It’s payback time. Women strongly backed President Clinton’s reelection and now their advocates are looking for reward.
The president who promised to make his first administration “look like America” appointed women to a quarter of the jobs that require Senate confirmation over the past four years, a White House record.
Clinton also brought more blacks and Hispanics into his Cabinet and other high posts compared to previous Oval Office occupants.
Now, many of those women and minorities are leaving and it remains an open question whether Clinton will repeat his comprehensive but, as it turned out, messy effort to ensure sexual and racial balance in his administration.
“I think a fair share of powerful women has to be a goal,” said Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women. “And I don’t think we’re there yet. But I think they’ve made some good progress.”
Some activists had expressed disappointment that few women’s names had appeared in speculation to fill top vacancies, but they seemed more optimistic after several meetings with Vice President Al Gore.
“They broke all records in the first term,” said Anita Perez Ferguson, president of the National Women’s Political Caucus. “Even duplicating that effort is going to be good.
“But my sense is they’re dedicated to going even further in a second term.”
Administration personnel officials have also met a group of minority representatives, including Rainbow Coalition leader Jesse Jackson.
So far, Clinton has only said he wants to broaden his Cabinet to include a Republican. “I don’t see a conflict between excellence and diversity,” he said after the Nov. 5 election. “But I would extend that diversity to Republicans as well.”
At least half the Cabinet is leaving. The seven confirmed departures include Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary, who is black, and Hispanic-Americans Federico Pena, Transportation chief, and Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros.
Other high profile losses include Deval L. Patrick, the black assistant attorney general credited with helping to persuade Clinton to stick with affirmative action.
The Cabinet lost two blacks earlier, with the death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown in a plane crash and the resignation of Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy under an ethical cloud.
Clinton, musing Cabinet possibilities at Camp David this weekend, has not been quick to fill the coming vacancies.
But the White House hopes to avoid a replay of stumbles after the 1992 election, when the first two women put forward for attorney general ran into problems with their background and Clinton got other headaches from his diversity-driven process.
Still, administration officials have been reaching out to women and minority groups to assure them Clinton would continue to strive for a cross-section.
Ferguson, of the National Women’s Political Caucus, leads a coalition of 60 women’s groups that has sent the White House 21 names of women “most qualified and appropriate for presidential appointments.”
She and other activists pressed their case in two meetings with Gore, one last week and another Monday. “He seemed to be very open,” Ferguson said.
Gore, said his spokeswoman, Ginny Terzano, “reiterated that he and the president fully understand the points that they have raised - making sure that women are fully included in the selection and appointment process, which is being done.”
Women favored Clinton by 17 percentage points over Republican Bob Dole in the election, according to exit polls. They also represent 60 percent of Democratic primary voters.
Clinton’s support among most minority groups was overwhelming. Blacks voted 84-12 for him while Hispanics backed him 72-21, the polls found.
In Clinton’s first term, 41 percent of all noncareer executive branch appointments went to women. White House figures also show Clinton appointed women to a record 27 percent of the jobs that require Senate confirmation.
Among women reportedly under consideration for Cabinet vacancies: U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright as secretary of state; Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick as defense secretary; EPA Director Carol Browner as energy secretary; Maria Echaveste, administrator of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, as secretary of labor; former Assistant Education Secretary Madeleine Kunin, who is now ambassador to Switzerland, as education secretary; and economist Alicia Munnell as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.