Clinton is critical of women's groups as he appoints 2nd woman to Cabinet 'Quotas' rejected with 6 posts left

December 22, 1992|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Staff Writer Lyle Denniston of The Sun's Washington bureau contributed to this story.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- President-elect Bill Clinton angrily lashed out at leaders of women's groups yesterday, calling those who have been critical of the low number of female appointments to his Cabinet "bean counters" who are playing "quota games and math games."

Even as he appointed a second woman to his Cabinet, Hazel O'Leary as secretary of energy, and named former Gov. Richard W. Riley to head the Education Department, Mr. Clinton defended himself against charges that he's fallen short of his pledge of diversity.

Yesterday marked the start of a pre-holiday appointments spree, as Mr. Clinton attempts to fill the final six seats at his Cabinet table.

Ms. O'Leary, executive vice president of Northern States Power Co. in Minneapolis, is also the third black Mr. Clinton has named to his Cabinet.

The selection of Ms. O'Leary -- a late entry into the search process who edged out Colorado Sen. Tim Wirth, thought to be the early front-runner for the energy post -- coincided with protests from women's groups disappointed that more women had not been named.

But at a news conference yesterday, an explosive president-elect dismissed the notion that the appointment was connected to pressure from these groups or that he was feeling hamstrung by his promise of a Cabinet that "looks like America."

"I don't feel at all hamstrung," he said. "I don't have any quotas for anybody."

Mr. Clinton defended his record -- as Arkansas governor and now president-elect -- on searching out qualified women for top posts. "I found Hazel O'Leary," he boasted. "I do not believe her name was on a single letter I got" from women's or minority groups.

But Jody Newman, executive director of the National Women's Political Caucus, disputed Mr. Clinton's remarks. Ms. O'Leary's name was put forward by the Coalition for Women's Appointments, a group of more than 70 groups supplying names of potential female appointees to the administration, Ms. Newman said.

Mr. Clinton noted that, along with the Cabinet appointments, he had named Laura Tyson to chair the Council of Economic Advisers and Carol Browner as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, a post he plans to elevate to Cabinet status. And with pointed finger and squinting eyes, Mr. Clinton said he was astonished that the women's leaders who wrote him letters and who met twice with transition chairman Vernon Jordan had ignored those high-level appointments.

"They're playing quota games and math games," he said, noting that he didn't support quotas. "They have diminished the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and the director of the Environmental Protection Agency, and they would have been counting those positions against our administration -- those bean counters who were doing that -- if I had appointed white men to those positions."

JTC Mr. Clinton said the criticism was also unfair since he had not finished naming his Cabinet. "When it's all said and done, we'll have by far the most diverse administration with more people getting the opportunity to serve than ever before."

He said there would be more than three women -- the number in the Bush Cabinet -- at his Cabinet table.

But several times during his caustic remarks yesterday, Mr. Clinton stressed, "There are more than numbers at stake here." In his administration, he said, women would be in positions where they'd have "a lot more influence . . . than they've ever had in any previous administration."

The feminist critic who may have been the unidentified but real target of Mr. Clinton's ire, Eleanor Smeal, speculated that his outburst had been prompted by the fact that the coalition of women had taken their complaint to the news media.

But, said the president of the Fund for a Feminist Majority, "if we waited any longer [to speak out], we would have been left at the gate again."

Mr. Clinton is expected to name a woman as attorney general and possibly as agriculture secretary.

The president-elect will not be making any more Cabinet appointments until tomorrow.

Ms. O'Leary, who served in both the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter administrations, is little-known outside the utility and energy industry. Like Mr. Clinton and Vice President-elect Al Gore, she is a strong proponent of energy efficiency, a greater reliance on natural gas and the exploration of alternative sources of energy to reduce dependence on foreign supplies of oil.

Yesterday, Mr. Clinton called his energy secretary-designate a "spark plug" in the industry who would change the direction of what he described as "the Achilles heel of our economy."

In tapping Mr. Riley for the education post, Mr. Clinton called the former two-term South Carolina governor "my partner and often my mentor" in education crusades.

Mr. Riley, who's been director of personnel for the transition, has been one of Mr. Clinton's close personal and political allies ever since the two were freshman governors in 1979.

Mr. Riley's prime legacy as the popular governor of one of the most Republican states in the South was the improvement of the state's education system, with a focus on early childhood.

"It's his great passion in public life," says Dwight Drake, Mr. Riley's former administrative assistant.

In his second term, Mr. Riley pushed through a one-cent increase in the state sales tax to raise an additional $240 million a year for schools, having spent much of his first term examining the state's public schools and talking to parents to lay the groundwork for the tax.

The National Education Association received yesterday's news with delight. Keith Geiger, NEA president, said he recently sent Mr. Clinton a letter suggesting that the president-elect appoint an education secretary with direct knowledge of the problems of education, from kindergarten through 12th grade. "And if he was not going to appoint a classroom teacher," Mr. Geiger said. "then Governor Riley fits that bill."

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