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FCC Name Game:Ladies First?

"I'll bet you a lunch Julius Genachowski is not still around in August,” one Washington watcher declared last week of the Federal Communications Commission chairman. A top lobbyist, meanwhile, leveled a doubt that Genachowski would exit before the commission votes its final order on incentive auctions, which most likely won’t happen before August. Vegas hasn’t placed any odds yet, but the chairman’s intentions are clearly the talk of the town for the Beltway media set.

Genachowski has played his cards close to the vest, saying he has no plans to go anywhere and he is still focused on the job at hand, which currently includes trying to wrap up a media ownership review and remake the broadcast spectrum band to accommodate wireless broadband. A spokesman reiterated the chairman’s statement that he has no plans to leave.

But Genachowski has any public figure’s prerogative, and a Harvard lawyer’s attention to language. “Plans” can change, and most lobbyists and lawyers who deal with the commission regularly are predicting his exit, which would be part of a larger exodus that has seen the departures of a number of top officials, including the secretaries of state, treasury and defense.

Either way, if and when Genachowski departs, the future chair of the commission will inherit the daunting task of writing the next chapter of the transition to digital, former chairman Reed Hundt suggested at a seminar two weeks ago.

Looking to get in front of the curve, the Women’s Media Center, launched by Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem, has already called on President Obama to nominate a woman to replace Genachowski, suggesting that a new nomination could be imminent.

A female FCC chair would be a Washington first. Among the women expected to have a shot at the FCC’s top job are two Democrats already on the commission—Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel.

Clyburn is the first African-American woman on the commission, and the daughter of Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). Rosenworcel is the most recent Democratic addition and has close ties with the powerful chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). Rockefeller recently announced he would not be running for re-election, leading one lobbyist to suppose that could hurt Rosenworcel’s chances for the top post. But Rockefeller is not leaving until January 2015, which means his preferences could still come into play.

It could be politically tough to pick one commissioner over the other, though, which could pave the way for a third female candidate: longtime Obama adviser Karen Kornbluh, who has been at the State Department as ambassador and U.S. permanent representative to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development since August 2009.

Kornbluh was formerly policy director for then-Sen. Obama and was once director of the FCC’s office of legislative and government affairs. She would be leaving the State Department just as her old boss comes aboard as secretary—she was also a former policy adviser to Sen. John Kerry—and is said to have been actively seeking the FCC post.

Another woman whose name has emerged is Catherine Sandoval of the California Public Utilities Commission.

If the president decides not to choose a woman for the post, he could look toward another White House official whose name has surfaced, Jason Furman, assistant to the president for economic policy and principal deputy director of the National Economic Council. Furman has been one of the point people on the fiscal cliff negotiations, but telecom is also part of his portfolio. Proximity to the Oval Office could de! nitely grease the skids, since Furman could basically walk into the president’s office and ask to have his name put on the list.

There’s also Lawrence Strickling, who currently heads the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which is essentially the FCC for government spectrum holders, and as such has been working with Genachowski on freeing up spectrum for mobile broadband. He also gave up his law practice and moved to Chicago to work in the trenches for Obama during the 2008 campaign.

Among other names being floated: Tom Wheeler, former head of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and Obama tech policy adviser; Blair Levin, broadband plan czar and former chief of staff to FCC chair Hundt; FCC media bureau chief Bill Lake; Scott Blake Harris, ex-FCC member and currently with Neustar; and David Krone, chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and a former Comcast and NCTA exec.

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