Civil rights panel gets new chief

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Mary Frances Berry, the outspoken chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, was replaced yesterday by President Bush as her term expired, after 24 years on the panel.

Gerald Reynolds, former assistant secretary in the Department of Education’s civil rights office, was appointed chairman of the eight-member panel. Ashley Taylor, former deputy attorney general of Virginia, also was appointed to the commission, to replace panel Vice Chairman Cruz Reynoso.

Mr. Reynolds was appointed chairman, and Commissioner Abigail Thernstrom, a Republican appointee but political independent, was appointed vice chairman.

The moves, effective immediately, confirmed information first reported yesterday in The Washington Times.

In another immediate move, Kenneth Marcus, who succeeded Mr. Reynolds at the Department of Education, was named the commission’s staff director, replacing Les Jin, who was appointed by President Clinton in 2000.

The appointments of chairman, vice chairman and staff director must be approved by a majority of the commission, a move they hope to complete by tomorrow.

“Some people have argued that the commission needs to be dismantled,” Mr. Reynolds said yesterday. “But I believe it has an important role to play. The way it has been run over the last decade or so has caused some to question the relevancy of it. But we start now with a new day, and we intend to start a conversation on what civil rights means in the 21st century.”

The commission, he said, will operate openly and with fiscal caution, Mr. Reynolds vowed.

For Ms. Berry, it is a relatively calm end to a long, tumultuous tenure. She told the Los Angeles Times Sunday that she would go quietly, despite her belief that her term ends next month.

Ms. Berry could not be reached for comment yesterday.

“The White House has clipped her wings,” said a commission staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “She has been stripped of her ability to travel and will be asked to turn over her official badge. She will be asked for her keys to the building, although we will still have to change the locks, because there are many people here who are loyal to her who would allow her in.”

The first order of business for Mr. Marcus as staff director will be to ensure that all people who need access have it, and all who have been relieved of duty do not, one sitting commissioner said.

The appointments break the panel down to four Republicans — Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Taylor, Jennifer Braceras and Peter Kirsanow; two independents — Mrs. Thernstrom and Russell Redenbaugh; and two Democrats — Christopher Edley Jr. and Elsie Meeks.

Both Mrs. Thernstrom and Mr. Redenbaugh have changed their affiliation from Republican to independent.

“I think these are fabulous appointments,” said Mrs. Braceras. “Policy matters aside, this agency will run more efficiently and responsibly.”

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