The sense that Vice President Biden
has not really left goes beyond the memorabilia, the familiar office telephone
number, and the dozens of veteran staff members who've stayed on the job.
That's because his appointed
successor, Sen. Ted Kaufman, 69, has been one of the vice president's tightest
friends and advisers for nearly four decades.
"People keep asking me where I
disagree with Biden, and I'm having a hard time finding something,"
Kaufman said in an interview. "The reason I went to work for him - and
worked for him so long - is, I never met an elected official I agreed with as
much as him, right back from the beginning."
But Kaufman said that if he clashes
with the administration on some issue, he would enjoy the competitive challenge
of besting Biden.
Both men share a Catholic,
middle-class background and a liberal-center political bent. While Biden grew
up in Scranton and Delaware, Kaufman is a Philadelphia native; he lived in
Logan and West Mount Airy, and graduated from Central High School.
Another difference: Kaufman is
low-key, befitting his background as an engineer, while Biden is famously
Gov. Ruth Ann Minner announced her
intention to appoint Kaufman a couple of weeks after the Nov. 4 election,
catching many Delaware political players by surprise.
Speculation began immediately that
Kaufman was appointed as a loyal placeholder for the vice president's oldest
son, state Attorney General Joseph R. "Beau" Biden 3d, now in Iraq
with his National Guard unit.
That's because Kaufman made it
clear at the outset that he wasn't going to run next year in the special
election to fill the last four years of the vice president's Senate term,
calling it "part of my deal" with Minner, who left office in January.
In making the choice, Minner passed over other politicians who were interested
in running to keep the job.
Not surprisingly, Kaufman rejects
the placeholder label.
"I don't understand it from
the real facts," he said. "What I'm doing is guaranteeing that in
2010 anybody who wants to run . . . can run, and no one has the advantage of
having been the incumbent. I am for an open election."
The younger Biden said before his
Iraq deployment that he did not want to be considered for the Senate
appointment. He is thought to be interested in running for the seat in the 2010
election, but the only public statement he has made about it is that he would
like to be reelected attorney general. "I know for a fact that Beau hasn't
decided what he's going to do," Kaufman said.
Kaufman's association with Joe
Biden began in 1972, when Kaufman ran the voter-turnout organization for
Biden's insurgent Senate campaign. The cause seemed hopeless when polls about
two months before the election put him 30 percentage points behind, but Biden
wound up winning narrowly; he asked Kaufman to work for him in Washington.
Kaufman took a one-year leave from
his job as an engineer at DuPont Co. - and never went back. He was Biden's
chief of staff from 1976 through 1995.
Since leaving the Senate, Kaufman
has taught courses on Congress at his alma mater, Duke University. (He also has
an M.B.A. from the Wharton School at Penn.) He had a consulting firm and served
from 1995 until last year on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a federal
agency that oversees government-sponsored international broadcasting.
"I'm philosophically opposed
to people getting appointed and then running for office and using this as a
springboard," Kaufman said, in explaining his decision not to run for
Senate next year. Plus, he said, he knows he'd be lousy at the rituals that
candidates must endure, though he loves the background substance of legislating.
Kaufman "never got wrapped up
in the Washington scene," and Biden relied on him for a "bit of an
outside perspective, a reality check," said Ron Klain, the vice
president's chief of staff, who worked with both men as general counsel to the
Senate Judiciary Committee.
Klain also said he thought that
Kaufman's training as an engineer set him apart in a profession dominated by
lawyers. "We lawyers like to focus on particular cases - you pile case
upon case, and when you add it all up you've got a rule," Klain said.
"Ted has more of an engineer's mind. . . . He often sees how things are
connected, how a particular policy decision will affect an overall
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) has
been a friend since 1980, when she arrived at the Capitol as chief of staff to
the newly elected Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D., Conn).
"I think the only other time
I'd been in Washington was on my high school class trip - it was a whole new
world for me," DeLauro said. "Ted was willing to take the time to
teach me how to do the job and to try to do it well. He would say encouraging
things: 'Take it day by day. Listen and learn. You can do this job.' . . . He's
just a wonderful human being."
Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) called
Kaufman a "low-key, sensible guy" who was Biden's right hand in the
Senate for many years. "He'd make a great permanent senator," Specter
Instead, Kaufman said he was
confident he would walk away content.
"I'm not about having a bunch
of bills with 'Kaufman' on them," he said. "What I'm about is at the
end of two years being able to say that I tried as hard as I could to help make
the country a better place."
Contact staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or email@example.com.