Trio in Running to Head NEA

Article excerpt

Byline: Julia Duin

If there's any agreement in Washington over political appointees, it's that no one has a clue who the new director of the National Endowment of the Arts should be.

The Bush administration has been scrambling to find a replacement for NEA Chairman Bill Ivey, who announced this spring he would be stepping down in September.

"Usually, there are lots of rumors floating around, but I think they are scratching their heads over this one," says former New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer, now editor of the New Criterion magazine.

"The nominee would have to have some kind of conservative credentials and know something about the arts. Those are not easy credentials with which to get confirmed before a Senate committee."

There are a few names being bandied about: New York State Sen. Roy M. Goodman, 71, a Republican from Manhattan's East Side; Alvin Felzenberg, 52, a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation; and Lynne Munson, 33, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The search is being conducted by Ed Moy, an associate director for the presidential personnel office. He was the official responsible for overseeing the administration's choice for National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) nominee Bruce Cole, an art history professor from Indiana University at Bloomington.

The NEA's reputation has crept up slowly since 1997, when the House of Representatives voted to defund it because of past grants for works deemed by some to be pornographic or sacrilegious. On June 10, President Bush spoke glowingly of federal funding for the arts at a gala at Ford's Theatre. But he has not set out a clear mandate on a Republican arts agenda.

"That's part of the discussions going on with the candidates," says NEA spokesman Mark Weinberg. "That presupposes there is a single Republican view on art."

It's a sure bet these three candidates have differing ideas about a cultural agenda. Mr. Goodman, who served on the NEA National Council - an advisory board - from 1989 to 1996, has been criticized for his support of the Brooklyn Art Museum's 1999 exhibit portraying an elephant-dung-covered painting of the Virgin Mary.

Mr. Goodman, who earned a bachelor's degree and an MBA from Harvard, is serving his 17th term in the New York Legislature and plans to run again. Calling himself "a leader in the moderate wing of the Republican Party" and "the leading legislative advocate of the arts in New York state," he chairs a Senate special committee on the arts and cultural affairs.

"He's the Democrats' favorite kind of Republican; more left-wing on some issues than Hillary Clinton," Mr. Kramer says. "But if the Bush administration appointed a liberal Republican, they'd be in deep trouble with the Republican Party."

However, Mr. Goodman has some powerful backers, including New York Cardinal Edward Egan, who promised to bring up the legislator's name during a meeting yesterday with President Bush. Republican supporters include Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, former Wyoming Sen. Alan K. Simpson, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott and two members of the board of the American Conservative Union.

ACU board members Charles Black and Serphin Maltese are dissenting from a letter sent by ACU staff to President Bush that condemns Mr. …