More to This Job than Irking Hillary


Christopher Beauregard Emery is undoubtedly a man of many talents.

But it was his standing as a Republican and friend to several GOP elected officials that got him his most recent job.

Mr. Emery, who has the distinction of being the first White House usher fired in the 103 years the job has existed, was hired last week as administrator for the Howard County Council.

Where being fired might have counted against some job-seekers, it was a decided plus for the county's Republican-dominated council in this instance.

Indeed, Mr. Emery's ouster was a badge of honor, since the firing came at the hands of none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton, who apparently did not like the idea that Mr. Emery was accepting phone calls from Barbara Bush at the While House long after Mrs. Clinton had taken up residence there.

For Mrs. Clinton, the concern was loyalty. But Mr. Emery has denied doing anything other than helping Mrs. Bush with a computer program he had previously installed.

Despite running afoul of Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Emery's Republican backers say his skills as a people person are what qualified him for the county administrator's job.

It seems that being an usher at the White House is not so simple as the title implies. County officials say he helped to oversee the president's personal staff, although there was some confusion about whether that placed Mr. Emery in a supervisory role.

One thing for certain is that Mr. Emery was in charge of meeting and greeting.

His duties included making visiting celebrities, world leaders and elected officials feel at home while they waited for the president.

As interesting as those duties must have been, they hardly seem comparable to the qualifications held by Mr. Emery's predecessor, Sheila Tolliver.

Ms. Tolliver had been an assistant chancellor at the University of Maryland and assistant for education matters under three governors before taking the job as County Council administrator less than two years ago.

But Council Chairman Charles E. Feaga contended that Ms. Tolliver, an Anne Arundel Democrat whose husband headed the Maryland State Police under Gov. William Donald Schaefer, was too partisan as an administrator. She was fired last December.

It seems that in the days when Democrats outnumbered Republicans on the council 3-2, Ms. Tolliver rubbed some feathers the wrong way on the then-minority side of the aisle. Mr. Feaga said there were times in dealing with Ms. Tolliver "when I felt like I was arguing with four Democratic council members instead of three."

Now that the tables have turned for the GOP, they're not taking any chances.

Mr. Feaga concedes that Mr. Emery, 37, is a long-time friend of many key officials in the Republican party, including himself. Mr. Emery's wife, in fact, is a member of the Howard County Republican Central Committee.

But Mr. Emery may have to dig deep into his arsenal of diplomatic skills to convince everyone he is well suited for his new post.

Democratic Councilman C. Vernon Gray would say only that "of the four [finalists] we interviewed, there were others that were much better qualified."

Other sources said Mr. Emery was not even on the list of the top 20 candidates recommended for the position by the county's personnel office. And there were plenty of other candidates from whom to choose. One was a retired senior government executive with impeccable credentials, several sources said. In all, more than 300 people applied for the position.

Mr. Feaga said that many of the other candidates were from outside the area, and Republicans wanted to pick someone who lived in the county.

But in Mr. Emery, they may have overemphasized the value of his party affiliation.

As council administrator, he must oversee a staff of 25 people and a budget of about $1 million. In addition to making things run smoothly, he must cope with the varied personalities of not only Republican council members, but Democrats as well.

Mr. Emery's well-publicized clash with Mrs. Clinton aside, his new job is going to test all his people-pleasing skills and then some.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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