Personality Spotlight;NEWLN:New Hampshire's high-tech Gov. John Sununu


CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu's dazzling intellect, conservative views, abrasivness and high-tech management apparently appealed to George Bush as characteristics of a chief of staff who can run a tight ship.

While far from beloved, even Sununu's critics agree he was a highly capable manager during his six years as governor -- someone who restored the state's fiscal intregity and ushered state government into the computer age.


Sununu will not be the first New Hampshire governor to become White House chief of staff. A wiry Yankee named Sherman Adams was chief of staff in the Eisenhower administration until a scandal over a gift vicuna coat sent him back to New Hampshire.

The portly Sununu, 49, who has a doctorate in mechanical engineering, is widely credited with the last-minute rescue of the Bush campaign in the New Hampshire primary last February. Embarrassed in Iowa, Bush brought his campaign to New Hampshire one week later and won big.


After New Hampshire, Bush won a string of other primaries leading to his GOP presidential nomination. Sununu remained a high-profile member of Bush's presidential campaign and delighted in hurling acid criticism at his Massachusetts neighbor, Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis.

Despite his background in academia and the sciences, Sununu's political ascension was rapid in the 1980s, although halting at first.

Before defeating two-term Democratic Gov. Hugh Gallen in 1982, Sununu had held only one other elective position and lost four other bids at elected office.

Sununu served in the 400-member New Hampshire House in the 1973 session, but lost two successive bids for the state Senate. In 1978, Sununu lost a bid for the state Executive Council, a colonial-vintage gubernatorial advisory panel.

Two years later, Sununu was a long-shot candidate in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, but he finished a surprising second to Warren Rudman. It was the boost Sununu needed to continue his political career two years later when he ousted Gallen.

During his three two-year terms as New Hampshire's governor, Sununu turned a $40 million state budget deficit into a $50 surplus and computerized many state government operations.

During his tenure, Sununu was criticized vigorously by the Jewish community and others for refusing to join the other 49 governors in signing a 1986 proclamation condemning a 1975 United Nations' resolution equating Zionism with racism. Sununu, who is of Lebanese descent, contended it was not appropriate for governors to try to influence foreign policy.


Sununu had little patience for the deliberative pace of the state bureacracy and the often independent-minded Legislature. Once he called recalcitrant GOP House members to his outer office in a closed meeting that one legislator called a 'trip to the woodshed.'

Early in his administration, Sununu often was short and combative with reporters, earning a quick reputation as arrogant. Critics said Sununu still thought he was the engineering professor lecturing students. Political opponents called him vindictive and impatient with dissenting views.

Sununu was especially inflexible on the Seabrook nuclear power plant, supporting the completion of the $5.7 billion plant while barely acknowledging the intense opposition from coastal residents.

While Sununu has not revised his views of Seabrook, nor totally reformed his public behavior, he has grown more comfortable in the public eye. In a 1985 interview, Sununu acknowledged his mellower demeanor.

'I feel a lot more mutual respect between myself and the press than I did the first term,' Sununu said. 'A lot of it has been my relaxing and maturing and my understanding our relationships a lot better.'

Sununu's intellect was apparent in the way he digested complex facts and problems. He often traveled in his official state car with a laptop computer.


In his third term, Sununu's national stock began to rise. He became chairman of the National Governors Association, and preached President Reagan's message of the new federalism.

He surprised many observers by announcing earlier this year he would not seek a fourth gubernatorial term. Most assumed he would return to the private sector to make more money.

The next New Hampshire governor will be Judd Gregg, a Republican congressman whose father also served as the Granite State's chief executive.

Sununu was born July 21, 1939, in Havana, Cuba, where his father was stationed as part of his import-export business. At 6 months of age, Sununu's family moved to New York City, where he spent most of his childhood.

A 1961 engineering graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., he later earned masters and doctoral degrees from MIT.

From 1965, Sununu served as president of his own engineering consultant firm. In 1966, he took a second job as associate professor of engineering at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. From 1968 to 1973, he served as associate dean of Tufts' engineering college.

Married to the former Nancy Hayes since 1958, Sununu has eight children, who pitched in as volunteers during his gubernatorial campaigns.


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