WASHINGTON — Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole, the only woman in the Reagan Cabinet, told President Reagan today that she is quitting to devote her time to campaigning for her husband, presidential hopeful Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.).
Dole, 51, who has the longest tenure in history as head of the Transportation Department, said she is leaving Oct. 1 after 4 1/2 years on the job, longer than any of her predecessors.
"I have always put the department first," she told reporters at the White House after a meeting with the President. "Now, I want to put the campaign first. . . . It is a very personal decision."
Administration sources said Patricia A. Goldman, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, is a leading candidate to succeed Dole, who has been the highest-ranking woman in the Administration.
Sen. Dole, the Senate GOP leader and the party's 1976 vice presidential nominee, appeared with his wife and told reporters, "She is the greatest resource we have in our campaign."
Dole's resignation had been expected and she had been criticized in some quarters recently for combining campaign forays with official business. Her active campaign role could also have increased strain within the Cabinet, since Vice President George Bush is generally regarded as Sen. Dole's key rival.
A Harvard-educated lawyer, Elizabeth Dole presided over some of the most turbulent years in American aviation history. Public confidence in airline safety has been shaken and passengers have been angered by deteriorating service.
Sale of Conrail
She was a leading advocate of economic deregulation of transportation industries and was in the forefront of selling Conrail, the government's freight railroad, which netted the government almost $1.9 billion.
Dole also supported Administration efforts to derail federal subsidies for Amtrak, the government's passenger railroad system. Congress has repeatedly rejected such proposals.
She advocated requiring air bags or self-buckling safety belts for new cars and got her way in an Administration not disposed to more government regulation.
From her office near Washington's Mall, Dole headed a department with 100,000 employees and a $26-billion budget.