Kenneth M. Duberstein, President Reagan’s last chief of staff, dies at the age of 77


The cause was complications from end-stage heart disease, said his wife, Jacquelyn Fain Duberstein.

Mr. Duberstein—affectionately called “Duberdog” by friends like the late General Colin L. Powell—spent decades in or near the center of political power in Washington. He served two stints at the White House, which held the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who credited him with helping lead the administration down the “home stretch.”

Mr. Duberstein first joined the Reagan White House in 1981 as Assistant Assistant for Legislative Affairs. He was soon promoted to the post of chief liaison to the White House Congress and played a central role in pushing Reagan’s economic agenda, including significant tax cuts, through the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

Mr. Duberstein left the White House in 1983 to join the lobbying firm Timmons & Co. But in 1987, with the government mired in controversy over the Iran-Contra affair, Mr. Duberstein was removed as Howard H.’s deputy chief of staff. Baker Jr. (Baker, a Republican from Tennessee, was Senate Majority Leader when Mr. Duberstein was Reagan’s liaison to Congress.)

When Baker resigned as chief of staff in 1988, Mr. Duberstein succeeded him in that capacity and led the White House during Reagan’s final months in office.

“He was a star at the beginning of the administration and a star at the end,” said David Gergen, a presidential aide who served as White House communications director during Reagan’s first term, in an interview. “Twice President Reagan leaned heavily on him for advice, counsel and execution, and I think that made him particularly valuable.”

In the White House, a Washington Post reporter wrote in 1988, Mr. Duberstein was seen as “the key man in the details, the behind-the-scenes choreographer whose actions became increasingly important to a president known to be a generalist.”

On Capitol Hill, he had the respect of conservative GOP members allied with Reagan, as well as more moderates who knew the Brooklyn-born Mr. Duberstein as a Republican in the form of former Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York.

For their part, Democrats valued his attention to them, particularly in his role as liaison with Congress. Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.), then House Majority Leader and later Speaker of the House, told The Post in 1987 that Mr. Duberstein was “extremely competent, knowledgeable and pragmatic in his approach to government.”

During his last tenure in the White House, Mr. Duberstein was credited with working with officials like Powell, then national security adviser, to restore credibility the administration lost in the Iran-Contra affair, an illegal operation using gun proceeds Sales to Iran were diverted to right-wing rebels in Nicaragua.

“The two worked together and had exceptional authority as the Reagan administration ended and older men moved on,” wrote journalist Bob Woodward in a report published in The Post in 1995, referring to Mr. Duberstein and Powell.

Gergen noted Mr. Duberstein’s astute understanding of “human dynamics” and recalled that as Chief of Staff he made daily calls to First Lady Nancy Reagan, who had been angered by what she saw as the authoritative behavior of a former Chief of Staff, Donald T. Regan, who eventually was forced out of office.

“We opened the doors of the west wing to fresh voices,” Mr. Duberstein wrote years later in the New York Timesrecalling his efforts with colleagues to end the fighting and refocus government efforts.

“Cabinet meetings are traditionally dog ​​and pony shows,” he wrote. “So we decided to forget the big table and give each cabinet member 15 minutes a week to present their concerns to the president in person.”

Mr. Duberstein himself had the President’s ear in June 1987 when Reagan traveled to West Berlin to address a crowd against the backdrop of the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall. The speech he gave there became one of the most famous presidential addresses in history, but its gist — “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!‘ – was in question until hours before Reagan delivered it.

“But I told him, ‘You’re president, so you decide,'” Mr. Duberstein recalled. “He had this wonderful knowing smile on his face and he said, ‘Let’s leave it in.’ ”

Mr. Duberstein was proud of his role in the subsequent Reagan-Gorbachev summit that helped produce the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which according to the Arms Control Association “This was the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and conduct extensive on-site inspections to verify.”

After appearing “not just a lame duck, but a dead duck” amid Iran-Contra, Mr. Duberstein noted, Reagan ended his presidency “with 68 percent job approval.”

Kenneth Marc Duberstein was born on April 21, 1944 in Brooklyn. His father, who trained as a lawyer, worked in the Boy Scouts’ finance department. His mother was a teacher.

Mr. Duberstein, who became Eagle Scout, had his first direct political experience distributing pamphlets for Republican candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential election.

He studied political science at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1965, and at American University, where he received a master’s degree the following year.

Mr. Duberstein’s first job in politics was as an intern in the office of Senator Jacob K. Javits (RN.Y.). During the Nixon administration, he served in the General Services Administration as director of congressional and interstate affairs. He was Assistant Secretary of State for Labor under President Gerald Ford.

During the final months of the Reagan administration, Mr. Duberstein helped lead the successful White House effort to elect Vice President George HW Bush to the presidency. While Bush was in office, Mr. Duberstein helped coordinate the controversial Senate confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Mr. Duberstein founded a blue chip lobbying firm, the Duberstein Group, with clients including General Motors, pharmaceutical company Pfizer and Dow Chemical. He has served on the board of directors of companies such as Boeing, on the Harvard Kennedy School Institute for Policy Advisory Committee, on the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees, and as chair of the US Olympic Committee’s Ethics Committee.

Mr. Duberstein’s marriages to Marjorie Parman and Sydney Greenberg ended in divorce.

Survivors include his 18-year-old Washington wife, Jacquelyn Fain Duberstein; a daughter from his first marriage, Jennifer Duberstein of New York City; three children from his second marriage, Jeffrey Duberstein of Falls Church, Virginia, Andrew Duberstein of New York City, and Samantha Duberstein of Leesburg, Virginia; a sister; and two grandchildren.

In the more than three decades since Reagan left office, Mr. Duberstein has become a senior statesman among former White House chiefs of staff, constantly consulted as one administration gave way to the next.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1992, just before Bill Clinton entered the White House, Mr. Duberstein fondly recalled the final hours of Reagan’s presidency, standing instead of sitting with the President and Powell in the Oval Office , because there weren’t enough chairs in the empty room. Everyone had tears in their eyes.


About Author

Comments are closed.