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Clinton taps Kennard as FCC chief

WASHINGTON — After weeks of rumor-mongering, President Clinton on Wednesday officially tapped William Kennard to replace Reed Hundt as FCC chairman.

If confirmed by the Senate, Kennard, currently the Federal Communications Commission’s general counsel, will lead a commission that will consist entirely of Clinton administration appointees. President Clinton also officially announced Wednesday the nomination of Justice Dept. staffer Michael Powell to the FCC.

Although Kennard has spent the last three years working for Hundt, he is not expected to assume the antagonistic posture that Hundt often took in his relationships with lobbyists. Kennard, 40, has spent most of his career around regulators and the regulated, where consensus-building is a highly valued political skill. In contrast, Hundt, who spent the first 20 years of his career as a courtroom litigator, took a more adversarial approach in his dealings with regulated industries.

Broadcasters had a particularly rocky relationship with Hundt, but at one time or another cablers and local telephone companies also found themselves at odds with the outgoing chairman.

Despite Kennard’s close association with Hundt, the National Assn. of Broadcasters was the first trade group to congratulate the Clinton administration for choosing Kennard. “Bill Kennard has been an outstanding general counsel at the FCC and one of Washington’s most talented lawyers,” said NAB president Eddie Fritts. Kennard once worked at the NAB, specializing in First Amendment issues.

Although Kennard is expected to be confirmed by the Senate, he does face some resistance from Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.). Hollings has been pushing the Clinton administration to appoint former Senate staffer Ralph Everett to the chairmanship. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) has said that he will not allow any nomination to go forward if it is opposed by Hollings, the senior Democrat on the committee.

The Commerce Committee is not expected to hold confirmation hearings until October. Powell, a Republican who is backed by McCain, is expected to win easy approval. He currently serves as the chief of staff for the Justice Dept.’s antitrust division. Powell’s father is retired Army general Colin Powell.

Still waiting for her official nomination is New Mexico state regulator Gloria Tristani. A fourth nominee, congressional staffer Howard Furchgott-Roth, has already been forwarded to the Senate for confirmation. The only holdover from the Hundt-era is commissioner Susan Ness, whom Clinton appointed to the commission in 1994.

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