Outgoing Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) has begun shaping his life after Congress, with plans to consult, teach and create a public service institute at Washington University in St. Louis.
A tribute dinner will be held in St. Louis on Dec. 9 for the 28-year House veteran, who served as both Minority and Majority Leader and was a two-time presidential hopeful, honoring his service and raising money for the Dick Gephardt Legacy Fund. That nonprofit, which is seeking donations ranging from $1,000 to $50,000, is looking to raise $1 million for the Gephardt Institute for Public Service at Washington University and two children’s programs at the National Institutes of Health and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. There’s also a Web site that’s been established in his name at www.GephardtTribute.org.
Washington University officials said details of the public policy program are still being worked out, but they expect it to involve internship opportunities, conferences and lectures.
“The Institute will proactively encourage people, especially students, to become more involved in serving society, both through volunteer work and career commitments,” the university said in a statement.
Many Democratic Members are expected to attend the December Gephardt tribute or contribute to his legacy project. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who cannot attend the gala personally, has taped a video message to be shown at the event honoring her predecessor as leader. “This event is less about reflecting on his record of public service than about his continued commitment to public service and his relevancy to the nation and the Democratic Party,” said Erik Smith, Gephardt’s former communications director.
Several well-placed sources indicated that in addition to helping set up the institute, where Gephardt will serve as an unpaid adviser, the former Democratic leader will spend his time consulting, making paid speeches, teaching at the university level and serving on an array of corporate and association boards. Sources indicated Gephardt was leaning toward taking roles with organizations involved in investment banking and the economy.
One former Gephardt aide said the Missouri lawmaker has three goals for his post-Congressional tenure: spending time with his family, making money and remaining involved in public service. This staffer said Gephardt isn’t interested in raising his stature, but building on the accomplishments of nearly three decades in the House.
“I don’t get the sense he’s looking for a high profile,” said the one-time staffer. “He had a great run at it. As he’s said, it’s hard to get elected president, and he’s not looking back at it at all. He led the House Democrats through tough times. He held them together and kept them focused.”
The former staffer said Gephardt’s new role is likely to be similar to those played by former Senate Majority Leaders George Mitchell (D-Maine) or Bob Dole (R-Kan.), well-respected Congressional leaders who remain active in political and public circles and are viewed as senior statesmen.
“If someone asks [Gephardt] to be involved in something, he’d do it,” the aide said. “But he’s certainly not looking for a full-time thing in public service.”
Another former Gephardt aide said the Missouri Congressman is “exhilarated” to finally be returning his attention to a private life and, more importantly, his family.
“This is an easy transition,” said the staffer. “He realizes that [the elected office] part of his life is over, and he’s very happy to be able to indulge in the part that is equally important to him even more.”
Gephardt will not work as a lobbyist, several sources insisted, even though several prominent Washington firms, including Patton Boggs, have approached him about job opportunities. “He’s had offers, but it’s not what he wanted to do,” said a senior Democratic House staffer.
“He could do very well if he chose the lobbyist route, but from what I know of Dick and my service with him for over a decade, that is not his thing,” said Rep. Bob Menendez (N.J.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “That’s not what he is into. I’m not surprised by the course he seems to be taking.”
Menendez said Members, as well as the broader Democratic Party, view Gephardt as “an elder statesman.”
“He will be something along the lines of the grand old man of the party, if you will,” Menendez said. “He’s looked at kindly, affectionately by people. People feel good about Dick Gephardt as a person, a former colleague and as a leader.”
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said whatever avenue Gephardt decides to pursue, he will be successful. He said Democrats and others will continue to look to Gephardt for advice on key topics, and Gephardt in one way or another will stay involved.
“He is an extraordinary resource,” said Hoyer. “He’s not old enough to be an elder statesman, but he is a statesman and an invaluable resource to our party and our country.”
Many Washington insiders have speculated for months about what Gephardt would do next, with talk most focused on a White House Cabinet post had Democratic hopeful Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) won the election. That speculation focused on Gephardt as a possible secretary of State, Labor or Health and Human Services.
Not everyone was convinced Gephardt would have taken up a Democratic president on those opportunities.
“If Kerry would have won, I think he would have had a difficult time getting Dick to serve in his administration,” said one of his former senior staffers. “I think he was committed to a more personal life, and that’s where he was headed.”