President nominates Kantor to head Commerce Department Ceremony to replace Brown brings tears to both men

April 13, 1996|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor was chosen yesterday by President Clinton to head the Commerce Department, succeeding Ronald H. Brown, a close friend of both, who was killed last week in a plane crash in Croatia.

In an emotional afternoon ceremony in the East Room punctuated by hugs between Mr. Clinton and Mr. Kantor -- and tears by both men -- the president said:

"I don't want to miss a beat. I am determined that we will continue on the work that Ron Brown was engaged in the last day of his life."

Mr. Clinton also named Charlene Barshefsky, now U.S. deputy trade representative, to serve as acting trade representative.

Working under Mr. Kantor, Ms. Barshefsky has received praise in the past three years for her work in helping negotiate trade pacts with Japan and China.

In addition, Mr. Clinton named Franklin D. Raines, vice chairman of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), as the new head of the Office and Management and Budget, replacing Alice M. Rivlin, who has been named to the Federal Reserve Board.

"He knows the world of finance," Mr. Clinton said. "He respects the bottom line. He also understands the very real human impact the work of the budget has on the American people."

Because Congress is in recess, all three appointments take effect immediately but are subject to Senate confirmation later.

Mr. Kantor, whose own life was tragically altered by a plane crash 17 years ago, was accompanied to the announcement by his wife, Heidi Schulman, his son, Doug, and his daughter-in-law, Allison.

He thanked Mr. Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, saying, "I couldn't have two better friends in the world, and I appreciate it very, very much."

The ceremony was bittersweet for those present -- even those being promoted -- because Mr. Brown was buried only two days earlier, and funerals have yet to be held for some of the 34 others who died in the crash in Croatia.

"As you might imagine, this has been a profoundly moving and difficult week for all of us in our political family," Mr. Clinton said. "Mickey Kantor and I were particularly close to Ron Brown; we loved him very much."

Before coming to Washington, Mr. Kantor was a Los Angeles lawyer from a prominent Democratic firm. Born in Nashville, Tenn., he graduated from Vanderbilt University and Georgetown Law School.

Like Mr. Brown, the 56-year-old Mr. Kantor has a long history in Democratic politics. In 1992, when Mr. Brown was chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Mr. Kantor was the top-ranking official on the Clinton presidential campaign.

Both men had wanted more visible posts: Mr. Brown expressed an interest in being secretary of state; Mr. Kantor assumed he would be the White House chief of staff.

They settled for the two jobs given them but managed to make them highly visible.

Traveling the world to promote American exports trade, Mr. Brown breathed life into the low-profile Commerce Department, which Republicans want to abolish. Mr. Kantor stared down Japanese negotiators on a series of trade accords that helped open Japanese markets to American firms.

Mr. Clinton said "that Mickey was the 'bad cop,' Ron was the 'good cop.' I thought we ought to give him the chance to be a good cop for a change."

Mr. Kantor, clearly touched, replied that he had called Mr. Brown's widow, Alma, an hour before the announcement to receive her blessing. "She was gracious enough and loving enough to say that Ron would have loved this moment to see me standing here," Mr. Kantor said.

Mr. Kantor's first wife, Valerie, who was better known in California politics than he was, died in 1978 when an airliner crashed into a neighborhood in San Diego, killing everyone aboard and several people in their homes.

In 1982, Mr. Kantor lost his 16-year-old son, Russell, in an automobile accident. In the late 1980s, his older sister, Sonia, died after she fell and hit her head.

On Capitol Hill, he has earned respect as a tough, hard-working trade negotiator.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, while campaigning in Texas yesterday, said Mr. Kantor was "a good choice," and predicted a swift and successful Senate confirmation process.

"He probably will be widely supported on the Republican side," said Mr. Dole, who is likely to be the Republican presidential nominee.

Pub Date: 4/13/96

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