Tributes have poured in since the news of the death of Gerald P. Carmen — head of the General Services Administration (GSA) under the late President Ronald Reagan and the Reagan-appointed U.S. Ambassador to United Nations International Organizations in Geneva — on Sept. 2 at age 93.
Among them were fellow alumni of the administration and the campaigns of the 40th president who reached out to one another in unison and reminisced about the man they universally called “Jerry.”
“Jerry was with Reagan from the start of his race to the White House and implemented the Reagan agenda,” recalled Pat Pizzella, who worked on Reagan’s near-successful 1976 campaign for the nomination and served as Carmen’s right-hand man at GSA.
As Republican state chair of New Hampshire in 1976, Carmen remained officially neutral in the race between Reagan and President Gerald Ford. This was a net plus for the Reagan forces because, as historian Craig Shirley wrote in his much-praised account of Reagan’s 1976 candidacy, “many of the party chairmen in other states lined up early for Ford.”
In the closest-ever first-in-the-nation primary, Reagan lost by about 1,400 votes out of more than 140,000 cast. He later rebounded and lost a close national convention vote to Ford, who went on to lose in November to Jimmy Carter.
When Reagan launched his next bid for the White House in 1979, Carmen resigned from the party helm to become chair of the Californian’s campaign in the Granite State.
This proved not to be the slam dunk many Reagan supporters thought it would be. When George H.W. Bush pulled a stunning upset in the Iowa caucuses, polls immediately showed the former CIA director leading presumed front-runner Reagan among New Hampshire Republicans. Coming out of Iowa, Bush declared he had “the Big Mo [momentum].”
Seeming to be on the phone endlessly, waving his signature cigar, Carmen rallied the Reagan volunteers throughout the state.
He is widely credited with organizing the candidates’ debate in which other candidates walked out when Bush complained about them being invited when he wanted to face Reagan one-on-one.
As Reagan attempted to apologize to the departing contenders, the moderator ordered his microphone shut off — leading the Californian to borrow a line from Spencer Tracy in the movie “State of the Union” and shout: “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!”
He went on to win the debate, the primary, the nomination … and the rest is history.
Like fellow Reagan leaders Don Devine of Maryland, who became head of the Office of Personnel Management, and Ray Barnhart of Texas (Federal Highway Administrator), Carmen was tapped to run the government housekeeping colossus known as GSA.
Along with streamlining the administrative side of GSA, the New Hampshire man pioneered the innovation of airbags in vehicles, and he assisted in the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Mitch Snyder Homeless Shelter in Washington.
From GSA to Geneva, Carmen continued to serve the president he fervently admired and believed in.
As envoy to the U.N. in Geneva, he hosted a meeting between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and helped oversee “Operation Moses”— the evacuation of Jewish Ethiopian refugees.
After assuming the presidency, Bush named true-blue Reaganite Carmen as president of the Federal Asset Deposit Association.
When he left government, the ever-restless Carmen was determined to stay busy. He and son David launched the Carmen Group, which became one of the most durable and successful lobbying firms in Washington, D.C.
He was also sought out by Republican presidential hopefuls as the all-knowing authority on the New Hampshire primary and strategy for winning the nomination.
But as much as he was a mover and shaker in national politics, Carmen was an active fixture in the city of Manchester he so loved.
Upon graduating from the University of New Hampshire, he and wife Anita settled in Manchester, and he soon launched his auto service and tire business.
Known as Car Go, the business thrived and became a quadrennial stop-off for presidential candidates vying in the primary.
Richard Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and even the organizers of the winning write-in campaign for Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge in 1964 all came by to Car Go to talk with local pols amid the aroma of rubber and Carmen’s cigars.
Defeated in bids for the Board of Aldermen and mayor of Manchester, Carmen was nonetheless active in his community and in local government.
Perhaps the most poignant tribute to him came from Reagan himself, who wrote in his diary: “Jerry has done a great job at everything we have asked him to do.”
The same could be said of those who worked with him in politics and government and had any dealings with Carmen.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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