A good friend in high places

During a decade in Washington, David Goodfriend has held an impressive array of posts spanning Capitol Hill, the White House and now the Federal Communications Commission.

Besides the obvious benefits to his legal career, the opportunity to meet and serve some of the country's most powerful and celebrated public officials has given Goodfriend, who is FCC Commissioner Susan Ness' mass media and cable adviser, choice opportunities to build his repertoire of impersonations-including his former boss, President Bill Clinton.

Goodfriend's dead-on imitations of the high and mighty are a favorite of the industry lobbyists and regulatory attorneys who have gotten to know Goodfriend since he replaced long-time Ness aide Anita Walgren last year. A few of the corporate types might be surprised to learn, however, that they too are included in his cast of characters.

As with many FCC officials, Goodfriend's interest in communications policy (and his skill as an impersonator) germinated when he was in college and worked at the school radio station. While at Beloit College in the late 1980s, Goodfriend produced a classical-music program, an incongruity in the station's typically rock fare. "I love all kinds of music, and they wanted to add classical to the format, so I volunteered," says the 32-year-old Goodfriend.

His music show led to what he calls his "best job" ever, producing the station's public service announcements. The PSA gig offered a chance to put his impersonation skills on the air-a delight to listeners unaccustomed to hearing Sylvester Stallone and Archie and Edith Bunker doing local spots in the 35,000-population Wisconsin college town.

Goodfriend also started what would become a calling to public service during his college days, volunteering in the district office of Democratic Rep. Les Aspin. "That's how I cut my teeth in politics."

After graduating from Beloit in 1990, Goodfriend was hired as a junior Democratic staffer for the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control under then-chairman Rep. Charlie Rangel. Posts on Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl's Government Information Subcommittee and for Guam congressional delegate Robert Underwood followed.

He left the government in 1995 to work in private practice for Willkie Farr & Gallagher, where he did regulatory work for Time Warner, Tele-Communications Inc., Bloomberg and other communications-industry clients. "I loved it," says Goodfriend. "All my interests were coming together in one place."

He was torn when a former law firm colleague asked him to return to government in 1998 as White House deputy staff secretary, but the opportunity to work for President Clinton was too enticing to pass up. For the next year and a half, he was part of the team responsible for channeling to the president nearly every piece of paper he reads and signs.

The overnight transition to the White House inner circle (if only the outside edge of the circle) was a powerful rush for a guy who only months before was a law firm clerk and associate. "I had a great time traveling on Air Force One and seeing up close how the president makes decisions."

By then, Goodfriend's political instincts and communications-policy expertise were impressing his veteran mentors.

"He played a vital role as part of the administration's telecommunications team," says a White House senior staffer. "He understands the new economy and how policies and technologies are changing the way our economy works and the way we get our entertainment and are educated."

Adds Jonathan Leibowitz, chief counsel for Sen. Kohl's Antitrust Subcommittee: "He's everything you want from a staffer. He's substantively grounded and understands the interplay between regulators and Capitol Hill, and everybody likes him."

High marks from the White House team landed him a recommendation to join Ness' staff when Walgren decided to join the corporate world, and the two-term commissioner says Goodfriend was an excellent choice. "He strives to achieve good public-policy outcomes on what often are the most contentious matters before the commission, and he does so with a great sense of humor."

A big factor in his desire to delve into the broad variety of issues is his boss' dedication to the job. "I've gotten to know a lot of public officials in the past few years, and she's everything you could want: She's dedicated, listens to all sides and tries to be fair."