Bennett To Leave Drug Czar Job This Month, White House Confirms
WASHINGTON (AP) _ William J. Bennett is resigning as the first director of the Office of National Drug Control Strategy after leading what the White House called ″a turnaround″ in the battle against the drug scourge.
Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said President Bush will formally accept Bennett’s resignation in a ceremony at the White House on Thursday.
Fitzwater denied that the resignation was prompted by threats, saying that Bennett ″has lived with threats of a kind ever since day one of the job.″
A successor for the job has not been named, the spokesman said.
Bennett leaves office only two weeks after another senior administration official, Secretary of Labor Elizabeth Dole, became the first member of Bush’s cabinet to resign.
Bennett, a former secretary of education, became director the nation’s anti-drug efforts at the beginning of the Bush administration. He helped to coordinate some 27 departments and agencies involved in the drug war.
″The president feels that Bill Bennett has provided extraordinary leadership and service to the country during his tenure as drug czar,″ said Fitzwater.
″Two years ago this country viewed this problem as impossible to deal with and with no end in sight,″ the spokesman said. ″Today there has been a turnaround. There is strong bipartisan support in the Congress for drug programs and there is growing evidence that society is beginning to turn away from the drug scourge.″
However, leading House Democrat John Conyers, Jr. of Michigan said Bennett ″was the personification of a drug strategy of the last 10 years that failed.″
Conyers, chairman of the House Government Operations Committee that created the drug office, said Bennett’s resignation ″provides the opportunity for someone without Bennett’s partisan politicizing, more sensitive to the problems of the chronically addicted, minorities, and the poor in urban areas, and cognizant of the need for economic rather than military foreign drug assistance.″
An administration official who ask not to be identified said that Bennett feels he ″has done all that he told the president he would get done. He feels he’s done what he came to do in the job and it was time to get on with his life.″
Lee I. Dogoloff, executive director of the non-governmental American Council for Drug Education, said that Bennett’s plans to leave ″have been rumored for some time″ among groups in America’s war on drugs.
″It’s not surprising,″ said Dogoloff. ″I talked to him several months ago and he said then that he had not taken a lifetime assignment.″
Dogoloff said that many in the field give Bennett high marks for accomplishment during the 20 months since he was confirmed as the nation’s first drug czar. The position was created in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988.
″He can feel good that the numbers are turning around in the drug war,″ said Dogoloff. ″We haven’t solved the problem, by any means, but the data shows it is getting better.″
Recent reports show that the number of patients treated for drug overdose in the nation’s hospitals has gone down and that there is a reduction in the purity of cocaine available on the streets. Dogoloff said that professionals regard these as important signs that the drug problem ″is trending downward.″
Threats against Bennett have intensified in recent days, but an official said they have always been there.
″There was a nut who called in, and there were bomb threats when he was in Alaska,″ he said. ″They did beef up security some.″ Bennett campaigned in Alaska for a law that would make illegal the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
″I don’t think these threats influenced his decision to leave. He’s tough as nails. But he does have a family,″ said the official.
″Anybody who has that job is a target,″ said Dogoloff.
Bennett is married and has two small children.
Published reports have suggested that Bennett’s replacement may be former District of Columbia superior court judge Reggie Walton, who is now associate drug control director for state and local affairs in Bennett’s office.
The Washington Times said former D.C. police chief Maurice Turner, defeated Tuesday in a bid for Washington mayor, is also a possible candidate for the job.