Clinton adds two to his lineup DNC chairman is first black appointed

longtime friend to become chief of staff

December 13, 1992|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau Chief

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Rewarding a political ally and a lifelon friend, President-elect Bill Clinton named Democratic National Chairman Ronald H. Brown yesterday to head the Commerce Department and energy executive Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty as White House chief of staff.

The announcements came on a day in which Mr. Clinton stepped down as governor of Arkansas and got set to preside over a two-day conference to promote his economic agenda.

Mr. Brown, who made a major contribution to Mr. Clinton's election as party chairman, becomes the first black appointed to the new Cabinet, which is expected to have several more minority members. The first black to chair a major political party, he would also be the first black to head the Commerce Department, whose mission is to promote American business.

But it is the choice of Mr. McLarty, the chairman and chief executive officer of Arkla Inc., a major natural gas company, that is likely to have far greater impact on the success or failure of the Clinton administration.

As the senior member of the White House staff, the 46-year-old businessman fills a job that has come to be seen as one of the most crucial aspects of the modern presidency.

In a clue to the role he expects Mr. McLarty to play, Mr. Clinton used the term "honest broker," saying he wanted his chief of staff to see that "everyone's voice is heard" before important decisions are made and that the administration "pulls together" once a course is set.

Mr. Clinton bypassed other, more high-profile advisers for the job, including transition director Warren Christopher, who remains a leading candidate to become secretary of state.

The choice of Mr. McLarty is to some extent a gamble that the new chief of staff's management skills and personal ties will outweigh his unfamiliarity with Congress and the rest of the Washington establishment.

Mr. Clinton said it was his belief that the chief of staff's Washington inexperience would be balanced by other, more experienced members of his administration and that Mr. McLarty "knows enough to get help where he needs it."

lTC For his part, Mr. McLarty made clear yesterday that whatever he may lack, at least at the outset, in media polish and national renown, he more than makes up for in familiarity with Mr. Clinton, whom he has known for 40 years.

"As his friend, I'll always be straight with him, and he knows that," Mr. McLarty said.

A fifth-generation Arkansan, Mr. McLarty attended kindergarten with Mr. Clinton in Hope, Ark., and is considered the president-elect's oldest friend. "I love you," Mr. Clinton whispered in his pal's ear as the two men embraced after the announcement at the Old State House here.

Mr. McLarty has political experience on the state level, including service in the Arkansas House of Representatives (at age 23) and as chairman of the state Democratic Party under Gov. (now Sen.) David Pryor.

Described by an associate as a no-nonsense, clean-desk administrator, he became president of Arkla, a Fortune 500 natural gas company that operates in nine states, in 1983. The Clinton administration's energy policies, which are expected to call for increased reliance on natural gas as an alternative to imported oil, are likely to benefit Arkla and other domestic gas producers.

Mr. McLarty, who has been serving as vice-chairman of the Clinton transition, said he would sell all his stock in the company, and all other publicly held companies, to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

The other appointment announced yesterday, that of Mr. Brown to head the Commerce Department, is a payback to one of the architects of the Clinton victory, albeit one who did not start out on the Clinton team.

When he was elected party chairman four years ago, Mr. Brown was widely seen as a stalking horse for the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, for whom he worked in the 1988 campaign. Instead, Mr. Brown labored to keep Mr. Jackson from undermining Mr. Clinton's candidacy and provide the Democratic nominee with a united party heading into the fall campaign.

Mr. Clinton called Mr. Brown "perhaps the most outstanding chairman of the Democratic National Committee in my lifetime." He is expected to be replaced as party chairman by David Wilhelm of Chicago, a key manager of Mr. Clinton's presidential campaign.

In naming Mr. Brown, the president-elect said that the Commerce Department, traditionally a minor part of the executive branch, would soon be playing a "more visible and powerful role." The commerce secretary is a member of the administration's economic team and will have a seat on the new White House economic council.

Mr. Brown, 51, grew up in a middle-class family in Harlem, N.Y., and is now a partner in one of Washington's most powerful lawyer-lobbyist firms, Patton, Boggs and Blow.

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