- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Harvard clique

Freshman Rep. Katherine Harris, Florida’s former secretary of state who became a central figure in the 2000 presidential election dispute, is already bidding farewell to her first congressional chief of staff — and campaign manager — Dan Berger.

Mr. Berger tells this column he will become vice president of government relations for America’s Community Bankers. When not busy running political campaigns, he’s lobbied for the past 15 years on both the state and federal level on behalf of financial services firms and insurance companies.

“Katherine has been a terrific friend to my wife and me for over a decade, and working for her as a congresswoman has been a wonderful opportunity,” Mr. Berger says. “She has this magnificent combination of intelligence and energy, and it makes her an incredibly effective representative.

“As everyone up here will tell you, she thrives on the policy and wonkish details of how issues affect her constituents and our country. She is truly fun to watch.”

As for his replacement?

“My best friend and Katherine’s longtime [Florida] chief of staff Ben McKay will be arriving this week after earning his master’s degree from Harvard — the same degree and school Katherine and I both attended — to be her new chief of staff,” he says.

Meanwhile, we’re surprised to learn that Mr. Berger has some hidden talents. He’s presently working with two Florida comedians on a play called “Tyrant,” “about an eccentric, funny, old Southern politician named Senator Ty Rant,” he says. “I am also working on weekends, very slowly I might add, on a murder mystery that takes place in Southwest Florida called ‘Dust’ and a political intrigue screenplay called ‘Treason.’”

Uncle Rummy wants you

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld hopes he can talk the newly graduated members of the class of 2003 into following him into the government sector, which is not their first choice.

Taking time out from the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the Pentagon’s top dog will appear this morning with Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution; Paul Volcker, chairman of the National Commission on Public Service; and Brookings senior fellow Paul Light to discuss “serious concerns” graduates have with government careers.

A Brookings survey of the class of 2003, to be released today, finds many graduates are interested in going into public service, especially in the nonprofit sector. Working in government is their second choice, with contract firms a distant third.

“However, students express serious concerns about getting a job in government,” the survey finds. “They believe it would be more difficult and time-consuming than finding work with a nonprofit or contract firm. The findings are particularly relevant as the House and Senate consider sweeping legislation to change the personnel process in the Department of Defense.”

Rhode on the rise

President Bush has appointed his former special assistant Patrick Rhode, a native of Hot Springs, Ark., to be chief of staff for the Federal Emergency Management Agency under Michael D. Brown, undersecretary of emergency preparedness and response.

Among its many missions, FEMA coordinates federal disaster-relief activities — including the response and recovery operations of 26 federal agencies and departments — and trains first responders during times of heightened threat of terrorism.

60s digression

Singer Pat Boone turned 69 on Sunday, and to celebrate the milestone, he’s signed up as national spokesman for the 60 Plus Association, a rapidly growing senior citizen lobby entering its 11th year.

Apart from being the No. 10 recording artist of all time (he’s recently back on the Billboard charts with his album “American Glory” and the single “Under God”), Mr. Boone serves as spokesman for the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews; helped found the American Basketball Association (he owned the Oakland Oaks team); and works with the March of Dimes, National Association of the Blind, and national Easter Seals telethon.

As for the Arlington-based 60 Plus Association, its president is Jim Martin, who it’s worth repeating gave George W. Bush his first political job in 1967. Mr. Martin was the top aide to Rep. Edward J. Gurney, a Florida Republican running for the Senate, and “we were looking for someone to get the media on and off the plane, into their hotel rooms, and back up again at 6 a.m.,” he told this column.

Jimmy Allison, who had just finished managing the winning campaign of a freshman congressman from Texas by the name of George Bush, informed Mr. Martin: “I’ve got somebody in mind, the congressman’s oldest son. He’s getting out of Yale, just like his father. He’s getting his license to be a pilot, just like his dad.”

“Gosh,” Mr. Martin replied, “how much will we have to pay him and how soon can he start?”

Soon, the young Bush was riding with a handful of reporters aboard a propeller-driven press plane occupied by the congressman and Mr. Martin.

“I remember him as a very handsome 21-year-old,” Mr. Martin said, “a clean-cut guy, very articulate, extremely bright, very gregarious, a hale fellow well met, in that everybody likes him instantly. You shake hands with him, you like him, too. And he was very cordial with the press, too.”

And yes, Mr. Gurney, with the able assistance of the future president, won the Senate seat, capturing 59 percent of the vote.

John McCaslin, a nationally syndicated columnist, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or [email protected].

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