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Women have the windows in the West Wing

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By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 23, 2010; 7:32 PM

National Economic Council director Larry Summers's departure announcement, much like Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's not-yet announcement, sparked frenzied speculation about a replacement.

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Several women were touted as strong contenders - including former Young & Rubicam chairman and chief executive Ann Fudge, former Council of Economic Advisers chairman Laura Tyson, NEC deputy director Diana Farrell, and former Xerox chairman and CEO Anne Mulcahy.

If President Obama picks a woman for the post, they may start calling the West Wing's second floor the Women's Wing. Here's the current layout of offices:

Senior aides Cecilia Munoz, Tina Tchen and Valerie Jarrett occupy contiguous offices on the south side of the floor.

A woman in what is now Summers's office would continue an uninterrupted string of women in the prized offices with windows down from those offices to Melody Barnes's corner office and then to Heather Higginbottom's office.

In all, women would occupy eight of the 12 exterior offices on that floor. (Okay, okay, they're not on the first floor, but still . . .)

Mass. exodus

The Summers announcement also touched off some speculation that his official explanation - needing to return to Harvard - hid deeper policy disputes or internal backstabbing. After all, surely Harvard, if he'd asked, would have given him a waiver from his two-year leave of absence.

But Harvard is unusually hard-line about leaves. And Summers's professorship is no ordinary faculty membership: He's a "university professor." There are only 22 of them out of the 1,000 tenured professors at the school.

We're told there was no doubt he'd be reappointed to the faculty, but he might not be able to get the university professorship back. "Not something you want to give up if you want to continue in academia," an academic told us.

And it wasn't exactly a shock to anyone inside the White House that he was leaving. Even if he'd gotten the job he really wanted - Treasury secretary - he would probably still be going back to Cambridge now, though it might have been a closer call. Had he gotten the Fed chairmanship last year instead of Ben Bernanke, we're guessing he might have stayed. When he didn't get either, the handwriting was truly on the wall.

Unclear whether Obama will tap someone from inside to replace Summers or go outside the bubble. The job isn't all standing by Obama and whispering economic policies in his ear. There's some of that, but there's much more - endless hours, actually - sitting in meetings with other administration officials, hammering out stuff, coordinating policy initiatives.

Maybe that's why outsiders should consider the views of one White House veteran, who said: "Anyone who really knows what the job is won't take it; people who don't know won't work out."


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