Building bridges and trust

Bridges Article December 28, 2000
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President Clinton made official his choice of Federal Highway
Administrator Rodney Slater to succeed Federico Pena as
secretary of transportation at a Washington, D.C., press
conference Dec. 20.

Even before the presidential election,
there was talk Secretary Pena was not long for the position.
This was said to be due to his losing favor with administration
officials for comments he made about the safety of the ValuJet
airline after last year's Florida plane crash. Soon after the
election, Pena announced he would not be returning to the
cabinet post for the president's second term.

One of the
last cabinet positions to be filled, it seems that Slater was
not the only choice for transportation secretary. Among other
possible choices were Norman Mineta, former House Public Works
and Transportation Committee chairman who left Congress in 1995,
and William Daley, a Chicago lawyer and political ally of the

Actually, Daley may have been offered his choice
of either the transportation or commerce posts. He accepted the
position of secretary of commerce, which is probably for the
better. Daley gained most of his notoriety by helping the
president gain passage of NAFTA and putting together last
summer's Democratic National Convention. Daley received more
attention last month when during the president's announcement of
his nomination he became weak, he said from the heat of TV
cameras and lack of sleep, fainted and fell off the stage at the
feet of reporters. He soon recovered and was able to joke about
the incident.

Slater's nomination ceremony seemed to
progress without such excitement. He stayed on his feet and
shook hands with Pena without careening into the crowd. Pena,
while seemingly on his way out of Washington, also landed on his
feet, having re-emerged as the president's choice to head the
Department of Energy.

We have high hopes for Slater as
secretary of transportation. An Arkansas native and friend of
the president, he was a member of the Arkansas Highway
Commission before being appointed federal highway administrator.
He is fond of telling stories of his travels on the nation's
highways, having traveled with the president during his first
presidential campaign. Last summer, Slater conducted a road tour
from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., in commemoration of the
40th anniversary of the Interstate Highway System.

He has
spoken of the need to rehabilitate our highways and bridges on
numerous occasions. He knows the importance of preserving and
strengthening our highway system. Of Slater, the president
commented, "he has built bridges of steel and goodwill." We
trust that Slater will help build those bridges--literally as
well as figuratively--as secretary of transportation.

About the author: 
Flynn is editor of Roads & Bridges
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