- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2001

John E. "Jack" Potter did not expect to be this visible when he took over the job as the nation's top postal official nearly five months ago.
Yesterday the postmaster general had an op-ed piece in USA Today and turned up on NBC's "Today" show and ABC's "Good Morning America." And those television appearances came after an interview late Tuesday on ABC's "Nightline."
The affable-looking Mr. Potter, 47, has become a fixture of news conferences and interviews since an anthrax-laced letter was opened Oct. 15 in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
"I sought out and got the advice of what I was told were the best medical experts in the world on this. I followed their advice," he said on "Today" yesterday in regard to the anthrax outbreak that has killed two postal workers and sickened others. "I don't think we as Americans should look back. I do regret that we lost two employees. I do regret that anybody got sick in the Postal Service or outside the Postal Service."
Such exposure is a long way from the first job the career U.S. Postal Service worker held back in 1978 as a mail clerk in Westchester, N.Y.
"Talk about a baptism by fire," said Robert McLean, executive director of the Mailers Council, an Arlington trade association representing the nation's largest mailers that deals regularly with postal officials.
The nine-member Postal Service Board of Governors selected Mr. Potter to become the nation's 72nd postmaster general on June 1.
He is a second-generation postal worker. His father, Richard Potter, worked for more than 30 years in Manhattan, N.Y., and wound up his career as a senior-level operating manager.
Jack Potter took over the $161,200-a-year postmaster general's job with a difficult agenda in front of him: Find a way to cut the Postal Service's massive deficit, which reached a pre-audited $1.65 billion for the fiscal year that ended last month.
He had to put aside that priority to deal with terrorists' unexpected use of the postal system as a conduit to spread potentially deadly anthrax.
Through a mounting number of television and other media appearances, Mr. Potter is trying to inform the nation of the agency's daily progress. He also is trying to ease concerns of his nearly 800,000 employees, many of whom are reeling from the deaths of two postal workers in the District. Two others are in hospitals in serious condition.
Mr. Potter, a native New Yorker who holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Fordham University in the Bronx, still looks ill at ease with his high-profile role, colleagues say.
"You can see it's a new thing for him. He's not a limelight kind of guy," said Vince Palladino, president of the 36,000-member National Association of Postal Supervisors.
In the past two days, Mr. Potter has embraced a full-disclosure approach. He said yesterday there is no guarantee that mail delivered to Americans is safe and warned people to wash their hands after opening mail.
He holds daily meetings at Postal Service headquarters with leaders of four unions and three management associations to update them on issues and discuss the message they will present to workers, to reporters and to the rest of America.
Mr. Potter built his reputation within the Postal Service as head of labor relations. He helped negotiate contracts in 1998 with the American Postal Workers Union, whose 366,000 members make it the agency's biggest labor union, as well as with the National Postal Mail Handlers Union.
His efforts helped him land the job as the chief operations officer in October 2000.
Mr. Potter beat out another agency insider, Deputy Postmaster John Nolan, for the job of postmaster general, a post first held by Benjamin Franklin in 1775.
"The way he has performed since September 11 proves the point that we made the right decision," said Robert Rider, chairman of the postal board of governors.
Mr. Potter showed he was an operational wizard before solidifying his reputation within the agency by crafting the labor agreements, Mr. McLean said.
"He knows how things work and how to improve them," he said.
And that quality is serving Mr. Potter well as the Postal Service scrambles to tighten health and safety measures and install technology intended to kill bacteria and spores that may lurk in letters and packages all while continuing to deliver the mail.
"What better person can you have than an operations guy?" Mr. Palladino asked.
That support for Mr. Potter from unions and management associations speaks to the solidarity among labor and management.
"We're going to beat this thing," Mr. Palladino said.
And Mr. Potter who reiterated yesterday that the Postal Service is at war will lead the charge.

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