April 22, 2002 - New York Times: Carol Bellamy - From City Hall to the World's Stage

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Directors of the Peace Corps: Carol Bellamy: October 7, 1993-May 1, 1995 : Bellamy: April 22, 2002 - New York Times: Carol Bellamy - From City Hall to the World's Stage

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Carol Bellamy - From City Hall to the World's Stage

Read and comment on this story from the New York Times on former Peace Corps Director Carol Bellamy - now head of Unicef - and the first Peace Corps Volunteer to be appointed Director at:

From City Hall to the World's Stage*

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From City Hall to the World's Stage


he photographs are spread across the table. Here is Carol Bellamy in Afghanistan, holding the hand of a girl going back to school. Here she is in Albania, crouched by the cradle of a Kosovo refugee baby in need of medical care. Here she is giving a dose of polio vaccine to a toddler in Congo.

For seven years, Ms. Bellamy a former New York City Council president, Wall Street lawyer and investment banker has been executive director of Unicef, the United Nations children's fund. In scores of countries, she is a celebrity among the poor as well as among the powerful, and a tough advocate for kids, millions of whom are battered by war, poverty, malnutrition and disease, forced labor and sexual abuse.

For all of that, she is still 100 percent New Yorker. "I treasure my moments in New York when I am home," she said. "It's my security blanket."

Her official United Nations biography doesn't even mention that she grew up in Scotch Plains, N.J.

"I took it out of my bio," she said. When she was a child, said Ms. Bellamy, who turned 60 in January, "New Jersey didn't have a persona." Her home is Park Slope. And she is a Mets fan. It says so in her résumé.

Early next month, Ms. Bellamy will be bringing the world home to New York when the United Nations holds a special General Assembly session on children, from May 6 to May 10, to which all world leaders have been invited. It will be almost 12 years since the first and last time the organization took stock of children at a world summit. That was before a decade of nasty civil wars created hundreds of thousands of child soldiers and the AIDS epidemic orphaned millions of African and Asian children.

A woman with a quick temper, no apparent love for United Nations-style ceremony and no children of her own, Ms. Bellamy seemed to many to be an unusual choice for the top job at Unicef. She wasn't the Clinton administration's first candidate. The White House nominated a man in 1995 when Boutros Boutros-Ghali, then the secretary general, asked for female candidates to replace the late and near-legendary James Grant. When the secretary general seemed on the verge of naming a European to the job, which an American had always held, Ms. Bellamy, then director of the Peace Corps, was belatedly proposed, along with several other American women.

Ms. Bellamy, who came into public life with a wave of feminist politicians in the 1960's and 1970's Donna Shalala, the former secretary of health and human services, is one of her closest friends surprised a lot of people by taking the job, and then accepting a second five-year term two years ago from Secretary General Kofi Annan, who praised her work.

"I love it," she said in an interview in her airy office with a view of the United Nations Secretariat building and the East River. "I have the best job in the world."

"When people stop me and say, `Isn't it nice to be out of politics?' I say to them: `Well I'm in a different kind of politics,' " she said. Not just politics, but a different business too. In the Unicef job, the varied experiences of her past suddenly came together. A graduate of Gettysburg College and New York University Law School, she was a corporate lawyer at Cravath, Swaine & Moore from 1968 to 1971 and later an investment banker, first at Morgan Stanley, then at Bear Stearns.

"These agencies are big businesses," she said of the United Nations. "The business of Unicef is child survival, development. We've got 9,000 employees in 160 countries around the world and a $1.2 billion budget." Her staff members work in dangerous environments. In the midst of negotiating with Uganda and Sudan over the fate of children caught in fighting near their borders, she got a call after midnight a couple of days ago saying that the Unicef office in Ambon, Indonesia, was under siege and employees were being evacuated.

"In the middle of the bombing in Afghanistan, we had the second round of polio immunization," she said. "The usual face of U.N. in the most difficult spots today is not the face of peacekeepers. It's the face of the World Food Program person, it's the face of the refugee person, it's the face of the Unicef person."

The Carol Bellamy most New Yorkers know best was the young woman from the West Brooklyn Independent Democrats who was elected to the New York State Senate three times, in 1972, 1974 and 1976. There were no party positions, and thus no fights over them, "but we did have battles," she said of her scrappy political club. In 1977, she ran for City Council president, then an elected office with considerable clout, not the least over budgets through the then-powerful Board of Estimate. She was the first woman elected to that job.

In 1985, she made an unsuccessful run for mayor. In 1990, she came close to being elected state comptroller. She lost again when her victorious opponent suddenly left the job and Gov. Mario Cuomo asked state legislators to turn down her bid to be appointed to fill the vacant post because he wanted a minority candidate.

"There are times when you fight the governor and times when you say, `Yes, Mr. Governor,' " she said. "I always attribute my wonderful opportunity to be Peace Corps director and to be at Unicef to the governor." In 1993, she became the first former Peace Corps volunteer to run the organization.

"For me, the greatest influences in my life were my mother and the Peace Corps," Ms. Bellamy said. She talks a lot about her mother, Fran, a nurse who was widowed in early middle age and was always a pillar of support for her daughter, attending campaign kickoffs and parties.

"She loved those parties," Ms. Bellamy said, recalling a critical moment when she got into a runoff for City Council president. "All of a sudden out of the side of my eye, I see television cameras going to my mother, and I was thinking: `Oh, dear God, here's a woman who has never been in front of a television camera. What is she going to say?'

"My mother looked right into the camera and said: `Thank you, New York, for loving my daughter,' " she said. "For an entire week, people at subway stops would be saying, `Your mother seems wonderful.' " Ms. Bellamy won the runoff. Her mother died in 1995, just after Ms. Bellamy took over Unicef.

As for the Peace Corps, Ms. Bellamy said, two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala after college taught a sheltered Presbyterian girl from the East Coast that "there's a whole big world out there and you ought to give it a try."

While in Guatemala, she decided to go to law school. "I applied for law school because I thought I wanted to work for U.S.A.I.D., which was the Peace Corps with flush toilets. But by the time I finished, the courses I liked best were contracts and corporations."

"What I took out of the Peace Corps was that you need to be willing to try a lot of different things, and actually fail in some things," she said. "You get up and wipe your bloody nose, and head forward."

Political savvy has carried her through more than one crisis. She stood up among United Nations executives to demand that the autonomy of agencies like hers not be weakened under the guise of organizational reform. In Afghanistan a few years ago, when an awkward silence descended over a lunch with Taliban officials who were then in power, she swung into ward politics, asking about public services in Kabul.

In the next few weeks, the challenge will be a Bush administration wary of the promotion of children's rights. The United States is now alone with Somalia among 189 member countries of the United Nations in not ratifying the international Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is anathema to Republican conservatives fearful of undermining family values and parental authority. Advocates for children expect a hard-line delegation from Washington at the coming special assembly session.

"I don't approach child rights as a soapbox issue, or a finger-pointing issue," Ms. Bellamy said. "From my perspective, it's the right to health, it's the right to education." The convention, she said, rests firmly on the foundation of the family. "But it recognizes the child as a human being to whom society owes some obligation.`

Does a world role diminish her view of New York politics? "It's not that New York seems small," she said. "But my budget is not controlled by New York politics any more, but by who gets elected in Denmark or who chairs a U.S. Congressional committee."

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Peace Corps - Directors; COS - Guatemala



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