Gergen Reveals He Has Sweeping Power : White House: As presidential counselor, he is one of a small inner circle with direct access to Clinton. He equals or eclipses the chief of staff.


New presidential counselor David Gergen, in his first full day on the job, Monday named a new White House communications director and gave a glimpse of the sweeping power he will wield as the Clinton Administration struggles to right itself.

Mark D. Gearan, 36, who has served as deputy chief of staff, will replace George Stephanopoulos as coordinator of press and public relations for the White House.

Gergen said that he hopes the move will allow the Administration to “turn a page” in its relations with the media and with the public. He said that the Administration’s accomplishments had been obscured by coverage of its mistakes and he expressed hope that a personnel shuffle can help get its message across better.


Gergen’s appearance lent considerable weight to an announcement that ordinarily would be of interest chiefly to the White House press corps and Washington insiders. Gergen, who advised three Republican presidents on policy and communications, noted that the 52-person communications office will report to him and that he reports solely to the President.

Gergen said that he will attend all substantive meetings on Administration policy and that his new position puts him “at the intersection of politics, policy and communications” in the White House.

“That’s what the role of counselor is about,” said Gergen, 51.

Gergen’s standing thus equals or surpasses that of White House Chief of Staff Thomas (Mack) McLarty, a former Little Rock, Ark., natural gas company executive who has been a friend of Clinton’s since the two attended kindergarten together in Hope, Ark. It also adds another senior aide with direct access to President Clinton and spreads Clinton’s horizontal organization chart even wider.

Gergen, a former Republican who now describes himself as a right-of-center political independent, joins Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Al Gore in the innermost White House circle of advisers.

He also offered an olive branch to Ross Perot, who recently described Clinton as unfit for the presidency. Gergen, who met with Perot last week in Bermuda when the two were on family vacations, suggested that it is time for an end to the animosity between the first- and third-place finishers in the 1992 election.


“I’m hopeful there will be times when he can support this President,” Gergen said. “I regard Ross Perot as a patriot.”

Gergen said Monday that there will be other high-level personnel shifts or new hires announced later this week.

He also said that, despite Clinton’s early fumbles, the White House is not in disarray or abject retreat. He reminded reporters that he was on the White House staff in 1973-74, when former President Richard Nixon was brought down by the Watergate scandal.

“I’ve seen worse, and so have you,” Gergen said.

Stephanopoulos, who suffered from increasingly bad blood with the press, will move into a small office near the Oval Office and serve as a behind-the-scenes senior policy adviser to Clinton.

Gergen pointedly did not praise Stephanopoulos, the young and often aloof former congressional aide who served as chief spokesman for Clinton in the campaign and the problem-plagued first months of the Administration.

Gergen said that Gearan brought “credibility as well as friendliness” to his new job. Gearan, accompanied to the press briefing room by his wife, Mary Herlihy, and their 14-month-old daughter, Madeleine, said that he will bring a “sense of humility” to his new post.

Gearan said that under the new regime, Gergen will “think big thoughts,” Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers will conduct most routine daily press briefings and his job is “to seemingly make you (reporters) happy.”

“I think we’ve all learned a lot over the course of the last several months. I hope we can build on those lessons,” Myers said. “I hope we can have a little bit of fun, a few laughs and good humor.”

A former executive director of the Democratic Governors Assn. and spokesman for the 1988 presidential campaign of Michael S. Dukakis, Gearan so far has enjoyed cordial relations with the press and with the communications office staff that will now report to him.

Gearan graduated from Harvard and Georgetown Law School and worked for a year as a reporter for the Fitchburg (Mass.) Sentinel. He was Gore’s campaign manager last year and then deputy transition director.