The New Powers That Be: The Clinton Challenge

By Scott, Matthew S. | Black Enterprise, March 1993 | Go to article overview

The New Powers That Be: The Clinton Challenge


Scott, Matthew S., Black Enterprise


President Clinton has named an unprecendented number of African-Americans to his cabinet. Here's who they are and what you can expect them to do.

President Bill Clinton's recent appointments have exponentially expanded the definition of black power in the United States. Four cabinet-level posts--Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of Veterans Affairs--place African-Americans among the elite policy-makers in the United States and the world. Additional non-Cabinet appointments of African-Americans as Surgeon General and Deputy Secretary of State further enhance black influence and stature.

Make no mistake. These appointments go far beyond the novelty of having African-Americans in power: The Secretary of Commerce must help lift the country out of its economic doldrums in the face of an escalating budget deficit. The Secretary of Energy will search for a balance between pollution controls, the nation's energy needs and industry productivity. The Secretary of Agriculture will have to make farming a more profitable venture while keeping food prices low. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs will deal with a record increase in unemployed veterans and shrinking resources for benefits. The Surgeon General faces battling the spread of AIDS and the nation's health care crisis. And finally, the Deputy Secretary of State will play a major role in establishing relations with the new nations of Eastern Europe and Africa.

Giving African-Americans prime responsibility for these critical issues presents a golden opportunity. While core issues influencing all Americans will be shaped by these appointments, other issues affecting people of color may finally find a place on the agenda. Here, BLACK ENTERPRISE takes a look at the people chosen to hold these historic appointments and the decisions they are likely to make.

Cabinet Member: Ronald H. Brown, 51. Position: Secretary of Commerce.

Analysis: The facilitator of critical compromises during last year's Democratic Party presidential victory may have to make compromises of his own to be effective in this powerful post. As the point man for promoting international and domestic trade, Brown will find himself under a microscope.

Republicans are making a big deal over the Democratic National Committee chairman's ability to cut deals. Using his influence, he has generated millions of dollars worth of business as a partner at Patton, Boggs & Blow, one of Washington, D.C.'s most powerful law firms. While at the firm, his dealings with foreign governments, including the ruthless Duvalier regime of Haiti, have raised questions of ethics. He has denied charges of cutting deals for personal gain. Although the St. John's University Law School graduate's negotiating and deal-making skills make him perfect for the job, Brown will not escape scrutiny.

Brown's biggest challenge will be to help President Clinton enact legislation to stimulate the economy. He will create policies to increase economic opportunities strengthening both small business and major industries.

Brown's limited experience with foreign trade negotiations will not deter him from making it a major focus. He will likely concentrate on new trade policies with Japan, Eastern Europe and Africa. Brown may also suggest refinements to the recently signed North American Free Trade Agreement.

Cabinet Member: Hazel R. O'Leary, 55. Position: Secretary of Energy.

Analysis: O'Leary's various experiences make her an ideal arbiter of the conflicting interests of environmentalists and industry. The Newport News, Va., native most recently served as executive vice president at the Northern States Power Co., a Minnesota public utility, where she handled environmental affairs, public relations and lobbying.

O'Leary has also crafted energy policy for the federal government. She served as head of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Economic Regulatory Administration during the Carter administration and worked in the Federal Energy Administration under President Ford. …

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