2 Close Bush Allies in Line for Commerce Post : * Candidates: A former congressman and the ambassador to Italy are among those being considered to head the department.


Bill Frenzel, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota, and Peter Secchia, the U.S. ambassador to Italy, are among the potential candidates to replace Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher, who is leaving the Cabinet to serve as general chairman of President Bush’s reelection campaign, officials said Thursday.

Both men fit the profile for the job: skilled political operatives and close allies of the President.

The Commerce Department, which combines such diverse activities as export promotion and the weather service, does important work outside the media spotlight. It doesn’t make front-page headlines, like the State, Treasury or Justice departments. And the commerce secretary doesn’t become a national celebrity because his agency isn’t usually associated with red-hot issues.

Frenzel served 20 years in the House and was the leading Republican on the Budget Committee and a well-respected member of the Ways and Means Committee, which handles all tax legislation.


Frenzel retired from Congress in 1990, saying “I have grown weary of 90-hour weeks.” But he had worked hard for President Bush in tax and budget battles and made it clear that he would be available if the White House called with a good job offer.

Peter Secchia earned George Bush’s gratitude and respect when he led the Bush forces to victory in a bruising battle with the Rev. Pat Robertson during the 1988 Michigan Republican caucuses. Secchia, who owns a $400-million business empire of building supply firms and restaurants, was given the ambassador’s post to Italy as a reward.

Another potential candidate for the Cabinet post is Ronald Cedillos, a Huntington Beach businessman and prominent Republican fund-raiser. Cedillos owns an aerospace testing firm in Long Beach, and has helped raise large amounts of money for California Gov. Pete Wilson.

Mosbacher, a personal friend and ally of the President, was destined for a major job in the reelection campaign. His resignation from the Cabinet was a matter of when, not if.


“We all knew he would be going at some point--it just depended on when the President wanted to set up the campaign machinery,” a department official said Thursday.

“There were so many rumors about him leaving for so long that I just turned a deaf ear to it,” the official said.

Mosbacher’s major accomplishment at Commerce was an aggressive drive to encourage exports by the nation’s small- and mid-size firms. Many of these firms were traditionally intimidated by the complexities of selling their goods abroad.

Mosbacher, accompanied by a cadre of experts from the department’s International Trade Administration, visited 30 cities, including Los Angeles, to promote export sales. The events drew big crowds of business executives.


Mosbacher told his staff recently that he planned to continue the program in 1992 and directed them to prepare a new list of cities to visit.

Until Mosbacher’s successor is named and confirmed, the department will be run by Deputy Secretary Rockwell Schnabel. He formerly served as undersecretary for travel and tourism, and also spent three years as ambassador to Finland. Schnabel was an international investment banker in Los Angeles and a member of the organizing committee for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.