Clinton reportedly will name Boston lawyer Deval Patrick to civil rights post

January 22, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton, who was forced to pull back from two previous attempts at filling the administration's top civil rights post, has settled on a 37-year-old Boston lawyer for the position, senior White House officials said yesterday.

The officials said Mr. Clinton would offer the post to Deval Patrick, a partner in the Boston firm of Hill & Barlow who also has strong ties with NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc..

An official said on condition of anonymity that the announcement of Mr. Patrick's nomination to the position, assistant attorney general for civil rights, would be made early next week.

The president's first nominee, Lani Guinier, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, was withdrawn after critics said she advocated, in her academic writings, increasing the political power of blacks through undemocratic means. Ms. Guinier said her writings were misinterpreted.

Last month, Mr. Clinton's second choice, John Payton, the corporation counsel for the District of Columbia, withdrew his name from consideration after opposition sprang up among members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Some of the black lawmakers questioned Mr. Payton's commitment to the view that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 permits the creation of districts designed to ensure the election of black candidates.

The selection of Mr. Patrick is likely to mollify civil rights leaders, who have been quietly grumbling about the long time it has taken the administration to fill the position.

In addition, women's groups might be pleased with the fact that Mr. Patrick, who is black, represented Desiree Washington in her civil lawsuit against Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight champion, who was convicted of raping her.

Mr. Patrick, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, has worked for a number of years with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, where he once was associated with Ms. Guinier. He is the chairman of the New England steering committee for the group.

Last April, Mr. Patrick was one of three finalists who Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., was considering recommending for a post as a U.S. attorney in his state.

Despite such connections, Mr. Patrick's friends say he is not heavily involved in Democratic Party activities.

"He's been tangentially active in Democratic Party affairs," one friend said on condition of anonymity. "He has not been a major figure in the party. He is clearly a Democrat, but I don't think politics is a big part of his existence."

In choosing Mr. Patrick, Mr. Clinton has selected a man whose life mirrors his own in some ways.

Like the president, Mr. Patrick was born and raised in meager, though not completely poverty-stricken, surroundings.

In Mr. Patrick's case, the childhood environment was the South Side of Chicago, rather than a small town in Arkansas.

Both men share a love of music and an association with the saxophone. While Mr. Clinton plays the instrument himself, Mr. Patrick's association with it stems from his father, a jazz musician who once played with the pianist Thelonious Monk.

Because his father, Pat, traveled extensively with various jazz bands, Mr. Patrick, like the president, was essentially raised by his mother.

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