Hispanic, Gay Advocates Vie for Abandoned Commerce Post

No sooner had Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., and President-elect Barack Obama made their announcements that the New Mexico governor would be stepping aside because of a pay-to-play controversy swirling around him, than advocacy groups sprang to action to get their respective candidates considered.

“The good news is, there are lots of Latinos out there to be considered,” says Brent Wilkes, the League of United Latin American Citizens’ executive director. “We’ve sent quite a few names to the transition team already for commerce [secretary].”

Gay rights advocates, who were disappointed about the lack of openly gay people among Obama’s cabinet picks, now have new hope.

Advocates wanted Obama to become the first president in U.S. history to give a cabinet position to a gay person. Executive director of labor advocacy organization American Rights at Work Mary Beth Maxwell and director of the Smithsonian National Zoo John Berry were two openly gay candidates on the short list for cabinet positions; but Obama ultimately passed them over in favor of others.

Obama did name Nancy Sutley as chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, but none to a full cabinet position.

Gay rights advocates are holding out hope, yet again, that Obama might still appoint another openly gay person. “With the vacancy of Governor Bill Richardson as the nominee for secretary of commerce, President-elect Obama is presented with yet another opportunity to make good on his promise of equality for all LGBT people,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese tells Diverse.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund provided names of qualified openly gay people to work in Obama’s administration, but spokesman Denis Dison says they do not have a specific person they are pushing as a nominee to replace Richardson.

“There’s been lots of behind the scenes meetings and discussions but we don’t want to mention any names publicly at this point,” Dison says.

One grassroots organization – Equal Rep – is spearheading a campaign pressuring Obama to name Fred Hochberg as a potential commerce secretary. Hochberg is a dean at The New School for Management and Urban Policy in New York. He’s also a member on Obama’s transition team and former head of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The news was barely out on Richardson’s decision to withdraw from consideration as one of three Hispanic cabinet nominees, when LULAC had sent over a list of other possible Hispanic nominees to the transition team.

On Monday, the president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund also was piecing together a list of recommendations for the Commerce job. John Trasviña, who also chairs the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), said the umbrella group of 26 national and regional Hispanic groups will be “putting forward names in the next 24 hours” to the transition team.

“There will be multiple names,” Trasviña said. “The commerce secretary position has no singular profile. Sometimes it’s been a business leader. Sometimes it’s been somebody personally close to the president. Sometimes it’s been a state or federal official. Sometimes it’s been somebody with a more political background. You could go in many different directions.”

The National Council of La Raza is working with the NHLA: “Like anyone else, we’re looking forward to having another Latino nominated for that position,” says Raúl González, NCLR’s legislative director.

Trasviña, Wilkes and González all expressed disappointment in Richardson’s withdrawal. All the organizations had urged President-elect Barack Obama to tap the Mexican American governor of New Mexico and former United Nations ambassador as his secretary of state. Obama instead tapped Richardson for commerce, a move that some Hispanic pundits had dubbed a consolation prize. Richardson dropped out Sunday, citing what apparently will be a prolonged grand jury probe into how some of his political contributors won a lucrative state contract in New Mexico.

In his statement Sunday, Richardson said he is certain the grand jury probe will show that his administration acted properly in the contract award. He said he decided to withdraw his nomination because the probe could last “several weeks or, perhaps, even months” and delay his confirmation.

“Given the gravity of the economic situation the nation is facing, I could not in good conscience ask the president-elect and his administration to delay for one day the important work that needs to be done,” Richardson said.

There will be no delay in advocacy groups pushing for their hoped-for nominees in the vacant spot. While the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda expects to get its list of multiple recommendations in by today, Wilkes says he expects another umbrella group – The National Latino Congreso – is likely to push one person to the top of the list: Gilbert F. Casellas, Dell vice president of corporate responsibility.

Casellas, a Tampa native, served in the Clinton administration as general counsel of the air force, chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and as a member of the U.S. Census Monitoring Board. The Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department.

Wilkes says the National Latino Congreso as an umbrella group also is expected to send over its formal recommendations to the transition team: “And I think we’ll put (Casellas) at the top of the list. I definitely get the sense from the Congreso members that that’s who everybody seems to like a lot.”

Wilkes says Casellas would further diversify Obama’s cabinet beyond being Hispanic. He is a Florida native of Puerto Rican heritage. The other Hispanic cabinet nominees – U.S. Rep. Hilda Solís, D-Calif., and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., – are Mexican American.

LULAC’s original list sent over Sunday to the transition team suggests a number of other recommendations for the commerce post. Among them:

  • Miami Mayor Manny Díaz, who previously had been rumored to be in the running for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez
  • U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-New York, who chairs the House Small Business Committee
  • Antonio Pérez, Chairman and CEO of Eastman Kodak Company
  • Héctor de J. Ruíz, executive chairman of Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

Robin Chen Delos contributed to this report.

 

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