Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / December 16, 1997 / 17 Kislev, 5758
All dressed up...
WASHINGTON -- Mike McCurry now knows how the prettiest girl in high school feels: Nobody asks her out because everybody assumes she already has a date.
McCurry, the presidential spokesman, was prepared to leave the White House at the end of this year, but he didn't get any real offers.
"There have been no exciting, attractive offers over the transom, and I've had no time to look for a job," said McCurry, who has been White House press secretary since January 1995. "So I'm not ready to move this year."
McCurry did have two serious conversations with private-sector firms (which he dutifully reported to the White House counsel's office to protect against any possible conflicts of interest), but they did not result in jobs.
McCurry, 43, is itchy to move on, however. "I don't have a whole lot of dough," he said. (Though his $125,000-a-year salary is not exactly peanuts, he could earn several multiples of that in the real world.) "I want a second career and not one in press relations or as a press secretary. I'd like to know what it's like to run a major corporation. And I'd like to find out if I really have the skills to do it."
Skills? Nice but not absolutely necessary. Clinton loyalist David Wilhelm resigned as chairman of the Democratic Party after a less-than-stellar performance (the Democrats lost both houses of Congress) and promptly became a senior managing director of investment banking for Kemper Securities Inc., even though he had no direct experience in investment banking.
By that standard, McCurry could become head of the World Bank.
And how does Bill Clinton feel about losing a key member of his staff?
"I have not talked with him about leaving," McCurry said. "He hates those conversations. If I go in to him, he will furrow his brow and rub his hands together, and he will convince me I shouldn't leave."
But McCurry will leave, and when he does, it will be to good reviews.
"He has a high batting average," John Harris, a White House correspondent for The Washington Post, said. "He can be frustrating. But on the whole, you have to give him credit for doing his job superbly well."
McCurry's low point? Probably when he persuaded Clinton to talk to pool reporters on Air Force One about campaign fund raising so they wouldn't embarrass Clinton with such questions at his press conference in Brazil.
Result? Five of the eight questions Clinton got from U.S. reporters during the press conference were about campaign fund raising.
"Well," the president said to McCurry after the press conference, "you're a fool."
"Yessir, I am," McCurry replied.
Which just goes to show what a thankless job his can be: The president never believes you are defending him strongly enough, and the press never believes you are forthcoming enough.
"You can only serve the president well if the press believes you are serving them first and foremost," McCurry told me. "So you have to con both sides."
Who is up to the task of replacing McCurry? There is a short list that includes the surprising name of Rahm Emanuel, currently White House senior adviser. (Look for Emanuel to go back to Chicago, however, and start earning big bucks himself.)
But the front-runner is Joe Lockhart, a deputy press secretary, who was given two potentially difficult tasks -- shepherding Alexis Herman through her confirmation as labor secretary and launching Clinton's race initiative -- and did well on both. Lockhart, who was national press secretary for the Clinton/Gore re-election campaign, is a strong defender of the president but has good relations with reporters.
Would Lockhart take the job if offered?
"It's a job in which you have to serve two masters: the president and the press corps," he said. "How adept you are at doing one dooms you to failure if you can't do both. It's a balancing act that Mike McCurry has perfected. It will be impossible to replace him. I don't envy the person who gets the chance."