The Best Men and Women for the Job

By Lavender March 13, 2008

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I have to admit, when I first read about the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute (GLLI) Presidential Appointments Project (PAP)—to make sure plenty of GLBT folks are in the new administration—I thought it was a bit presumptive. Don’t we have to win the election first? And then I thought, we might as well be prepared. I’m sure many of the other “special interest”-type communities—African Americans, Latinos, people of faith, labor, etc.—are starting to line up for jobs. We should be, too—after all, it’s all about visibility, isn’t it?

GLLI is run out of the Lesbian and Gay Victory Fund (LGVF), which is all about electing GLBT candidates to office throughout the land. Chuck Wolfe, President and CEO of GLLI, is also President and CEO of LGVF.

They have done a good job of it, too. We have more GLBT elected officials now than ever before. And, by and large, these are elected officials who happen to be GLB or T. For the most part, fighting for our rights is just part of their platforms for change.

When we look at presidential appointments, we can’t simply forward the names of folks to the new President’s transition team just because they’re part of our community. They must have credible professional backgrounds, with the skills, insight, and intelligence to carry out the policy initiatives of a new administration. They should be GLBT individuals who have distinguished themselves beyond the work they have done in our community.

Ginny Apuzzo, a longtime activist for GLBT rights and a West Wing alum, said, “I think those people in the gay community who have worked for the common interest have clearly developed skills and talents that any new administration would want. If you want to be in the White House, I would say, work in your community, but then move your community beyond itself, and develop an expertise that gives you the credentials to run an agency in the federal government.”

Apuzzo’s own career reflects her perspective. She served at Executive Director of the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force early in the organization’s history, and worked tirelessly for GLBT rights——but didn’t box herself into just working in GLBT organizations. She taught. She worked in New York City government.

When I met Apuzzo, she was Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Consumer Protection Board during the Cuomo Administration, where she also served as the Governor’s liaison to the gay and lesbian community. She went on to become President of the state’s Civil Service Commission.

Eventually, Apuzzo became the highest ranking openly gay or lesbian person in the White House serving in the Clinton Administration, as the Assistant to the President for Management and Administration—she basically ran the day-to-day operations at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I didn’t go to the White House as a gay activist, but as a person with 15 years experience in administration,” Apuzzo told me in a recent phone interview.

Having experience, a breadth and depth of knowledge, and political acumen—these are what any new administration will be looking for.

If Senator John McCain is elected, it will be politics as usual, and the majority of us—except for a few gay GOPers—can keep our day jobs. If it’s Senator Barack Obama, as I think it will be, we have to be prepared for a new way of doing business.

“Obama talks about bring a new mind-set to Washington,” Apuzzo stated. “That’s the keenest statement that he makes—not just new personnel, but a new way of thinking, and not the old way of doing things.”

If that’s the case, lining our folks up with résumés and sitting down with transition teams may not be what waits for us after Election Day. Like Governor Eliot Spitzer has done in New York State, Obama may forgo the traditional way of doling out jobs, and look for the best and the brightest—folks with talent who weren’t even looking for a government position.

That’s what happened to David Hansell, an openly gay man whose government expertise ranges from advocating on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis to being Chief of Staff at the New York City Human Resources Administration. He never put his name in for his new job as New York State Commissioner of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. Someone sent his résumé to Spitzer, who saw in Hansell a commitment to public service and to helping those in need. He is one of those people who has helped move our community beyond our own issues by working for the greater good.

As PAP moves forward, and résumés roll in, it will behoove those vetting credentials to make sure the folks they put forward are the ones who can move us forward as well.

Libby Post, the founding chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda, is a political commentator on public radio, on the Web, and in print media. She can be reached care of this publication, or at LesbianNotions@qsyndicate.com.

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