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Clinton Spokesman McCurry Resigns

July 23, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Mike McCurry is leaving the White House after three years of explaining his boss’ policies and actions with a wry wit that President Clinton declared ``has set the standard″ for future press secretaries.

Joe Lockhart, one of McCurry’s two deputies, was named successor _ a mission Lockhart compared to that of ``the poor fool who is going to have to step in for Michael Jordan next year.″

The timing caught the White House press corps by surprise, though McCurry’s departure had been anticipated for months _ and he had joked about it himself. Clinton showed up to make the announcement at the start of McCurry’s daily press briefing.

McCurry, who faces tough questioning almost daily about the various investigations of Clinton, has generally steered the questions to the White House counsel’s office. He once described the tactic as being ``double-parked in a no-comment zone.″

Other times, McCurry has vigorously defended Clinton’s actions. But he also has taken a dig or two that he explained away as his own errors.

``I think what I was proving was that only fools answer hypothetical questions,″ McCurry said in February as he sheepishly tried to take back his remark that he doubted there was a ``simple, innocent explanation″ for the president’s purported relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Clinton said McCurry _ known for calmly delivering the White House ``spin″ on controversial issues _ ``has set the standard by which future White House press secretaries will be judged.″

``Whatever the news, in good times and bad, he is trusted by the American people and trusted by our administration,″ Clinton said. ``His ability and his eagerness to fight the good fight on political or policy issues is well known, and few could hope to match his intelligence and wit from the podium.″

Wall Street seemed to think so. A sharp drop in stocks was attributed in part to the announcement of McCurry’s departure.

He may not be the last to leave. Chief of staff Erskine Bowles has long indicated his desire to return to North Carolina, and top presidential aides Rahm Emanuel and John Podesta also are thought to be short-timers.

There was praise for McCurry from numerous quarters Thursday _ including the small fraternity of ex-presidential press secretaries.

``Mike McCurry has handled a demanding and difficult job extremely well,″ said Ron Ziegler, press secretary to President Nixon. ``He has brought credit and credibility to the position.″

McCurry said he told Clinton of his plans to leave in a letter May 29. He said he would remain on the job until Congress leaves in the fall.

He said he would like to teach and explore options that don’t involve being a spokesman _ a duty he has performed in Washington for 22 years. Before coming to the White House in 1995, McCurry was at the State Department.

Clinton said he considered Lockhart, who had been spokesman for his 1996 campaign, to be ``the ideal replacement.″

``Joe knows you well and you know him well, and that’s probably half the battle,″ Clinton told reporters. ``Joe knows that he can only serve my interests well if he takes care of yours also.″

McCurry, 43, endeared himself to reporters with a playful nature. Once, on a dare, he jumped into a swimming pool _ shoes and all _ while Clinton spoke at a late-night Democratic fund-raiser in Los Angeles. He then ran, dripping wet, to a nearby van to tell reporters about it.

Another time, McCurry began his briefing with a brown paper bag over his head _ telling reporters he was the ``anonymous source ... who is so helpful to so many of you all the time.″

Lockhart, 39, was asked whether he would continue McCurry’s approach concerning questions on investigations. ``I haven’t really thought through how I’ll insert or extract myself,″ he said.

He, too, possesses a low-key dry wit.

For example, Lockhart had this to say on the Sunday following Clinton’s deposition in the Paula Jones case, when reporters discovered the president had sped off to church without them: ``The president left early. And Ken Starr is investigating.″

Lockhart has worked extensively in political campaigns _ including all three losing Democratic presidential campaigns in the 1980s, for Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis.

Lockhart also has worked in broadcasting at ABC and CNN, leaving CNN in 1988 to work for Dukakis. He and his wife, Laura Logan, have a 4-year-old daughter.

McCurry has had a long career in Democratic politics, including one stint with New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and another with Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey in Kerrey’s 1992 presidential primary loss to Clinton. McCurry and his wife, Debra, have three young children.

``People always say how they’re leaving to spend more time with their families, and I will. But I think my family has held up pretty well and probably would have been just as happy to have me stay here if I had wanted to. They were very supportive,″ McCurry said.

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