July 27, 2001 - Washington Post: Former Volunteers Criticize Bush's Peace Corps Choice (Full Story)

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Former Volunteers Criticize Bush's Peace Corps Choice (Full Story)

Former Volunteers Criticize Bush's Peace Corps Choice (Full Story)

Former Volunteers Criticize Bush's Peace Corps Choice

Democrats: Hispanic Pick Merely 'Window Dressing

By Glenda Cooper
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 27, 2001; Page A29

Controversy yesterday greeted President Bush's announcement that he had nominated a California Republican fundraiser to head the Peace Corps, with former volunteers accusing his choice of having insufficient experience and Democrats dismissing it as "shallow window dressing" to win Hispanic votes.

Gaddi H. Vasquez, a utility company executive who quit the Orange County (Calif.) Board of Supervisors during its bankruptcy scandal of the 1990s, said yesterday that he was "honored" by the nomination and "enthusiastic and excited" about starting work with the Peace Corps. He declined further comment while his nomination is pending.

Hispanic leaders immediately pointed out that putting Vasquez in such a prominent role could only help the Republican Party's standing among the growing Hispanic community across the country.

But questions about Vasquez's suitability for the job were raised by former Peace Corps volunteers who claimed Vasquez has too little volunteering and international experience to head an organization that has more than 7,300 volunteers serving in 77 nations. The Peace Corps is celebrating its 40th anniversary this fall.

Vasquez, who had heart bypass surgery four weeks ago, has also served as a police officer and was an Orange County supervisor from 1987 to 1995. He resigned ahead of a recall campaign; the county was forced to file for bankruptcy because of risky investments gone bad.He then joined Southern California Edison Co., where he is division vice president for public affairs.

Vasquez lists on his résumé his community work with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the Salvation Army and the Latino Children's Fund. But former Peace Corps volunteers said his experience was not international enough to manage the agency, which has a $275 million yearly budget.

Bush administration officials "seem to have no respect or care for the agency," said John Coyne, editor of Peace Corps Writers, which publishes works by former volunteers. "Can you imagine the veterans accepting a leader who had no military experience?"

Dane Smith, president of the National Peace Corps Association, said that although he would be looking forward to meeting Vasquez, the NPCA is "disappointed that a returned Peace Corps volunteer was not chosen, as we believe there was many qualified people to choose from."

Ellen Field, a spokeswoman for the Peace Corps, said that Carol Bellamy in 1993-95 was the first former volunteer to become director. Former director Mark Schneider (1999-01) and Acting Director Chuck Baquet also were former volunteers. Vasquez "is a proven dedicated public servant we think is the right kind of person," Field added.

Hispanic leaders welcomed the appointment of Vasquez and said it was an adroit move by the administration that could swing vital Hispanic votes to GOP candidates in California.

"The Republicans need all the help they can get in California," said Harry Pachom, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a Hispanic think tank in Claremont, Calif.

Lisa Navarrete, spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza, the country's largest Hispanic civil rights association, said Vasquez "would be a great spokesman for the administration, and he'll be used in that way. He's a very good, compelling speaker, and he'll give visibility to the community."

But Maria Cardona of the Democratic National Committee said the president's decision to appoint a Hispanic candidate with limited international or Peace Corps experience was nothing more than "shallow window dressing."

"It's further indication that this administration's outreach to Latinos is pretty empty," she said. "There are very dramatic gestures, but look behind the curtain -- nothing."

Anne Womack, a White House spokeswoman, said last night that Vasquez's ethnic background had not been a consideration.

"Gaddi Vasquez is a very qualified, strong candidate regardless," she said. "He has a long history of public service and will be an excellent leader for the Peace Corps."

© 2001 The Washington Post Company

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Story Source: Washington Post

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Peace Corps Directors - Vasquez; Speaking Out



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