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Christine Whitman leaving EPA

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EPA Chief Whitman to Depart,

In Pre-Election Bush-Team Shift



WASHINGTON -- President Bush's environmental chief, Christine Todd Whitman, announced her resignation, in another sign of pre-election shifts within the president's team.

Ms. Whitman, a moderate who sometimes clashes with Mr. Bush's conservative base, cited a desire to spend more time with her husband on their New Jersey farm, to which she commuted almost every weekend. The former New Jersey governor initially hoped to stay at the Environmental Protection Agency until the president's top environmental bill, the Clear Skies Act, gets through Congress. But the legislation has become bogged down and she concluded that holding off her departure would make it "awkward" for the president later, she said.

Ms. Whitman's decision, effective June 27, follows a similar one by White House spokesman Ari Fleischer this week, and may be a precursor of exits by other senior administration figures in the run-up to Mr. Bush's 2004 re-election bid. Officials seeking to leave have been told to do so no later than this fall, Bush advisers said, to avoid any appearance of disunity during the campaign. Speculation about potential departures has included Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who has suffered health problems.

"You don't want anybody leaving during a presidential primary season or the summer before the general election, especially someone with tremendous visibility," says Paul C. Light, an expert on White House personnel issues at the Brookings Institution here.

Given the president's contentious relationship with the environmental community, his selection of a successor may become a prominent issue in the 2004 campaign. Potential candidates to succeed Ms. Whitman include David Struhs, head of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection. Mr. Struhs works for the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and is the brother-in-law of White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. Mary Gade, the former head of Illinois's Environmental Protection Agency, is another possibility.

Write to Jeanne Cummings at [email protected] and John J. Fialka at [email protected]

Updated May 22, 2003

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