Presidential Transition

Nov 28, 2016

While listening to all the talk about the Presidential transition, I recalled that I had two minor roles during Ronald Reagan's transition from Jimmy Carter.

At the time of Reagan’s first election, I was working as the Chief of Staff for six-term L.A. County Sheriff Peter J. Pitchess.  In 1964, Pitchess had been co-chair of the California delegation at the GOP Convention.  He picked the delegates for Southern California.  He was urged to put a movie star on the delegation, but there were very few to choose from.  He selected an actor who had recently become a Republican---Ronald Reagan.  

A little known piece of trivia is that in the early 60’s, Reagan asked Pitchess for a gun permit.  Pitchess did not like to issue them.  During my time, I think we issued fewer than a couple dozen and most were to judges and prosecutors who had handled high profile cases.  Pitchess told my predecessor, who was handling the request, “I’m going to deny it”.  My predecessor (who told me the story 20+ years later) said he told the Sheriff, “Let’s give it to him.  You never know; he might be President someday.”  

When Reagan was elected, he sounded out Pitchess on his interest in becoming Ambassador to Greece.  I took some phone calls from the transition team.  One of Reagan’s top people (remember his famous “Kitchen Cabinet”) from L.A. asked Pitchess for recommendations to improve policing.  I was one of a handful who were asked to prepare a document.  My proposal was selected as the #1 submission from our department.  It was for a small program within the Justice Department for the study and development of “Less Lethal Weapons and Tactics”.  That was 36 years ago.  Think about what has been happening in the past few years.  Too bad the Justice Department didn’t act.  I dusted off this report when Bill Clinton became President and he asked for submissions for his “Reinventing Government” plan, which Al Gore headed up.  A similar lack of interest.  

My other role was much more “hands on”.  I was moonlighting for Gavin de Becker, doing personal protection work.  Gavin’s best friend was Morgan Mason (son of the actor James Mason).  Morgan was well connected to the Reagan team and had a big role in the Inaugural.  He hired Gavin to handle the security for the 56 celebrities that the Inaugural Committee brought in for the various Inaugural Balls.  What I didn’t know until that time was that the Secret Service is not permitted to do this security.  They are limited to a handful of Government Officials and foreign dignitaries. 

Gavin brought in a small team and I used my former contacts from the POLICE FOUNDATION (the DC-based think tank where I had worked when Pitchess first met me) to selected a small team of DC-area officers to work with us.  I supervised the crews.  During the week of rehearsals and the day of the balls, we had a great time, working 18 hours a day, going from one location to another, primarily around Frank Sinatra, Johnny Carson, Dean Martin, Elizabeth Taylor, Wayne Newton, and Ray Charles.  Lots of great stories.


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