Carmen Turner is not a woman given to either pessimism or casual revelations. Yesterday, at a press conference one day after The Washington Post reported that she will leave her job as chief of the Metro transportation system to take on the No. 2 job at the Smithsonian Institution, Turner offered few specifics but at least one hint of the emotions behind her decision.
"The Smithsonian, for all of us who live in Washington, is a very important part of our total experience," she said. "I can remember coming to the Smithsonian as a child with my parents, coming with my two sons after church and much later with my two little granddaughters. I feel very warmly about the Smithsonian.
"You know, people say there are three things that bind us together. One of them is the Redskins, of course. One is the Smithsonian. And of course you know what the third is -- Metro."
She declined to discuss her plans for her new job or to talk in any more detail of her decision to take it. Instead, she limited herself to praising the man who hired her and speaking in general terms of the new opportunities she faces.
Referring to Smithsonian Secretary Robert McC. Adams (who has been criticized recently for a management style some of his employees describe as aloof and unpredictable), she said the job offer was appealing because of the opportunity to work with "someone of Dr. Adams's stature, someone with a vision for the Smithsonian and a vision expressed with such passion."
She went on to praise her employees at Metro: "Metro's been my baby," she said, but "Metro's a healthy organization. It has a good, solid work force."
And about just what she expects to do in her new position, which begins in December and will introduce her to an institution that faces severe morale as well as financial challenges, she said only this: "I guess I would ask you to come and ask me in about six months."
Turner leaves the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority after seven years as general manager. She will succeed Dean Anderson, who was fired by Adams in July.
Describing the decision to leave Metro as a "heart-wrenching" one, Turner said she had not been looking for a career change when the Smithsonian approached her. But when asked what about the chief operating officer job had attracted her to the Smithsonian, Turner avoided specifics. "It's hard to talk about what drew me to the job," she said, "because at this point I think it was more instinct, an opportunity to contribute to the management at the Smithsonian and an opportunity to experience personal growth."
One knowledgeable source said yesterday that as a native Washingtonian Turner had always thought highly of the Smithsonian and S. Dillon Ripley, Adams's predecessor, who ran and transformed the institution for 20 years, and that she was intrigued by the chance to help the institution resolve some of its current problems. But Turner, according to the source, did not want to discuss this motivation yesterday for fear of seeming to criticize Adams.
In her new job, Turner will oversee the workings of what Adams called "the world's largest museum and research complex." A graduate of Howard University who received a master's degree in public administration from American University, Turner has no professional background in museums, but said on Tuesday that she sits on the boards of Howard and George Washington universities, "so I've had some experience with institutions of higher learning."
But Adams emphasized repeatedly that he sees Turner's experience at Metro as extremely relevant training for a job in the Smithsonian Castle.
"In so many ways she has had at Metro and elsewhere experiences that were very closely allied to those at the Smithsonian," he said. "We, like Metro, are partly in and partly not in the federal government. We go to it for money, but we are not part of it. We have the same stance."
He also pointed to Turner's background in technical and political matters, her ability to work with a "wide geographical constituent base" and her handling of "complex funding issues -- issues I need not tell you also have analogues at the Smithsonian."
Speaking of those analogous issues, Turner said, "I'm not intimidated by the challenge. I'm excited by the challenge."
Adams also stressed Turner's ability to work with a wide variety of people. He said Turner had told him that she knew she was succeeding at Metro "when the bus drivers waved at her. I think someone who measures interactions with one's employees, one's staff, that way, with concern for everyone, can't help but be good for an institution."
Turner's appointment, Adams said, is part of a "series of reorganization moves" that will come "over time," but he would not describe the moves or say when the next one will occur. He also would not disclose how much Turner will make in her new position, saying that "it has yet to be all formalized." At Metro her annual salary is $109,000.
Several Smithsonian officials attended the press conference, including Assistant Secretary Alice Burnette, who is overseeing the creation of the National Museum of the American Indian.
"I think nothing could be better for the Smithsonian," she said of the appointment. "Carmen brings so much substance, but she brings so much caring. It is very future-oriented. It has great promise for the Smithsonian to assert its determination to be the museum of all the people."