For two years USDA’s communications director Christine Mather and press secretary Caleb R. Weaver kept the treatment of Tom Vilsack more like that reserved for a crown prince than a cabinet member.
The pair of Illinois political operatives brought the former Iowa governor and Hillary Clinton supporter into a tight alliance with First Lady Michelle Obama’s agenda, throwing USDA support behind everything from the White House Garden to the “Let’s Move” campaign.
Except for the clumsy firing and rehiring of Shirley Sherrod, a state redevelopment officer, Tom Vilsack has been flying high as Secretary of Agriculture.
The pair he most relied on out of a 75+-person communications shop, however, has broken up. Mather is leaving to become communications director for Chicago’s Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, and Weaver is already practicing law in a large Washington D.C. firm.
Both were hot properties from the Obama for President campaign when they got their jobs tending to Vilsack. Mather was press secretary for Dr. Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife during the 2008 campaign. Weaver was Obama’s campaign spokesman for the state of Montana.
They’ve apparently left something of a mess, however. The Washington Post and The Des Moines Register’s Phil Brasher are reporting the Illinois political operatives left some unhappy career employees behind.
Several have signed a letter to Congress about what they called “egregious, mean and poor management.” Nine others filed complaints with the Office of Special Counsel, which investigates employee allegations of mistreatment.
One USDA communications staffer blamed Mather’s tight lid on public information as a reason for the employee retiring after 43 years.
Joani Walsh, chief of staff for USDA’s Research, Education and Economics division, will fill the top communications job on an acting basis.