The Seats of power

SUN JOURNAL

February 09, 1997|By CARL CANNON | CARL CANNON,SUN STAFF

Fine, you have an office in the West Wing of the White House, where the president works.

But where in the West Wing? On the same floor as the Oval Office? The same corridor? An office with a window?

It is one of the oldest competitive sports in Washington: the gentlemanly scramble at the beginning of each presidential administration for White House office space. Precisely where you work is thought to reflect, albeit imperfectly, your importance. So Erskine Bowles, the new chief of staff, inherits an office that not coincidentally sits on the same corridor as the president's and is nearly as large.

The premier playing field - the Centre Court, the Churchill Downs - is a low-built office wing, not the porticoed structure people visualize when they think "White House." "White House" is grand reception rooms and, upstairs, the First Family's residence. "West Wing" is a hutch of small, mostly bland rooms. But what do you look for in an office? Same as with a house: Location, location, location.

1. Samuel R. Berger

National security adviser, 51. Served as deputy national security adviser in the first term under Anthony Lake. Has a long career in law, politics and international affairs and is also personally compatible with the president.

2. Al Gore

3. Erskine B. Bowles

Chief of staff, 51. Wealthy North Carolina businessman known for efficiency. He has already made a difference in keeping Clinton on time. Not the most sentimental of people: Asked by another official what to do about an underperforming colleague, Bowles replied calmly, "Fire him. That's what we do in the business world."

4. John Podesta

Deputy chief of staff, 48. Former Georgetown law professor, now top deputy to Bowles. Was previously staff secretary, a job in which he was a trouble-shooter during various White House scandals. Known for keeping an even keel and his easy laughter.

5. Rahm Emmanuel

Senior adviser for policy and strategy, 37. Recognized that Democrats could raise huge sums in unregulated "soft money." Valued as a centrist. Has George Stephanopoulos' old office - the only one with a private entrance to the Oval Office.

6. Sylvia Mathews

Deputy chief of staff, 31. Had little experience before joining the Clinton team in '92 as an economics adviser. Impressed Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin and Bowles, who chose her after having insisted on naming his own deputies.

7. Mike McCurry

Press secretary, 42. Has told friends that he stayed to try to improve the relationship between the White House press corps and the president. So far, efforts have been rewarded with attacks in the press on his credibility.

8. Douglas Sosnik

Presidential counselor, 40. Clinton found solace in Sosnik's political advice and his company - Sosnik was the president's favored hearts player on Air Force One during the '96 campaign.

9. Thurgood Marshall Jr.

Director of Cabinet affairs. A job that sounds simple but isn't, considering the egos involved. Ensures that the Cabinet secretaries and their agencies are singing from the same hymnal as the president.

10. Gene Sperling

Head of National Economic Council, 38. Chosen despite his relative youth because of his intense loyalty and work habits. Typically puts in 80-hour weeks and shares Clinton's view of how federal policy and economics intersect.

11. Bruce Reed

New top domestic policy adviser, 36. Soft-spoken, boyish, native of Wyoming. One of the few bona fide centrist "New Democrats" in the administration. Has gained Clinton's confidence with mastery of issues ranging from crime control to tax cuts for education.

12. Hillary Rodham Clinton

13. Charles F.C. Ruff

White House counsel, 57. Perhaps the hardest staff job in the White House, since Ruff is the fifth man to hold it. Former corporate attorney.

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