The Washington Gadfly

Linda Chavez, whose nomination for Labor Secretary imploded amid reports that she had extracted cheap, tax-free labor from a desperate illegal immigrant, is arguably the right's foremost opponents of racial preference policies.

Her think tank, the Center for Equal Opportunity, which she moved from downtown DC in December 2001 to Sterling, VA, which is inconvenient to everything, except, her home, is devoted to the time-honored principle "equal opportunity for all, special preferences for none."

Compelling stuff, except that if you're not related to Chavez, a former Reagan Administration official, it seems your opportunities for jobs with CEO are substantially compromised. Although it's impossible to tell from the think tank's web site, two of the Chavez boys have long worked for their mommy, and at least one got his job without any other candidates. So much for the level playing field cherished by Chavez and other color-blind conservatives.

Indeed, for quite some time, of the four salaried jobs at CEO, the only one held by a non-Chavez was Roger Clegg. With Ed Blum having joined the organization in 2002, that made two non-family members and three Chavezes.

Linda Chavez with some of her colleagues.
In any event, are family values Chavez-style tricky? What happens if her sons' work is below par? Does Linda give them a bad performance review? Or just send them to bed without supper? Does the family picnic double as a working lunch? Thanksgiving dinner written off as business expense?

Like many on the self-righteous right, Chavez often makes the decidedly curious argument that affirmative action policies are demeaning to blacks.

Relying on self-esteem arguments to advance conservative policies is rather hypocritical because conservatives otherwise mock liberals for elaborate and often dishonest schemes intended to boast the self-esteem of minorities. Secondly, outside the conservative imagination it's not quite clear just which minorities who are affirmative action beneficiaries are plagued by self-doubt. Can Chavez name any who are?

News accounts generally say the opposite; that blacks feel the "affirmative action" is entirely justified because of past injustices and what they contend is ongoing, prevalent discrimination. Ditto for interviews by this writer: many blacks, in public life and private, take it for granted that affirmative action merely levels the playing field, and shrug off criticism. Or as the head of trade group of black broadcasters responded when asked if it was hypocritical to give special preferences for minorities seeking FCC licenses, including the not-particularly-downtrodden Bill Cosby and Vernon Jordan: You can't go to a homeless shelter to recruit radio station owners.

But let's take Chavez at he word. If affirmative action is so demeaning to blacks, does this mean giving two plum jobs to her sons leaves them insulted and degraded?

As far as can be determined, Linda Chavez was forced to make some draconian personnel cuts at her think tank around 2000. What criteria were applied. How did it happen that both her sons avoided being laid off. Is it demeaning when your mother spares your job?

They're probably just gratified to have the jobs. David Gersten (they use the name of Linda's Jew husband Chris Gersten) is staff director of the CEO and Rudy Gersten is office manager and Linda's personal secretary.

She made her own son her bitch?

All of this is done with considerable secrecy. Staff bios of Rudy and David on the CEO web site entirely omitted the minor detail that their boss is also their mommy. All kinds of other information was provided about them. Ditto for press releases that list David Gersten as the contact person and other times an expert on race issues.

Why was this the only significant thing left out? Who made the decision to leave it out? It looks like only Linda Chavez's bio is posted on the CEO web site these days; it says she is the mother of three sons--but omits that two of them work for her. (Her recent memoir, An Unlikely Conservative, mentions in passing that David works for her but all references to son Rudy omit the job that was set-aside for him.)

All this is a mother lode of an omission; especially in a city that, for better of worse, insists on full disclosure to avoid any conceivable conflict of interest. When Lloyd Grove wrote the "Reliable Source" column for the Washington Post he took much flak for his item on anti-feminist Amy Holmes that failed to say the two of them were an item. Imagine if he had hired the bi-racial beauty for a job and not told editors or readers.

But like Deep Throat, Rudy Gersten's true identity is known only to a select few.

Linda Chavez's voice mail for her home office number explains that her "assistant Rudy" should be called to set up interviews with the great lady, but leaves out the family ties..

It's a touch subject these days. Indeed, Chavez seems far more uptight about it than do blacks who benefit from affirmative action that she endlessly denounces. The otherwise articulate Chavez was, to put it politely, at a loss for words when pressed on her quotas for family members last week..

Linda Chavez: Hello.

Reporter:Hey, Linda, those are great jobs Rudy and David got. Were there any other applicants?

Linda Chavez: [click.]

The lady gives new meaning to brevity.

And hypocrisy. Consider the following quote from Mama Chavez's syndicated column in 1997.

"Success in any business requires providing a superior product at a low price. But government set-aside programs create a rarefied environment in which participating minority businesses don't have to offer the lowest bid. In some instances, they don't even have to compete with other firms. This is hardly the way the real business world operates, which is why so many minority businesses that depend on government set-asides fail."

And what are the consequences for her sons who depend on the jobs that their Mom set aside for them?

Rudy Gersten went to work as receptionist for CEO not long after he graduated from University of Maryland, as far as can be determined. Lots of collegians graduate without having any job so he should consider himself lucky.

Just what are his qualifications? When I was an adjunct scholar for CEO Rudy did not seem particularly well-versed in the realm of race and related issues. When a very prominent journalist called CEO to double check that I really was with the organization as claimed, a befuddled Rudy later told me, "Some guy from the Washington Times called about you."

The "guy" was Nat Hentoff.

Duh: Hentoff is one of the nation's foremost and prolific journalists. He writes for the Wall Street Journal, Village Voice, and the Washington Times on many of the same kind of issues that CEO engages. If Rudy had never heard of this "guy" does that mean he doesn't read all the publications where Hentoff's work appears? Plus the Washington Post where it previously did?

No matter. Ignorance is bliss.

Or it is at least for the immediate family of Linda Chavez.

When the office manager post became vacant in the Fall of 2001 because the beautiful and poised shiksa Amanda went to work for her father, appropriately enough, the job was just given to Rudy Gersten. That's a plum assignment which might have attracted much more qualified candidates. He lacked the polish of Shiksa Amanda, and DC is filled with countless girls like her who might have been eager for the job, and, although exact comparisons are difficult, are arguably better qualified. Some may even have heard of Nat Hentoff.

Were there other candidates considered for the job that went to David Gersten? If there are no other applicants how can Linda be sure that these jobs went to the "best qualified" person? That's what she usually demands, of course, from employers and educational institutions. Or is this unfair? The computer industry where David Gersten worked before leaving for CEO is excellent preparation for fighting affirmative action?

Does all this mean, per her affirmative action analysis, Chavez is demeaning her own son?

Of course, in the private sector and the government, doling out jobs without other candidates is generally avoided. When jobs are available the federal government is requited to post them for all to know. And Wal-Mart got in big legal trouble for doing what Linda Chavez did with Rudy, namely offering promotions without public notice so other could compete.

Similarly, government agencies and contractors face serious legal trouble if they award no-bid, non-competitive contracts, which is the equivalent of what Linda Chavez apparently did when she bestowed two plum jobs to her sons. As far as could be determined, the degree of CEO nepotism is decidedly unique for the Washington area. Nobody interviewed could cite another scheme like the one that Chavez has quietly implemented, with no press attention until now.

The offices of the Heritage Foundation and Brookings Institute presidents, respectively, confirmed that they haven't hired any relatives, and seemed to find the question rather goofy.

Meanwhile, over at the Labor Department, which almost had Linda Chavez at the helm, spokeswoman Peggy Abrahamson says that hiring relatives is "a no-no."

Mary Frances Berry, the favorite Negro punching bag of Linda Chavez, and others could never have hired relatives when she headed the US Civil Rights Commission.

Similarly, the Office of Personnel Management enforces very strict rules against nepotism throughout federal agencies. (How do all these restrictions and prohibitions square against the standard conservative claim that Uncle Sam's bureaucrats are out of control and unaccountable.)

This is not some little hypocritical peccadillo, "the best-qualified" is the assumption upon which most of her anti-affirmative arguments are predicated.

Almost everyone is a little bit hypocritical. And following through on your stated values is not necessary a virtue. (Hitler was not a hypocrite).

But the hypocrisy here concerns the very outfit from which Chavez wages her jihad against special treatment for minorities

It's well to note that right-wing value monger Bill Bennett was raked over the coals for much less troublesome hypocrisy.

The Washington Monthly exclusive report on the former Education Secretary's penchant for high-stakes gambling was certainly ironic. But irony is not logic and critics could find few statements in which he objected to gambling let alone denounced it with the same fervor he does other cultural targets.

By contrast, opposition to the very kind of preferential treatment which Chavez reserves for close relatives is at odds with her whole public persona. And unlike gambling, by the standards of DC, nepotism is improper and unethical and nearly universally-forbidden.

Congressmen, for example, are not permitted to hire family members for their Capitol offices; the only exceptions are staff members they marry, who are allowed to remain on the pay roll but can not get a salary increase.

David Gersten should be lucky his boss does not labor under any such ethical requirements. His salary has skyrocketed since he joined the family business in the late 1990s.

How do you negotiate salary increases with your mom?

Do negotiations break down when she insists the salary should include your allowance, but you want it figured separately?

Although the rank nepotism at the Center for Equal Opportunity is rather unusual, it's well to note that she is hardly the only conservative not to practice what she preaches regarding equal opportunity.

Conservatives, however, do indulge all sorts of favoritism at odds with the meritocracy they purport to favor.

Elena Lefkowitz, an utterly pedestrian writer and thinker with very little reporting experience, probably got her job at Insight magazine in 1991 because her husband Jay is tight with Bill Kristol who is tight with John Podhoretz who hired her. (The male Lefkowitz and Podhoretz ignore inquiries.)

Did Danny Wattenberg get his job at Insight because he is the son of neo-con writer Ben Wattenberg? Or did whoever hired him not notice the last name? What a great hire he proved. The junior Wattenberg used to meander into the office around 2pm, often hung over and bleary-eyed, and write articles--I kid you not--about the need for a better work ethic among the underclass. He did, however, work very hard on his piece about Hillary Clinton's leftist past, and then sold the piece he wrote on Insight's time to the American Spectator.

Similar questions apply for Liz Kristol, daughter of Irving and Gertrude Himmelfarb, sister of Bill, who, according to Insight's Steve Goode, once worked at the magazine, which is the sister publication of the Washington Times.

Seth Lipsky, currently editor of the New York Sun, publishes his wife Amity Shlaes's column regularly. Why is that? Are her humorous blatherings really the best stuff available? Or is there another reason?

In my case, I'm an unabashed beneficiary of John Podhoretz's affirmative action program for over-privileged, white Jews.

In May 1991, I wrote to John Podhoretz, saying I was using the "Columbia Prep old boys network" to show him my clips. He had graduated from this remarkable, yet low profile private school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, six years before I did. We met. Not long thereafter later, I pitched an article to him, then TWT features editor, about women-only health clubs; how this blatantly violated anti-discrimination statutes but liberals didn't object. The piece worked out real well. And when he became Insight editor he gave me a job (as he did at least one other CGPS graduate).

Columbia Prep, affirmative action bastion for over-privileged white Jews?
Yes, unlike Elena Lefkowitz, whose only mark of distinction at the magazine was to yelp out of nowhere during a newsroom discussion of the legalization of drugs that she smoked pot for the first time and lost her virginity freshman year at Cornell, lots of journalists consider me to have immense talents.

But I had even less experience than Elena and John Podhoretz would never met with me had it not been for our Columbia Prep ties.

Ironically enough, in my case, "affirmative action" worked in the manner which liberals always extol for blacks; it allows someone very qualified to get an opportunity he would otherwise not have.

Rudy Gersten and David Gersten also get many opportunities than others--many arguably better qualified--are denied. Family ties are the ultimate special privilege.

"I believe every individual should be viewed as an individual. They need to be looked at on the content of their character and their effort and performance, not based on a racial group." -- Linda Chavez

Of course her dream could prove the Chavez boys' worst nightmare. If meritocracy ever came to the Center for Equal Opportunity both could end up out of work.

In any event, why should anybody take Linda's opposition to affirmative action seriously if she applies such a grotesque and extreme version to her own think tank?

-- END --


Does anybody remember the "Saturday Night Live" skit with an immigrant from Jamaica or some such country who single-handedly runs a motel or hotel but tries to convince his guest that he has numerous employees?

He helps somebody check in at the front desk. Then, when the person asks for a bell hop he leaves and comes back five minutes later with a little bell hop cap.

Was Linda Chavez inspired by this skit? She claims to work 40 hours per week as president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, plus write her syndicated column, serve on corporate boards, appear on Fox News Channel as an analyst, run one pac and serve as president of her new organization, Stop Union Abuse Now.

How is all that possible? How can she head two organizations at once? She makes about $100,000 per year as president of CEO. Is she drawing a salary for her leadership of SUPA?

Chavez insists SUPA is not anti-big labor it just wants better accountability from unions. Yeah, sure. And Arafat was not anti-Israel just pro-Palestine.

But the organization which demands full disclosure from unions is shrouded in secrecy.

Flouting IRS dicta, Chavez refused to make the group's 990 form available for public inspection. None could be located through, which compiles all forms filed by non-profit, non partisan educational organizations known as 501C3's.

Is SUPA something else? The FEC does have a filing of an official SUPA political action committee. Why doesn't Chavez who demands full disclosure from unions, post material on the SUPA web site about the political action committee.?

Or is there only a pac and no educational organization? In that case, the SUPA web site would be very misleading: a political action committee in disguise.

The only thing that can be definitively established thus far is that SUPA does not employ any of her immediate family members.

But that could change once her youngest granddaughter is toilet-trained.

   Evan Gahr, a former press critic for the late New York Post editorial page editor Eric Breindel, recently broke the story of a race discrimination lawsuit against the Washington Post. He has written for almost every major conservative publication.