First outlines of potential Kerry Cabinet begin to take shape

At this point, the list of potential top appointees is heavy with Clinton administration veterans.

Laura D'Andrea Tyson, dean of the London Business School and a veteran of Bill Clinton's economic team, wrapped up a panel discussion in Boston this week by pointing to the experts seated behind her. "All of this outstanding talent would be very involved in the policy-making in President Kerry's first term in office," she said enticingly.

With her on the stage were such Clinton alumni as Gene Sperling, former National Economic Council director; Roger Altman, former Treasury deputy and a Kerry friend; Robert Shapiro, a former Commerce undersecretary; and Steven Rattner, managing principal of the New York investment firm Quadrangle Group. All are likely to be on some transition leader's list to fill out John Kerry's administration if he wins in November. Kerry has not appointed a transition director, said campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, a step that Clinton aides said would come in autumn regardless of poll standings.

The question of who would help Kerry govern was a favorite parlor game at party gatherings throughout Boston this week -- played discreetly. "I hate that story," Altman said, when asked about the pool of candidates.

For this story, National Journal's Convention Daily interviewed more than a dozen individuals who are obvious candidates or have been quietly lauded by others who are helping the Kerry campaign. Nobody protested vigorously about the notion of a Washington posting, although many weren't eager to be quoted.

When asked if he would be interested in becoming Treasury secretary (a suggestion made privately by some colleagues past and present), Altman frowned deeply and dismissed the question. The investment banker -- who quit the Clinton administration a decade ago when he was accused of improperly aiding the White House during a government probe of Madison Guaranty bank -- is described by admirers as potentially vulnerable to GOP objections in the confirmation process. Other friends noted that he had heart transplant surgery several years ago and might want less stress in his life. Despite his medical history, one colleague suggested, Altman would be an effective White House chief of staff.

The trouble with such guesses, Altman said, is that Democrats' reservoir of capable public servants shouldn't be limited to folks who served under Clinton. Robert Rubin, Altman recalled, came from Goldman Sachs and had no government experience when Clinton made him his economic adviser, then Treasury secretary. His name became a gold standard for economic credibility, and, as a result, he was a favorite to succeed Alan Greenspan at the Federal Reserve.

Once cool to the charms of the chairman's seat, Rubin is now thought to be warmer to its allure. "How do you not want to be God?" joked Henry Cisneros, Clinton's former Housing secretary and a Rubin admirer.

Other Democrats suggested that investment banker and former Fannie Mae Chairman Jim Johnson, who managed the process that produced John Edwards as Kerry's VP pick, would covet the Treasury job, or that he might be an effective chief of staff. Democrats who think that Kerry could make history with a Treasury pick mention Tyson, who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers for Clinton, because she could become the first woman to hold that post.

Others suggested that Health and Human Services will go to a Democratic governor if Kerry wins. Franklin Raines, who served Clinton as budget director and now heads Fannie Mae, could be the first African-American Treasury secretary, some Democrats said. One source, however, thought that Raines's tenure at Fannie Mae had been "ragged" enough to knock him off a Treasury list.

Democrats in Boston mentioned Richard Holbrooke for secretary of State, in part because his interest is perceived as public. Asked if other candidates might have to battle Holbrooke to get on a list of State candidates, one former department diplomat replied, "There are a lot of them who know jujitsu."

Democrats lust for a contrast to John Ashcroft as attorney general. One informal nomination from the Boston crowd: Jamie Gorelick, who all but ran the Justice Department for Janet Reno and displayed toughness on the 9/11 commission. Another idea: Dennis Archer, the president of the American Bar Association and a former mayor of Detroit who was once a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Also suggested in interviews: Rep. Dick Gephardt for Labor; retired Gen. Wesley Clark and Kerry friend Gary Hart for a range of positions; Sen. Bob Graham of Florida for United Nations ambassador; Sperling to head the Office of Management and Budget; and Kerry foreign-policy adviser Rand Beers or former State Department adviser Jamie Rubin to lead the National Security Council.