivity if, in helping to select Cabinet officials and trying to provide information to Governor Clinton and Senator Gore, that I myself would not be involved in that process," Mr. Christopher said.
zTC But he stopped short of saying he would decline a position if asked, and added that he hoped Mr. Jordan and other members of the advisory board -- campaign chairman Mickey Kantor, former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin and Arkla Inc. gas company Chairman Mack McLarty -- would be considered for official posts.
Yesterday's selection comes on the heels of reports of dissension in the Clinton ranks, which is thought to have held up the appointments.
But yesterday, Clinton spokesman George Stephanopoulos called "ridiculous" widespread reports that he and other senior aides opposed and thus derailed the selection of Mr. Kantor, thought to be a likely candidate earlier this week, to head the transition.
Others called the Jordan-Christopher selection fairly predictable.
"The Vernon Jordan selection suggests this is going to be an interracial administration," said William Leuchtenburg, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "I have a feeling this is not just for show, but that this is the kind of decision Clinton is really comfortable with."
But a key question that remains about the president-elect -- and will be answered in part by early decisions such as the one made yesterday -- is where his true ideological sentiments lie.
Political observers are watching closely to see if Mr. Clinton, former head of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council, is as much of a centrist and newfangled Democrat as he presented himself during the campaign or is actually more liberal.
"The selection of Vernon Jordan to some degree points in a less centrist direction," Mr. Leuchtenburg said.