WASHINGTON — President Clinton on Friday completed the politically sensitive task of picking his Cabinet for the second term with selections that included one surprise--Transportation Secretary Federico Pena was nominated to serve as Energy secretary.
In addition, the president named Andrew Cuomo, son of former New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, to serve as secretary of Housing and Urban Development and sought to promote two other officials into the Cabinet, Federal Highway Administrator Rodney Slater as Transportation secretary and White House aide Alexis M. Herman to run the Labor Department.
The president also named Janet Yellen, a governor on the Federal Reserve Board and former UC Berkeley professor, to head the Council of Economic Advisers and chose his boyhood friend, former White House Chief of Staff Thomas "Mack" McLarty, to become a special envoy to Latin America.
Unlike four years ago, when he had proclaimed his goal of forging a Cabinet "that looks like America," Clinton tended to soft-pedal such explicit statements about diversity this time. Rather, buzzwords like "teamwork" were used more frequently inside the White House as sought-after traits.
Nonetheless, the goal of creating a diverse roster of top officials obviously was important as the selection process ended this week, with particular concerns inside the White House over representation of Latinos and African Americans.
In an apparent eleventh-hour bow to ethnic considerations, the president turned to Pena, a Latino, for the job of Energy secretary. The choice surprised even Pena, who said Friday that "the first thing I will be doing is taking down the 'for sale' sign that is in front of our home."
Slater, a longtime friend of Clinton's from Arkansas who is black, had been the front-runner for the Transportation post from the start of the selection process.
But in nominating Herman--a black woman who directs the White House office of public liaison--to be Labor secretary, Clinton had to deal with a behind-the-scenes scramble in which key elements of the Democratic coalition were heavily promoting various candidates.
With Herman's selection, Clinton pleased such African American leaders as Jesse Jackson. "President Clinton has done a good job appointing a Cabinet that approximates the breadth of the American experience," Jackson said in a statement. "He has reached out beyond race, culture and gender to tap the nation's best and brightest."
Organized labor leaders, however, had expressed qualms that Herman has limited experience with labor issues and wanted former Sen. Harris Wofford (D-Pa.) to get the job. Latino community leaders, meanwhile, pushed hard for Rep. Esteban E. Torres (D-Pico Rivera), a former union leader.
On a stage crowded with current and future administration officials, Clinton declared that the only pressure he felt in making his selections was "the pressure I put on myself"--not pressure from particular interest groups.
"I believe that one of my jobs at this moment in history is to demonstrate, by the team I put together, that no group of people should be excluded from service to our country and that all people are capable of serving," he said. "So I have striven to achieve both excellence and diversity."
He also said: "I am very proud of this Cabinet, I am proud that they are diverse--but I would not have appointed a single one of them because of their gender or their racial or ethnic background, had I not thought that they would succeed."
Clinton also nominated Aida Alvarez, a native of Puerto Rico who heads the office of federal housing enterprise oversight, to become director of the Small Business Administration.
Pena's retention in the Cabinet and the nomination of Alvarez softened some of the disappointment Latino leaders expressed over Torres' failure to get the labor job.
Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project in San Antonio, said that the choices of Pena and Alvarez ensured that "Latino interests are being voiced at the highest levels of government."
In other appointments Clinton announced Friday, he turned to Mike Dombeck, 48, a fisheries biologist who has been acting head of the Bureau of Land Management, to run the U.S. Forest Service. Dombeck, who headed the Forest Service's San Francisco regional office in the late 1980s, will move into an agency troubled by an often divergent mission that involves both selling trees for timber and conserving the nation's forests.
The choice of a biologist, rather than a timber industry executive, "sends a good message," according to Jay Watson, California regional director of the Wilderness Society, and a campaigner for greater conservation.
With Clinton's talent search mostly complete, it appears that few controversies have emerged so far that would block Senate confirmation votes.