Gay Intrepid museum chief touted for cabinet [CORRECTION: A headline yesterday mischaracterized Bill White's potential role as secretary of the Navy. It is not a cabinet post. (A15 ALL 12/20/08)]

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As president of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, Bill White has managed the restoration of a World War II aircraft carrier. Now, some congressional and former military leaders think the Long Island native should manage the entire U.S. Navy.

They are touting the 41-year-old Manhattan resident as secretary of the Navy in the Obama administration.

The appointment would make the former Point Lookout resident the first openly gay chief of a branch of the military. And that could make his selection tricky because the government and the country have not resolved the issue of gays openly serving in the armed forces.

White, who has worked at the Intrepid since 1992, is not a veteran but other armed forces secretaries have lacked military experience. White has extensive contacts in the defense field through his work at the museum ship that returned to its Hudson River pier recently after a two-year restoration. He also serves as president of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. The fund has raised more than $100 million for families of military personnel killed in Afghanistan and Iraq and for construction of an armed forces rehabilitation center in San Antonio.

An Obama transition spokesman declined to comment yesterday on White.

But Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) said "a couple of people from the transition team have called me and I said very good things about him and that I hope he got some position.

"I've known him for 10 or 12 years and he seems to be a very good administrator and he has a very, very demonstrated interest in military personnel and veterans and their families," Nadler said.

While White declined to comment, his spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, said White "considers it truly the highest privilege to be of service to the brave men and women of our armed forces, and their families."

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, a nonprofit policy organization that opposes service by gays, said "He has done a lot of good for military families."

But she said his appointment would complicate the debate in Congress over gay men and women serving in the military, and whether a 1993 law prohibiting that should be repealed. (President Bill Clinton modified the situation with his "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy but the law remains unchanged.) Donnelly said having White named to the post "would make it more difficult for Congress to look at this issue rationally."

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Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said, "I'm sure it will be an issue for some" in the military community.

"The question is: Will it get in the way of his ability to lead or do his job?" Rieckhoff said. "I don't think so. He's one of the country's smartest, most dedicated leaders. And I can't think of anyone who's done more for our military and veterans."

Carol Keating, treasurer of the Nassau County Lesbian & Gay Democrats, said she was thrilled that White was being considered. "I think that the more openly gay people who get appointed to serious positions and get taken seriously the more the public will see us as people and not as deviants." BILL WHITE

AGE: 41

HOME: Manhattan. Native of Point Lookout

@Newsday

EDUCATION: Chaminade High School; Fordham University.

CAREER: Worked in his family's restaurant and real estate businesses. Joined the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund in 1992.

PUBLIC SERVICE: Established Operation Support in 1991 to raise money for families of military personnel killed in the Persian Gulf War. Served eight years in Point Lookout-Lido Volunteer Fire Department, including three years as captain of rescue company.

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