September 15, 2002 - Orange County Register: Orange County Register profiles Gaddi Vasquez
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September 15, 2002 - Orange County Register: Orange County Register profiles Gaddi Vasquez
Orange County Register profiles Gaddi Vasquez
Read and comment on this story from Gaddi Vasquez's hometown newspaper, the Orange County Register, on how Vasquez knows what it's like to be a Peace Corps worker in a developing country because he lived in Third World conditions without having to go overseas, how there are concerns that Vasquez will use this job to get back into elected politics like a previous director, the late Sen. Paul Coverdell, how Vasquez wants to make his mark on the Peace Corps by meeting Bush's challenge to double the number of volunteers and how it is important for him to find a way into communities where the Peace Corps is an unknown.
Two minor additions/corrections to the story:
- The story states that only three of the top twenty-four senior staff appointments at Peace Corps are RPCVs. We have been told that the correct number is two. Read our story on top political appointments at Peace Corps which shows that Jody Olsen and Betsi Shays were volunteers but although Chief of Staff Lloyd Pierson was a Country Director in the 1980's he was never a volunteer says Peace Corps Press Director Ellen Field.
Read the story at:
- The story talks about the Director's political aspirations and says that "Political observers are already suggesting that (Director Vasquez) plans to use this post as a steppingstone to get back into politics" but the story doesn't mention the promise that Director Vasquez made in July when asked by volunteers about his trips to California since being sworn in when he pledged that he would "absolutely not" be a candidate for the US Senate in 2004.
Gaddi Vasquez at peace in new role*
* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.
Gaddi Vasquez at peace in new role
The director of the Peace Corps says the job reminds him how far he's come.
By DENA BUNIS
The Orange County Register
WASHINGTON – A picture on a small side table in Gaddi Vasquez's office shows a little boy holding his father's hand as he walks down the steps of a ramshackle trailer sitting on dirt.
When people question whether Vasquez knows what it's like to be a Peace Corps worker in a developing country and how he can relate to the passion of those returning from two years overseas, he points to that photo of him and his father.
"I have this here as a reminder every day," said Vasquez, sworn in seven months ago as President George W. Bush's director of the Peace Corps. "I lived in Third World conditions without having to go overseas."
The Vasquez family - then migrant workers - lived in that Watsonville trailer until Gaddi went to first grade. They moved to Orange County, where he went to school in Orange, at Santa Ana College and then on to the University of Redlands.
At 47, Vasquez remembers being inspired as a teen by early television commercials for the Peace Corps. But taking two years off to see the world was not possible.
"I was the first one to graduate college," Vasquez said in an interview at Peace Corps headquarters. "My family was not in a position to see me go off for a couple of years."
So he stayed in Orange County, becoming a police officer and then the first Hispanic on the county Board of Supervisors. He bailed out amid a brutal bankruptcy on the heels of a recall petition. But by keeping his political contacts intact, he emerged from a hibernation to take on the job of bringing the Peace Corps into the 21st century.
With more nations clamoring for volunteers and a president who wants to double the corps' numbers, Vasquez's immediate task is to reinvigorate an agency that many don't realize still exists. He's committed to transforming the white-bread, upper-middle-class image of the Peace Corps into one that includes more people of color or with lower incomes. A Corps of 15 percent minorities is not the face of America he wants the world to see.
Vasquez's first months on the job have been challenging on several fronts:
As someone who didn't serve in the Peace Corps, he's had to prove himself to returned volunteers who angrily opposed his nomination. He visited eight countries, met foreign leaders and has a list of more than 30 countries interested in volunteers.
On the day he swore him in, Bush told Vasquez he wanted him to double the number of volunteers, to 14,000, by 2007. The average number of volunteers in the field shrunk the past year, due in part to workers pulled home after 9/11. But the trend is turning around. Applications are up 18 percent, and his team has a plan to increase recruiting in part by targeting advertising to minority communities and college campuses.
Vasquez must accomplish Bush's expansion at a time when volunteer safety is an increasing concern. He beefed up security worldwide. A new security director will report directly to him.
Vasquez faces questions about whether he will use the Peace Corps to rehabilitate his political career. Some say that like a previous director - the late Sen. Paul Coverdell - Vasquez will use this job to get back into elected politics.
Vasquez didn't plan a political career. But he did plan to work hard and succeed. His parents would make certain of that. In the Vasquez household it was mother Eva who made sure that her two sons - Gaddi and Ben - took their studies seriously. "My mother was definitely the disciplinarian. She was the one who really believed that if we got an education, we could have a better life, find a better way."
Their father, Guadalupe, traded in the migrant life for one that led him to a furniture factory in Los Angeles and eventually to the Apostolic Church in Orange, where he is pastor. Vasquez learned from his father that you "have to work hard every day so you have a job the next day."
And by example Vasquez learned that however little one has, it should be shared.
"I remember that when I was very young, people who were homeless - they were called hobos then - would come up and bang on the door and literally ask for a meal. My mother would tell them to wait on the porch or wait outside and she would cook them a burrito, not withstanding our own limitations. I watched this over and over again," he said, so much so that it became known, "If you needed a meal, go down to the Vasquez house."
Vasquez combines his mother's resolve to help others and his father's work ethic with his confidence and drive.
He was the youngest-ever supervisor at 32 and a high- school student trustee on the Orange Unified Board of Education. In grade school he convinced students of the value of wearing safety bracelets. Just shy of his 20th birthday he became the youngest- ever Orange police officer.
Next to the childhood picture in his office are photos that show how far he has come. In one, he and his wife, Elaine, are in the Oval Office as Bush swears him in. The other is of him and the first President Bush. Vasquez spoke at the Republican conventions that nominated the elder Bush in 1988 and 1992.
Those pictures with the presidents are reminders of his Republican political roots and the connections that got him to Washington. A small stuffed Mickey Mouse reminds him of home.
A picture of his only son, Jason, sits next to his desk. Jason works for Supervisor Todd Spitzer in the same suite of offices his dad occupied as supervisor. He was an intern last fall for Newport Beach Republican Rep. Christopher Cox. Vasquez laughs when asked if Jason might follow in his political footsteps.
The BEST JOB EVER
When a group of Orange County officials came to Washington last spring, Vasquez told them that being Peace Corps director is the best job he's ever had.
"I traveled in 2 1/2 weeks from the United States to Kabul, Afghanistan, to Islamabad, Pakistan, to Beijing, China, to Chengdu, China, and then Lima, Peru, to sign a bilateral agreement to re-enter Peru," he told his old colleagues. "I was on such a high I never got tired," despite having had open-heart surgery less than a year before.
Vasquez talks to groups coast-to-coast. He has a powerful and polished delivery whether chatting with a few people or addressing thousands. He usually doesn't use notes, so he makes eye contact with his audience and is at ease when he speaks. It's a skill he says he mastered because of Julia Thielman, an Orange middle-school teacher who suggested he enter a speech contest.
"The neatest thing about Gaddi is what you see in Gaddi today is what he had in ninth grade and in high school," said Thielman, now retired. "He was a gentleman; very mature, very poised. And he has now and had then the most incredible speaking voice. Very charismatic."
Thielman's intervention "was a major turning point,'' Vasquez said.
Vasquez gets mixed reviews in the Hispanic community back home.
"Back in the days of (Prop.) 187 we were offended that he stood silent and didn't come out and speak on the issue,'' activist Amin David said of Vasquez's stand on the measure the community deemed anti-immigrant. "Since then he's been visible and accessible. He's not in the trenches like we would expect others might be. He's just not that kind of an individual.''
Vasquez is not the first Peace Corps director to be opposed by returned volunteers for not having been one of them. Only two of the 14 directors, Carol Bellamy and Mark Schneider, were volunteers - in Latin America.
But now, even some of his most vociferous critics are coming around.
"He certainly has developed the reputation of being personable and willing to meet returned Peace Corps volunteers," says John Coyne, leader of an Internet-based group of them. "He has visited all or most of the recruitment offices in the United States, and that's a good sign."
Mark Gearan, a director under Clinton, also wasn't a volunteer. But unlike Vasquez, Gearan's closest advisers were returned volunteers.
Three of Vasquez's 24 appointees were volunteers. About half had some connection to the Bush-Cheney campaign, the White House or the Washington, D.C.-based International Republican Institute, which promotes democracy around the world.
"The people that have been appointed and brought here are here because they are the people we believe have the best qualifications to do the job the Peace Corps needs to do," Vasquez said.
A Peace Corps director is part manager, part diplomat and part salesman. One day Vasquez meets with staff to figure out the best way to beef up security for volunteers. The next he sits down with a prime minister to talk about sending volunteers to that dignitary's country. Then he's on the road visiting volunteers from China to Morocco.
One story Vasquez likes to tell is about meeting the minister of women's affairs in Kabul, Afghanistan.
"I began to talk about who we are and what we do," Vasquez recalls. "I got into my speech about 10 seconds and she said, 'Mr. Vasquez, stop. I know all about the Peace Corps. Peace Corps volunteers taught me English.'
"That's the kind of experience you have that underscores the value of the work of Americans who are neither famous nor have their names lit up on a marquee anywhere," Vasquez said.
It's clear that Vasquez wants to make his mark on the Peace Corps by meeting Bush's challenge to double the number of volunteers. But also important to him is to find a way into communities where the Peace Corps is an unknown. Vasquez recently sat down with a group of African-American leaders who asked whether the Peace Corps recruits on black campuses. "Some of our folks were a bit at a loss to respond," Vasquez said.
Vasqeuz said investigating better loan-forgiveness programs is one way to attract a more diverse corps. And recruiting at community colleges. And showing that the Peace Corps can lead to a good career elsewhere.
Because Vasquez serves at the pleasure of the president, his term is uncertain. He could remain director through 2008 if Bush is re-elected to a second term or his tenure could end in 2004.
Political observers are already suggesting that he plans to use this post as a steppingstone to get back into politics.
"The Peace Corps is really a golden parachute into a new career," says Coyne, who points to Coverdell, who went on to become a U.S. senator from Georgia, and Richard Celeste, who was elected Ohio governor after serving as director in 1979.
Political observers say Vasquez has always kept his own counsel when it comes to his political plans, and that even if he was thinking about coming back to California and running for office, they likely wouldn't know about it.
"At some point he'll have to make a big decision," said San Clemente lawyer and former Reagan speech writer Ken Khachigian. "He's absolutely one of the rising stars of the party," which isn't flush with strong Latino candidates.
But some wonder if Vasquez would have enough of the political "fire in the belly" to go after a difficult seat. He's not known as a risk taker.
His supervisor's post was handed to him - he was appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian to fill the term of Bruce Nestande, for whom Vasquez worked as an aide at age 25. Vasquez won election outright the next year, easily beating a lesser known and financed candidate. And he was re-elected four years later without opposition, his last political campaign.
"Gaddi is very ambitious and he's also very pragmatic," says Mike Madrid, a California political consultant who used to run the state GOP's Hispanic outreach. "I think if he was pushed by the right people to run he might. But I don't think he wakes up every morning thinking about being an elected official."
Vasquez smiles when he's asked about resuming a political career. "I don't see that in my future."
But he ponders the question further, and tells the story of the quintuple heart-bypass surgery that he had in June 2001. That was a life-changing event, he says.
Vasquez always knew he had to be careful. All the men in his family, he says, have had heart trouble. But he hoped that if he took care of himself he could beat the odds.
It wasn't to be. After trying out the new body-scan technology, he learned he had a problem. And at 46, he found himself on the operating table having a quintuple bypass.
Then came Sept. 11.
"I was in the White House and I was one of the evacuees who had to run across Pennsylvania Avenue. I was with my son," Vasquez says.
"Those two episodes within a period of 90 days were as an adult my most defining experiences," Vasquez said.
"I get to look at this every day," he adds, pointing to the scar underneath his neatly pressed white shirt and red tie. "It really does redefine who you are, what you want to do in life, how much you want to put on yourself. You and I could be talking here right now and never be talking again a month from now."
Contact Bunis at (202) 628-6381 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Peace Corps Directors
It is disturbing to read that a significant number of Peace Corps senior staff have come from the International Republican Institute. IRI has a reputation of believing that the best way to support democracy is to support candidates it conceives to be "democratic" in another country's elections. I have seen that from my own experience in Cambodia by their very partisan closeness to one party and overt hostility to another.
It is very problematic for the Peace Corps if directly or indirectly its identity and programs become identified with the promotion of "democracy" as that worthy goal has been undertaken by the National Endowment for Democracy and its principle fund recipients, particularly in the partisan IRI mode.
Peace Corps volunteers encourage democracy in the countries they work in, and within our own country, by the example they set in their personal living standard and by the participatory democratic character of the programs they undertake.
To become overt proponents of the American version of democracy would create great distrust for their motives and that of the Peace Corps itself.
Peace Corps would be healthier if it became a quasi independent government organization with a non-partisan oversight board whose members were appointed by each President with Senate approval in staggered terms so that no single Administration would dominate.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
The author of this article, Dena Bunis, has overly simplified the situation by stating more than once that RPCVs objected to Gaddi Vasquez's nomination because he himself had not served in the Peace Corps volunteer. My recollection of what happened was that Vasquez's non-RPCV status was just one of many objections that RPCVs (like me) had about Vasquez's nomination. Most RPCVs seemed more concerned with Vasquez's weak resume and track record as a manager, particularly his contribution to the Orange County bankruptcy, and that Vasquez seemed to be a purely political nomination for a position that cries out for managerial expertise. I am the proud head of an African-American family yet I feel that Vasquez's nomination was a cynical smear on minority appointments - surely Bush could have found a Latino candidate for the job who was politically active in the Republican party yet who had stronger managerial credentials than Vasquez.
And I nearly choked when I read that "Vasquez knows what it's like to be a Peace Corps worker in a developing country because he lived in Third World conditions without having to go overseas." I am sympathetic with Vasquez's humble upbringing, but there simply is no comparison between his upbringing and that of the millions of people living in the countries served by the Peace Corps.
Other than that, I did find the article informative and somewhat balanced, such as reading that Vasquez's position as Orange County Supervisor was given to him, and that he is not perceived as a risk-taker. And now we have a written documentary record of Vasquez denying any political aspirations, so we can show him his quotes when he does run for political office within the next two years.
I also agree with Mr. John McAuliff's posted comments above - I also find it disturbing to read that a significant number of Peace Corps senior staff have come from the International Republican Institute.
Gerald F. Murphy
Associate Professor, Univ. of Connecticut
RPCV Cameroon 1974-76
I echo the comments of John McAuliff and Gerald F. Murphy and thank them for their insight. The Bush Doctrine (Friday, 9/20) concluded with plans to "encourage democracies." I wonder if Peace Corps is about to become a subsidiary of IRI.
A quasi-independent Peace Corps would be great-but how do we get there from here? Volunteers, both serving and returned, are practically powerless to impact the direction of the agency. Ironically, I believe that we find ourselves in the same postion, vis a vi Peace Corps, as so many of the third world peoples we worked with, were, vis a vi their own governments.
I have a question for those, such as John, who joined within the first two years of Peace Corps.
When I went overseas in late 1963, my impression was that the agency was going to be staffed, ultimately, by RPCVs and that people from the first groups were moving into those positions. After Kennedy was killed and Johnson took over, there seemed to be less RPCVs and more "political types" in staff positions. Does anyone else share that impression or have first hand information about that administrative change?