Jeremy Bernard is first male, gay social secretary for White House
Saturday, February 26, 2011; 12:00 AM
Jeremy Bernard could have had Paris.
It could have been a blast, another chapter in the life of an irreverent, shrewd insider who can get away with playfully tossing an ornamental gourd in a fancy Washington restaurant without any repercussions. But after only three months at the apex of diplomatic cool at the U.S. Embassy in the French capital, Bernard is returning to Washington.
On Friday, the Obama administration introduced Bernard as the new White House social secretary - the first man and first openly gay person to serve as keeper of the nation's most coveted, gold-engraved invitations.
Bernard, a 49-year-old with a penchant for outrageous humor, has been a force in Democratic politics and in the gay-rights movement for the past two decades. He raised millions for Barack Obama's presidential campaign and corralled donors for glamorous fundraisers, such as the 1,500-guest soiree at Oprah Winfrey's estate in Santa Barbara, Calif., in September 2007.
For the past two years, Bernard has served as White House liaison to the National Endowment for the Humanities, but he recently moved across the Atlantic to Paris to work as senior adviser to the U.S. ambassador, a job that was soon trumped by the one at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
"Jeremy shares our vision for the White House as the People's House, one that celebrates our history and culture in dynamic and inclusive ways," Obama said in a statement released by the White House. In the statement, Bernard said he has "long admired the arts and education programs that have become hallmarks of the Obama White House and I am eager to continue these efforts in the years ahead."
But who gets ushered into the people's house will be of particular interest to campaign-finance watchdogs and GOP rivals as the 2012 reelection effort intensifies - campaign donor lists will surely be checked closely against White House invitation lists.
Bernard, who declined interview requests, is the third person named to the job in two years. For Bernard to land such an inside-the-gates gig sends a signal that the White House is ready to open doors to wealthy supporters who have felt frozen out, according to several who requested anonymity to speak freely.
Chicago businesswoman Desiree Rogers - the first African American to hold the job - arrived in Washington with fanfare, and she elevated what had been a behind-the-scenes job into a high-profile stage for events at the executive mansion. Her colorful tenure was cut short after three uninvited guests crashed Obama's first state dinner in November 2009.
Rogers was replaced by Julianna Smoot, a campaign-finance maven with political skills that the White House reluctantly concluded were too valuable for her not to work on the reelection campaign. Smoot announced she was leaving last month.
Bernard, a San Antonio native, will likely cut a bigger figure than the demure Smoot. "They do everything big in Texas - his sense of humor and laugh reflect that," said Scott Sanders, a close friend who is a major Broadway and Hollywood producer.
At a young age, Bernard moved to Los Angeles where he started his long tenure as a political fundraiser, and was rewarded in the 1990s by President Bill Clinton, who appointed him to a Kennedy Center advisory committee. Bernard also served as a board member for several gay organizations and advised the Los Angeles sheriff's and police departments on gay issues.