Rosapepe finally gets reward from president Ambassadorship: Del. James C. Rosapepe of Prince George's County is the U.S. ambassador to Romania. He has not been accused of receiving a political plum, but he really wanted the job.

The Political Game

November 18, 1997|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

HOW DOES a 46-year-old lawmaker from College Park become U.S. ambassador to Romania, the fourth largest country in the former Communist bloc, a nation of 23 million people bordering Serbia and regarded as a key to stability in the Balkans?

By handing out literature at polling places? By staying in touch with highly placed friends who are also friends of Bill and friends of Al? By agreeing to serve in a country less glamorous than France or Jamaica? By demonstrating competency?

Almost all of the above.

After the 1992 presidential election, Del. James C. Rosapepe's name turned up on a list of people who might want and, politically, deserve something in the new Clinton administration. He'd done some political organizing in the Italian-American community during the campaign, so he got a thank you and the usually vague hint at a job or commission appointment -- along with a very select group of, as Rosapepe puts it, "45,000 or so others."

As he expected, he heard nothing. He and his wife made several trips to the former Soviet Union and, like many, he was fascinated by the extraordinary governmental and economic revolutions forced suddenly on would-be democratic nations. "In Annapolis," he said, "we're tinkering around the edges of established institutions. In these countries, they're in Founding Father territory."

Late in Clinton's first term, Rosapepe was asked again if he'd be interested in an administration post. Part time, he said, and the contact had an immediate follow-up. Would he serve on a commission overseeing the Albanian-American Enterprise Fund, a U.S.-sponsored, venture capital pool?

He and four others supervise the investment of $30 million in an array of entrepreneurial ventures in Albania. As that country's governmental and economic reforms were put in place, a period of tumultuous unrest hit the country, driving many Albanians to risk their lives fleeing across the Adriatic Sea to Italy.

All of the enterprise fund's projects survived, though the officers one, a clothing manufacturer, found it prudent to rent a tank at a cost of $5,000 to defend their plant.

By last spring, Rosapepe was hearing from the White House again. He was on a "serious-look list." Asked about his level of interest, he said he'd think about an ambassadorship.

"Yeah, good luck," he was told.

But then an interview was scheduled with the personnel office.

Then another in the Old Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House. He was moving onto a short list.

During 20 years or so of business and political work in Washington, Rosapepe has met a number of important Democratic figures, including Vice President Al Gore and Sandy Berger, the national security chief. Rosapepe said he is not certain what role they played in his appointment, but he knew this: If a selection panel's members actually know you and have known you over a number of years, you take a step beyond the "45,000 others."

"We're going to make this pretty brief," the interviewer said. "The president would like you to be ambassador to Romania. Are you interested?"

He was, of course. He'd hoped he might be offered something but assumed it would be in a less critical post. He called himself "profoundly honored."

He was not accused of grabbing a political plum. "Did you want Romania or are you being punished?" he was asked more than once. He wanted it -- and he's preparing to deal with a country that hopes to become a member of NATO in 1999, a country where U.S. firms such as Westinghouse, Bell Helicopter and General Electric are hoping to find new markets.

No more tinkering around the edges for Ambassador Rosapepe, who leaves for his post in Founding Father territory in early January.

10 months, $105,000 later, Schurick works for Ehrlich

Campaign finance reports filed recently show that veteran government toiler Paul E. Schurick was paid about $10,000 a month last year by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. A former assistant to former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Schurick did some fund raising, some organizing and advising pursuant to Taylor's aspiration for higher office -- governor in this case.

Ten months and $105,000 (including expenses) later, Taylor chose not to run. The 41-year-old Schurick now works in a similar capacity for Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who's expected to compete for a U.S. Senate seat in 2000.

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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