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Obama's Cabinet Market by Diversity, and Alacrity

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By Al Kamen
Friday, December 19, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama's expected announcement today of his last three Cabinet-level picks -- outgoing Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) as secretary of transportation, former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk as U.S. trade representative and Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-Calif.) as secretary of labor -- ends the first phase of what, so far, has been a smooth-running transition process.

White males, as they were in Bill Clinton's first Cabinet, will find themselves again in the minority in the Obama regime. Of the 20 Cabinet-level positions, nine are to be filled by white men, two by white women (Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano), two by Asian Americans (Gen. Eric K. Shinseki and Steven Chu), three by Latinos (New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Ken Salazar and Solis), and four by African Americans (Eric H. Holder Jr., Susan E. Rice, Lisa P. Jackson and Kirk.)

The Obama transition team has also posted the fastest completion time for a Cabinet in 32 years, beating his recent predecessors by at least four days.

(It could be argued, however, that the current president's truncated transition was even faster, filling 12 key posts in the first two weeks after the Supreme Court decision determined that George W. Bush had won the election, according to transition expert Paul C. Light. "Of course, it could be argued that Barry Bonds broke the home run record," he added.)

And it appears the Obama team has also begun filling in the sub-Cabinet ranks much more quickly, with nominees for regulatory agencies, science positions and such, something that was "unprecedented," Light said. Obama has also filled a substantial number of White House positions, even down to the deputy assistant level, giving those staffers ample time to learn their jobs.

Cabinet Classmates

Speaking of diversity, the Obama team has shown it can go very broad. But it's been less noticed how adept it is at going narrow, very narrow, as in nominating two members of the same Harvard class of 1987, Shaun Donovan for secretary of housing and urban development and Arne Duncan for secretary of education.

But not just the same class. They also lived in the same Harvard dorm (they prefer to call them "houses"), Leverett House. In addition, their pictures are right next to each other's in the Leverett House yearbook, where we learn further details on their merits for the job.

For example, Donovan has been acclaimed of late as the highly regarded housing administrator for New York City, a former top HUD official in the Clinton administration and an expert on affordable housing.

We find from the yearbook that he's an expert on all manner of housing, with his home address at the time listed as 1040 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan, an exquisite location, overlooking Central Park and the reservoir and a stone's throw from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Okay, maybe a little traffic noise on 85th Street, but you can't have everything.)

And right below Donovan's picture there's Duncan, a basketball-playing pal of the president-elect's. He has that important credential presaged in the yearbook, where it's noted that he was co-captain of the varsity basketball team.

Brownie, We Hardly Knew Ye

Many folks heading to Washington for the inauguration -- and all of us who are already here -- are most concerned about whether a few million additional people will send the town into complete paralysis.

Well, not to worry -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency is on the case, ready to make sure everything works out.


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