Friday, February 23, 2001

Blackwell ponders job offer

Colin Powell wants him as counselor

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell is weighing the offer of Colin Powell for a high-ranking position in the U.S. State Department, sources said Thursday.

        Mr. Powell has offered the former Cincinnati mayor and councilman the job of counselor to the secretary, a job at the under-secretary level that has existed since Woodrow Wilson's presidency. The job's duties have changed from administration to administration.

        Mr. Blackwell was unavailable for comment on whether he will accept the appointment, which is made by the president.

        “Several positions have been discussed,” said Carlo LoParo, Mr. Blackwell's spokesman in Columbus. “Only the president can make an offer.”

        A source close to the White House said that Mr. Powell has forwarded Mr. Blackwell's name to the political officers in the White House whose job it is to vet presidential appointees.

        The Republican Ohio secretary of state is well known in the Bush White House. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, during the administration of the first President Bush, Mr. Blackwell held important administration positions.

        He was an assistant to Housing Secretary Jack Kemp and, later, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. That position required him to travel the world — from Bosnia to the African continent for the Bush administration.

        In early 2000, Mr. Blackwell, Ohio's chief elections officer, was national chairman for the campaign of Steve Forbes, one of George W. Bush's early challengers for the GOP presidential nomination.

        But, after Mr. Forbes dropped out, Mr. Blackwell endorsed Mr. Bush over his remaining challenger, John McCain. During the general election campaign, he stumped the country for the GOP nominee and was one of the Bush-Cheney campaign's chief African-American campaign surrogates.

        Originally, sources say, Mr. Powell had tried to recruit Mr. Blackwell for a position as assistant secretary of state specializing in human rights issues.

        But a week ago, Mr. Powell upped the ante by offering him the higher-ranking job of counselor to the secretary, sources say.

        The counselor's job has existed since 1912. Such noted foreign policy experts as George F. Kennan, Walt Rostow and Helmet Sonnefeldt have held it.

        There are no set duties for the office. According to a history of the office published by the U.S. secretary of state's office, the duties of the office have “varied over time.”

        In the first Bush administration, counselor Robert Zoellick was considered a powerful administration figure, personally conducting diplomacy all over the world for then-Secretary of State James Baker.

        In the Clinton administration, the post waned in influence. Sources say Mr. Powell wants to enhance the office in the Bush administration.

        If Mr. Blackwell takes the job, it may mean that he has to put his Ohio political ambitions on hold. Mr. Blackwell was among those Ohio GOP leaders expected to take a run at the governor's office in 2006.


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