His office is bare. There is no typewriter, no portrait of a smiling wife, no pictures on the walls, no books on any shelves. There isn't even a stack of paperwork waiting to be done. A desk and a phone sit alone in a room in the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History.
But that's all he needs, says 29-year-old Peter Kovler, breaking into a laugh to assure you he likes it that way.
As Saturday, the 100th birthday of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, nears, Kovler, chairman of the National FDR Centennial Committee, executive director of the Congressional Committee for a Joint Congress and heir to the Jim Beam fortune, has seen his days become filled with a final frenzy.
A typical recent day went in part like this:
* 8:45 a.m. He's having breakfast at home with his wife, Judy. The phone rings. It's a committee member to discuss an FDR centennial problem.
* He gets to his office . . . A woman in San Mateo County, Calif., is on the line saying she saw a small item in a San Francisco newspaper about the FDR centennial. She wants to organize some Democrats to spend the evening together. How should she do it?
* Off to Capitol Hill for a meeting, lunch and press conference with Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.) and Sen. Jennings Randolph (D-W.Va.).
* Middle of the afternoon, working from the office of Rep. Sidney Yates (D-Ill.). He gets through a call to the secretary in his Chicago office and dictates a letter about celebrations in Miami, Denver, San Francisco and Chicago.
Kovler's friends, when they are able to slow him down, jokingly call him Franklin. A playwright friend recently gave him an FDR coloring book. His wife has started a scrapbook.
"FDR is full-time now," Kovler says earnestly, leaning over a ketchup-drenched hamburger he ordered at lunch. With the next bite, he tallies the count of FDR-related phone calls on an average day. "Dozens," he decides.
Last summer when Kovler, who was born seven years after FDR died, began to wonder what was being planned to recognize the anniversary of Roosevelt's 100th birthday, he found out that virtually nothing was being planned. The former Department of Commerce speechwriter was shocked and decided to start something himself. Soon he found himself head of the whole centenary project.
There's no doubt that Kovler's admiration of the former president got him the job. But there must be some reason a nice-guy-from-Chicago-too-young-to have-been-there is in the midst of a Roosevelt hoopla like this. He says his parents didn't hang FDR's portrait above the mantel. Bread lines were never a part of his life, and although his father talked about FDR and his mother cried when he died, he was just one among many other heroes in the household. Patriotism is his defense.
"There's nothing wrong with patriotism," Kovler says, even though he describes growing up at a time when patriotism was apt to be mocked.
"I just assumed he was everyone's hero," Kovler says, his widening blue eyes a perfect match with his faded jeans. "Don't you think?"
Everyone's hero or not, Congress appropriated $225,000 to fund the commemorative festivities, including the Smithsonian's observance, which in size will be second only to its Bicentennial celebration. But in terms of presidential commemoratives, according to Kovler's research, it doesn't come close to Herbert Hoover's in 1974 when $7 million was spent.
"A considerable amount," says Kovler, his bushy brown mustache hovering over every word. "And a considerable amount for a figure I think everyone would say paled in comparison -- to put it mildly -- to Franklin D. Roosevelt."
But Kovler is more than pleased with the celebration plans, which include lectures, films, a three-hour television documentary and numerous exhibits, especially since he found out it usually takes three to five years to properly coordinate a tribute of this scale. He's convinced it will be a celebration fit for a president.
"It's common knowledge that Roosevelt saved the nation through two of the most major crises of the century," Kovler says, the hamburger long gone, but the FDR talk still flowing, "and that he was to America like Churchill to England, like Lincoln to the 19th century.
"I would like people to remember that there is nothing criminal about government," Kovler says. "Most people think that now, somehow, the government is the devil's tool, and I think you can show by teaching history, this history -- the New Deal -- that government is not the devil's tool".
Kovler walks out onto the snow-covered sidewalk. He stops and turns around, an envelope tucked under his arm.
"Do you know where the Federal Express office is?"
Peter Kovler's got some last-minute FDR mail-outs.