The Secretary of Education in the Bill Clinton Administration hired me as his Director of Scheduling and Advance based on one simple fact—I was from Chicago. An honorable and wily statesman, Richard Riley assumed experience in Chicago politics gave me a certain expertise: I’d be able to withstand the numerous hoodoo scheduling proposals that plagued his staff, particularly those from White House advisor and fellow Chicagoan, Rahm Emmanuel.
The lobbyist for Siemens International contacted me frequently inviting Riley to visit the company’s innovative partnership in Lake Mary, Florida. Siemens provided on-the-job training for students at the Lake Mary high school. The program exemplified Clinton’s school-to-work policy, so I put it on a list of possible events for the Secretary.
In the fall of 1995, Rahm, Assistant to the President for Political Affairs, decided a big flashy event would be the perfect way to highlight Clinton’s School-to-Work Opportunities Act before the 1996 reelection campaign. He asked Secretary Riley for suggestions. Riley consulted me and we chose Siemens/Lake Mary.
Since I’d be organizing and managing all the details for the President’s visit to Lake Mary, I was immediately posted to the White House Scheduling Office. I tiptoed into my first day on the job as if I’d wake a sleeping giant who’d shout, “You don’t belong here!”
Within the first few hours at my desk in the White House, I received a call from a colleague at the Department of Education. He’d uncovered some unseemly intelligence: Siemens collaborated with the Hitler regime.
I immediately reported this to the President’s Scheduler. She hastily called a meeting of decision-makers and sent me with others to an afternoon meeting with Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes and Rahm. These two were known for hurling f-bombs right at your face before you even sat down (“who the fuck are you?”). The fray of Chicago politics conditioned me for profanity, but these brawlers took it to another level. They were famous for not only sparring with each other but also lobbing the most obscene and demeaning sucker punches at ringside innocents.
Rumors were rampant that each of them offered outsiders access to the President in exchange for campaign contributions. My Nazi information put the Lake Mary event in jeopardy and in turn, meant a lost opportunity for big cash from Siemens.
The meeting participants rat-a-tatted around the room on the pros and cons of going or not going. Their only concern: what would the press report? My lips involuntarily clamped shut and quivered. Participation in this conversation would have been like throwing myself in the ring with Muhammad Ali.
I finally busted out, “They had a factory at Auschwitz.”
Heads turned and I felt dragon eyes spit fire in my face. My cheeks ignited.
“Are you saying we shouldn’t go?”
I knew my answer would either shorten or prolong my envious seat in a White House office.
“I’m saying Siemens helped fund the Nazi party and later used prisoners to work in their factory inside Auschwitz.”
And so ended my 8-hour post in the West Wing of the White House.