NEW YORK -- At 5 p.m. on Monday afternoon, New York Times staffers in the paper's Washington bureau gathered to toast outgoing bureau chief Dean Baquet. It was Baquet’s first day back in the Washington office since heading to New York last week to be named the paper’s next managing editor, a position that puts him second-in-command to incoming executive editor Jill Abramson.
But after raising a glass of champagne in Baquet's honor, staffers moved on to the inevitable question: Who’ll be the next bureau chief? The Times’ top Washington position is one of the most influential journalism jobs in the capital and has been a stepping stone for several executive editors, including Howell Raines, Max Frankel, James Reston and Abramson. The Washington bureau chief has long played the role of the Times' ambassador in Washington. For instance, before the Times published its first WikiLeaks-related stories last year, Baquet headed to the White House with a couple of reporters to discuss the Obama administration's national security concerns.
Baquet told the curious Times staffers that he and Abramson will be traveling together next week and should have some time to start discussing candidates for bureau chief. He didn't have much more to add when reached Wednesday by The Huffington Post.
"Any names, at this point, really are a mix of speculation, made-up and whatever else," Baquet said. "Jill and I have not talked about it."
Nevertheless, the newsroom parlor game continues. The Huffington Post, in conversations with Times staffers, has heard the names of several expected contenders -- from unsurprising internal candidates already in the bureau to a handful of wildcards inside and outside the paper. Times staffers expect three names to be on the shortlist: national editor Rick Berke and deputy Washington bureau chiefs Dick Stevenson and Rebecca Corbett. Of them, Berke is generating the most buzz among the rank-and-file, given that he spent nearly two decades in the bureau, with positions ranging from political reporter to Abramson's number two.
Abramson, who ran the Washington bureau from 2000 to 2003 before becoming managing editor, might take a close look at others she worked with back in the day, such as Congressional reporter Carl Hulse. While it may seem unlikely to pick a reporter for the management gig, Hulse did serve as night editor in Washington during Abramson’s tenure.
Or maybe, staffers say, Abramson will use her first major management move to tap a bureau chief who has a higher public profile.
Baquet rarely appears on television and has isn't a fixture in the D.C. party scene. As bureau chief, he pulled the Times out of the cozy White House Correspondents Dinner. So Abramson could switch things up with a bureau chief who'd be more likely to make the rounds on “Meet the Press” and the Washington social circuit. If she goes that route, John Harwood -- a former colleague of Abramson’s at the Wall Street Journal who splits his time between the paper and CNBC -- would be a natural choice.
It's also been rumored that Abramson may consider columnist (and close friend) Maureen Dowd. WWD’s John Koblin has heard similar chatter about Dowd and wrote Wednesday that the veteran columnist "could easily slip into a role not unlike the late R.W. Apple when he ran the bureau," meaning she'd serve more as a plugged-in Washington figure rather than a newsroom manager busy line-editing stories. Several Times staffers doubt the likelihood of such a move.
There have been other internal names tossed around in recent days, all of which should be taken with a grain of salt. Times staffers have mentioned chief Washington correspondent David Sanger, foreign editor Susan Chira, deputy editorial page editor Carla Robbins, White House correspondent Helene Cooper and former chief political correspondent Adam Nagourney, who left Washington in 2010 to become Los Angeles bureau chief.
Both Times and Washington Post staffers have recently passed along the rumor that Susan Glasser might be considered. Glasser lost her job as the Post's national editor in 2008 over morale issues in the department, but has since bounced back at editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy. Staffers who've heard the rumor say there's a far more likely internal candidate than Glasser: her husband, Times White House reporter Peter Baker.
It's difficult to imagine the Times hiring someone from outside the paper. Since the Washington bureau doesn't have a specific section in the paper, part of the bureau chief's job is to maintain strong relationships with the editors running other desks, such as business or foreign. It would be tough for an outsider to easily transition into such a role. While the Times hired Baquet for the job after a stint running the Los Angeles Times, he'd already put in 10 years at the paper before heading out west.
For now, Baquet is trying to ignore the guessing game and says he's committed to the job until leaving for New York in September. "My goal is to be Washington bureau chief as long as I can," Baquet said. "And I'm going to treat Bill Keller like the executive editor until he walks out the door."