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Insiders vie for FCC post in Tristani’s wake

Sep 3, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Gloria Tristani’s resignation from the Federal Communications Commission last week set off a succession race among Democrats in Washington-and at deadline, former employees of the cable and telephone industries appeared to be leading the pack.
The cable industry’s front-runner is David Krone. Mr. Krone, 34, is a former lobbyist for TCI and the National Cable Television Association. He is currently working as a consultant for the association and his longtime mentor, former TCI chief Leo Hindery.
“I’m flattered, and it’s an honor to be considered,” Mr. Krone said.
His major competition appears to be Andy Levin, 38, a top aide to Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. Mr. Levin used to work for Bell Atlantic, which is now Verizon.
Along with their common roots in the industry, the two leading candidates share the luxury of being able to count on key congressional support. Mr. Levin’s major backer is Rep. Dingell. Though Rep. Dingell has no direct say in Senate confirmation proceedings, he is widely respected by his Democratic colleagues and casts a wide shadow on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Krone, meanwhile, is said to enjoy the support of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., in part because Mr. Krone and Mr. Hindery are big-time donors to the Democrats. (The Federal Election Commission says Mr. Krone has donated more than $50,000 over the past several years, and Mr. Hindery gave more than $740,000, with most of that earmarked for Democratic causes.)
A possible stumbling block for Mr. Krone and Mr. Levin is that they are both white.
Ms. Tristani is of Hispanic heritage, an ethnic group President Bush is trying to woo to the Republican Party. Hispanic community leaders are expected to urge the White House to consider Hispanic candidates.
As it stands, President Bush has named three whites to the panel, including a woman. The FCC’s chairman, who was originally appointed by President Clinton, is African American.
Also said to have their hats in the ring for the Ms. Tristani’s seat are Kathy Wallman, a former White House and FCC staffer who now runs her own consulting firm; Greg Rohde, former head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration; Chris McLean, a former Senate aide; and Bob Rowe, a member of the Montana Public Service Commission.
Ms. Tristani, a Clinton appointee, said she is planning to step down at the agency Sept. 7. She plans to return to her home state of New Mexico, where she is expected to consider a run for political office.
In her nearly four years at the FCC, Ms. Tristani positioned herself as an advocate for consumers, urging crackdowns on indecent broadcasts, promoting the v-chip and encouraging the provision of basic telephone services on Indian reservations.
That earned her the plaudits of watchdog groups.
But industry sources regularly complained that she gave their interests short shrift. As an example, she declined to attend the National Association of Broadcasters annual convention and most other industry functions after her first year on the job.
She also objected to many of the major media industry mergers during her tenure, including News Corp.’s recent acquisition of the Chris-Craft Industries TV stations. In addition, she was a strong agency advocate of the access provisions that America Online had to accept to win approval of its acquisition of Time Warner.
“She certainly didn’t agree with us on many issues,” said one industry source who asked not to be identified.
Of the logic the FCC applied to give News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch a series of ownership rule waivers clearing the way for the Chris-Craft deal, Ms. Tristani said: “This decision … shows the lengths the commission will go to avoid standing in the way of media mergers.”
It’s also been clear from the start, according to industry sources, that Ms. Tristani has been using the FCC as a stopping-off point of sorts between political campaigns in New Mexico.
When she accepted the FCC job in 1997 (which she got through then-Vice President Al Gore, who went to private school with her brothers), she was a candidate for governor of New Mexico. When she traveled on the job at the FCC, it was in large part to deliver speeches in New Mexico.
But at least according to watchdog group representatives, she did an admirable job of watching out for the public while at the agency.
“Commissioner Tristani has consistently supported the interests of the public-the people that actually watch the programming, pay the monthly cable bills and rely on the media’s role to provide democratic discourse,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Media Democracy. “That this is exceptional is itself somewhat tragic.”
Added FCC Chairman Michael Powell, “Commissioner Tristani’s leadership on issues such as the v-chip, and her tireless efforts in bringing communications services to underserved areas have served the public interest well and will be sorely missed.”