Maria Eitel, president of the Nike Foundation, has withdrawn her name from consideration as CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), White House officials confirmed today.
An e-mail sent by the acting CEO of the corporation, Nicola Goren, said Eitel has a “previously unknown health condition.” The nature of the condition was not disclosed.
Sources close to the selection process said that the White House was surprised by the withdrawal and that Eitel is “very disappointed” that she would not be able to take the post.
President Barack Obama announced his selection of Eitel, who is also a vice president of Nike, on April 21, the same day he signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009, which authorizes the corporation’s major program, AmeriCorps, to triple in size by 2017.
Eitel is the latest in a string of high-profile nominees to withdraw before or during the confirmation process – foremost among them former Sen. Tom Daschle, who withdrew as the proposed secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Eitel’s withdrawl was kept unusually low-key. Goren’s e-mail went out at 4:45 on the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day to a small group of people involved in AmeriCorps. CNCS did not return phone calls Tuesday morning to confirm the development. Also on Tuesday morning, a spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said her office had not been notified. Mikulski has been leading the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will handle the CNCS nomination, in the absence of ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy.
First Lady Michelle Obama’s office, which had been fielding questions about the Eitel nomination, had not released any information about the withdrawal by midday.
A source familiar with the selection process said the process is likely to begin anew, rather than the White House choosing another name from its original list.
A spokeswoman for Nike said this afternoon that Eitel is not granting interviews and will not issue a statement. “We are extremely pleased Maria will remain at Nike,” said the spokeswoman, Ilana Finley.
Eitel, 46, was considered an unusual choice because she was not well known in the public service field or in the foundation area, and there were questions about whether she had the management skills to lead CNCS, whose budget is expected to rise from the current $1.9 billion to about $6 billion over the next five years.
Youth Today’s June issue, published just before word got out about the withdrawal, includes an article about Eitel’s ability to lead CNCS and how she was chosen.
Eitel’s primary background is in public relations, and some sources who are familiar with her work said she would need a strong number two person in the agency to complement what some described as her “unorganized” management style.
At the same time, numerous public service advocates, including Shirley Sagawa, director of AmeriCorps under President Bill Clinton, Alan Khazei, co-founder of City Year, and Peter Edelman, a Georgetown law professor and head of the New York State Division for Youth under Gov. Hugh Carey in the 1970s, had been mentioned as the corporation’s possible CEO.
Other questions about Eitel’s background were expected to arise at her confirmation hearing, especially her role as Nike’s vice president for corporate responsibility in association with Nike’s workers and working conditions in Third World countries and creation of the Global Alliance for Workers in Communities.
Jim Keady, co-director of Educating for Justice based in Asbury Park, N.J., described the Global Alliance and Eitel’s work with it as “being one of the biggest cover-ups of labor rights abuses in the history of the world.” He had called her appointment “disappointing,” and said she epitomizes the disconnect between what people say and what they do.
“What she did at Nike sounds great, but did not have any substance,” said Keady. He said Nike workers, especially those in Indonesia, are still not paid living wages and are subject to sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions.
As head of the Nike Foundation, Eitel is widely credited with creating and pushing “the girl effect,” which is based on the premise that to educate a girl is to raise the standard of an impoverished community, because her education will result in declining fertility, better jobs, better health and better nutrition for succeeding generations.
The Nike Foundation made grants totaling $11.9 million during the 12 months that ended May 2008, according to its federal tax returns. (Nike itself had $18.6 billion in sales during the same period, according to its financial statements.) Most of the foundation money is spent overseas – “exactly where Nike is the worst offender,” said one critic who asked not to be named.
Nike Foundation has announced it will put up $55 million and that the NoVo Foundation, co-founded by Peter (son of Warren) and his wife Jennifer Buffett, will contribute $45 million to expand further “the girl effect.”