Woman could fill FCC’s top post

President-elect Barack Obama is said to be considering the appointment of the first African American woman as the new chairman of the FCC, replacing Republican Kevin Martin.

Heading up the selection process is Henry Rivera, partner at the Washington, D.C., communications law firm Wiley Rein. Rivera was the first Hispanic FCC commissioner, serving from 1981 to 1985, and is considered an advocate for local telcos, wireless companies and cable TV providers.

“Businessweek” reported that Rivera has drawn up a short list of candidates that includes two African American women. One is Julia Johnson, a Florida consultant who chairs Video Access Alliance, an advocacy and advisory group for independent, emerging, and minority networks and Internet content providers.

A second is Mignon Clyburn, a commissioner for the Public Service Commission of South Carolina since 1998. After earning a bachelor’s degree in banking finance and economics from the University of South Carolina, she worked as a newspaper editor and was general manager and publisher for the local “Coastal Times.” She is a daughter of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, South Carolina’s most prominent black politician.

Obama’s team is also weighing recommendations from former FCC chairmen Bill Kennard and Reed Hundt, both of whom advised the Obama campaign on telecommunications-related issues. One contender is Blair Levin, who was Hundt’s chief of staff from 1993 to 1997. Currently, Levin is managing director at the brokerage and investment bank Stifel Nicolaus.

Also on the list is Scott Blake Harris, who served as the first chief of the FCC’s International Bureau from 1994 to 1996, and was responsible for international and satellite communications policy and licensing. Currently, he is managing partner of the law firm Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis.

Finally, the list is said to include Don Gips, who succeeded Harris as chief of the FCC’s International Bureau. A Harvard University graduate, Gips later served as chief domestic policy adviser to former Vice President Al Gore and is currently a vice president at Level 3, a fiber-optic network operator.

Kennard, currently a managing director at the buyout firm, Carlyle, is said to be pushing Larry Strickling, who served as chief of the division that regulates local and long distance carriers before he resigned in 2000 to work for Aspen Institute, the policy think tank. Strickling is also said to be in the running for the post of the nation’s chief technology officer, whose duties may overlap with those of the FCC chairman.

Some within the telecom industry expect Obama to appoint one of the FCC’s current Democrat commissioners, most likely Michael Copps, to be an interim chairman until a candidate for the permanent job is selected, most likely in January. The other Democrat commissioner, Jonathan Adelstein, a former Senate staffer, was expected to be appointed by Obama to another position in the new administration.