WASHINGTON – President Bush still hasn't decided whom to nominate as transportation secretary to succeed Norman Mineta, who left the job July 7 after six years on the job.
Meanwhile, Washington is showing how it loves to fill an empty Cabinet seat with speculation.
A Cabinet secretary, two federal transportation officials, a White House budget aide and a former governor are said to be under consideration.
"As soon as he has a nominee to announce he will," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. "Secretary Mineta left the Cabinet only a few weeks ago, and a decision on a nominee will be made soon."
Two women who served under Mineta are considered top candidates to succeed him: Federal Aviation Administration chief Marion Blakey, known for her management skills; and deputy Transportation Secretary Maria Cino, who has a reputation for political savvy.
Others said to be in the running are:
—Jim Edgar, former two-term Illinois governor.
—Elaine Chao, secretary of Labor.
—Michael Jackson, deputy secretary of Homeland Security, formerly deputy secretary of Transportation.
Clay Johnson, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, has also been talked about as a possible candidate. He's been Bush's friend since prep school and served in his administration as governor of Texas.
Carol Hallett, former president of the Air Transport Association, lost out to Andrew Card for Transportation secretary in the first Bush administration. She said Tuesday that it was only a wild rumor that she's under consideration now.
Bill Graves, former Kansas governor and now head of the American Trucking Associations, told his board recently that he is committed to staying in his job.
Whomever President Bush selects, it's unlikely the new Transportation secretary will be appointed before fall.
Congress's monthlong August recess begins soon, and the Senate is often slow to confirm presidential nominees.
Inside the Beltway, the vacant Transportation post is viewed as setting up a "Maria vs. Marion" contest between Cino and Blakey.
Mineta, a lifelong Democrat, says he wants Cino, former deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee, to succeed him.
"She's proven herself in terms of her handling the issues and handling the people," Mineta said in a telephone interview from his office at the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, where he is now vice chairman.
Cino rose primarily through Republican political organizations to become deputy Transportation secretary in May 2005.
She had little transportation experience, but her resume includes national director for the Bush for President campaign in 2000.
Cino plunged into her role as acting secretary immediately upon Mineta's departure, touring the country to publicize transportation projects undertaken by the Bush administration.
Her past as a political staffer may hurt her, said Mineta, because people in the White House may not think of her as Cabinet secretary material. "They think of her as a staff person," he said, recounting a conversation he had with Cino about how the administration perceives her.
Blakey has far more experience in transportation, say her supporters. She headed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration under President George H.W. Bush and the National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA under President George W. Bush.
"The summer has gone well without the usual screams and cries due to delay in air traffic issues. Her department has had a good record of keeping its senior talent," said Peter Goelz, former NTSB managing director.
But bitterness over difficult contract negotiations with the air traffic controllers' union may cause Blakey trouble should she be nominated. After more than a year of bargaining, she imposed the FAA's last, best offer on the union — an unpopular move with Democrats and labor-friendly Republicans on the Hill.
James May, president of the Air Transport Association, one of the Transportation Department's biggest constituents, said either choice would be fine with him.
"I'm very high on Marion Blakey and Maria Cino," May said.
Edgar, the former Illinois governor, has expressed interest in the job in the past.
Mineta said Jackson, his former deputy, is unlikely to get the job because he's needed to help run Homeland Security.