WASHINGTON (Apr. 5)
Just weeks before the scheduled opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the White House has asked the chairman and vice chairman of the museum’s council to leave their posts.
Both the chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, Baltimore builder Harvey Meyerhoff, and the vice chairman, San Francisco businessman William Lowenberg, have been asked to remain until April 30.
The museum’s dedication ceremonies are scheduled for April 22, and it will open to the public on April 26.
The council serves as a development arm of the museum, which was constructed with over $150 million in private funds. Though built with private funds, however, the museum stands on donated public land and is in the process of being turned over to the U.S. government.
Meyerhoff has been devoted to the museum. Sources said he had donated approximately $6 million toward its construction.
“Mr. Lowenberg and I fully understand and respect the president’s desire to appoint new council leadership,” Meyerhoff said in a statement Sunday. “We will continue to work with the White House and the new leadership to ensure a smooth transition and successful start-up of museum operations.”
Meyerhoff said he and Lowenberg were asked to remain on the council after they step down from their posts.
APPOINTED BY REPUBLICANS
Both Meyerhoff and Lowenberg, like the other 50-plus members of the council, were presidential appointees of previous Republican administrations. Many of them expected to be replaced by the Clinton administration.
But the idea of dismissing the two officials just weeks before the museum’s opening struck some as strange timing.
Rep. Sidney Yates (D-Ill.), who is on the Holocaust council and also serves as chairman of the subcommittee that appropriates money for the museum, said he had heard there was pressure to replace Meyerhoff as council chairman.
“I’m told there is” pressure, Yates said Monday. But he said he did not know the source of the pressure.
“I anticipated he’d be replaced,” Yates said of Meyerhoff, “but I didn’t think it would happen so soon. There was no need for this kind of immediate replacement.”
Sources said that the White House also called off, or, at least, put on hold, a search for a new director for the museum.
The council had set up a search committee and hired an executive search firm to look for a replacement for the current director, Jeshajahu Weinberg, who came out of retirement to serve as director and is not expected to stay much longer in his post.
“Regardless of what the White House says, the search should continue,” said Yates, who is on the search committee.
Yates said the committee has been searching for “months,” and that one of the latest candidates under consideration for the director’s post was Washington-based scholar Walter Reich.