June 12, 2011

Mainer moves in White House inner circle

Emmett S. Beliveau stays behind the scenes, but is a key contact for Maine's congressional delegation.

By Jonathan Riskind jriskind@mainetoday.com
Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON - When Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud wants to make sure the Obama administration takes into account Maine's perspective on issues like fishery management, he calls fellow Mainer Emmett S. Beliveau.

click image to enlarge

Photo from February 1978 shows 16-month-old Emmett Beliveau with his grandparents, Laura and Bob Murray, when they hosted President Carter at their Bangor home.

Beliveau family photo

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Emmett S. Beliveau

Why does Michaud, a powerful guy in his own right, seek out the 34-year-old Beliveau when he's trying to press a point with the White House and President Obama?

Because Beliveau, who was virtually weaned on power politics, holds down a key place in the White House power structure -- chief of staff to Chief of Staff William Daley.

Having Beliveau in a top job at the White House doesn't guarantee that Maine holds sway, but it certainly didn't hurt when the state was trying to make sure that its fishery regulation needs were taken into account along with Massachusetts', Michaud said.

On any given issue, the White House is lobbied and pushed and pulled from all sides, and it's not always easy to reach key White House officials, even for a member of Congress.

"The fact that (Beliveau) hasn't forgotten where he came from is extremely important," said Michaud, who had Beliveau as an early, unpaid congressional campaign volunteer. "My chief of staff or myself can pick up the phone any time. We have his cellphone number if we can't get through to someone at the White House. ... It is that relationship that is extremely important."

What is a chief of staff to the chief of staff?

It's a behind-the-scenes kind of job, essentially a gatekeeper to the ultimate gatekeeper. It's a job that apparently evolved out of a centralization of authority in the White House that began in the Bush administration and was adopted in large part by Obama, says one veteran of the Clinton administration.

"There has been a proliferation of moving everything up the chain of command," said the former Clinton administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he remains in contact with Obama administration officials.

While the Clinton administration authorized a wide array of officials to make independent decisions and take their cases directly to the president, the Bush administration wanted a more centralized structure, which it thought was more orderly and corporate. That gave even more responsibility and power to the chief of staff, and that meant the chief of staff needed a, well, chief of staff.

The White House chief of staff plays a key role in deciding who gets face time with the president and in shaping the president's priorities.

It's so behind-the-scenes, in Beliveau's view apparently, that he declined to be interviewed about his work.

Beliveau's father, the prominent State House lobbyist and former state legislator and Maine Democratic Party Chairman Severin Beliveau, chuckled in a phone interview last week that Emmett doesn't tell him a whole lot about his work at the White House, either.

"The kid really knows how to organize, whether it's a public office or a campaign," Severin Beliveau said. "He's highly focused. My sense is that is what Daley saw in him. There is no self-promotion on his part. He understates his role. That's been his M.O. throughout his life."

It's a life that has been steeped in politics, literally almost from day one. When he was 9, Emmett was weighing in, often very sagely, on his dad's gubernatorial bid.

Emmett's mother, Cynthia A. Murray-Beliveau, has been a prominent public figure in her own right in Maine, including founding and serving as the first chair of the Maine Women's Lobby.

There are judges and other elected officials on several branches of both sides of Emmett's family tree. His younger brother, Devin, 31, is a state representative from Kittery.

(Continued on page 2)

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