Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wheat May Be Compromise for Labor Department Post

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wheat May Be Compromise for Labor Department Post

Article excerpt

THE OFTEN-FRACTIOUS relationship between blacks and labor has simmered for weeks over President Bill Clinton's search for a labor secretary.

Some now are promoting former Rep. Alan Wheat, D-Mo., as a compromise candidate who could bring the two groups together.

Alexis Herman, the White House public liaison, has been backed by civil rights leaders, while organized labor has shown a good deal of passion for former Sen. Harris Wofford, D-Pa. But the two camps seem to have canceled each other out, stalling both candidates' momentum. On Wednesday, groups across the spectrum said in interviews that Wheat - who lost to former Gov. John Ashcroft, a Republican, in their race for the U.S. Senate two years ago to fill the seat of retiring Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo. - brings much to the table. "We think Wheat would be a really interesting choice," said Denise Mitchell, chief spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO, whose president, John Sweeney, is being consulted by the White House. "We've officially said that Wofford is our choice. But we're looking for someone who would champion working families and who could get approved for a timely transition. I think that Wheat might in fact very well satisfy those requirements." AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rich Trumka said Wofford - who would "have the ear of the president" - remains labor's first choice and still is a viable candidate. Rep. Esteban Torres, D-Calif., has been cited in some reports as a possible front-runner to replace Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Asked about Wheat's chances, a White House official involved with the matter said: "He's been the topic of discussion. It doesn't make sense to get into a ranking game." Clinton hopes to make some appointments by Friday, but as to which posts would be filled, the official said, "Everything's speculative." Teamsters spokesman Matt Witt said, "All the signals have pretty much evaporated, and nobody knows what Clinton is going to do at this point." The Teamsters are "disappointed that so much of the debate has been about personalities and not about policies," Witt added. Wheat, who lives in suburban Virginia, could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but a political confidante described him as "definitely excited. …

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