In late January 2002, when a group of RPCV (myself included) heard that President Bush had appointed Gaddi H. Vasquez as the next Peace Corps Director, we began a protest against the appointment and rallied support from across the country from other RPCVs as well as former Directors, like Jack Hood Vaughn, a Republican.
There were many concerns about Gaddie, beyond the fact that he had had never been a PCV, and the general sentiment was that now in the fullness of time, only a qualified RPCV should be appointed as director of the Peace Corps. There were certainly enough qualified RPCVs for the job.
Gaddie’s father had immigrated from Mexico, but Gaddie was born on this side of the border, in Texas. (Gaddie was very proud–and rightly so–of his upbringing and kept a photo of his Dad on his Peace Corps Director Desk.) He talked a lot about how he had grown up in a “poor third-world environment in” California, poor as his family was. That was his Peace Corps “experience” he said. The Peace Corps, however, is well known to have more than its share of “poor” first generation kids who grew up to become PCVs. Not Gaddi. And in the fullness of time, he forgot his roots and became a Republican.
But first, he became a cop! This is a very traditional role for first-generation kids. (I have enough cops in my extended family to understand that progression.) Gaddie went to work for the city of Orange, in California and then advanced up the political ladder in the country, only to resign when Orange County went bankrupt. He then rallied Hispanics against Dukakis, saying that while Dukakis spoke Spanish, he “didn’t speak our language. Vote Republican!”
Gaddi then gave $100,000 to Bush’s campaign and as paid off Bush appointed him director of the Peace Corps. That’s when the resistance from the RPCV Community began. The guy bought the job. (Not that he was the first in Washington to do so.) We managed to get editorialized against his nomination from
We managed to get editorialized against his nomination from The Lost Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post and New York Times. RPCVs signed a petition opposing his nomination. Dick Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64) detailed in one of his newspaper columns two reasons why Gaddi shouldn’t be appointed.
Lipez wrote: “It’s hard to imagine a worse choice to manage an agency with a budget of $275 million. In his only public office, as an Orange County, California supervisor, Mr. Vasquez barely escaped prosecution after the County was bankrupted in a scandal involving fraudulently invested securities. Not quite a crook, according to the SEC, Mr. Vasquez was merely incompetent and clueless. He resigned his office in disgrace just ahead of a 1995 recall campaign, and since then has involved himself in power-company PR work and Republican politics.
“In Orange County, Mr. Vasquez twice voted to deny housing rights and job protection to people with HIV/AIDS. Orange County was the only urban county in the state to reject such protections. A sizeable part of the work now performed by the Peace Corps involves AIDS education and prevention, especially in Africa. Mr. Vasquez is obviously not the man for that job, either.”
This housing and job vote was from a guy who talked endlessly how poor he was growing up in Texas and California.
Having spearheaded the attempt to stop the nomination, I was getting telephone calls from every one, two from the Washington Post (have no idea how they got my phone number). Ruth Marcus and Michael Isikoff both called me at my office at The College of New Rochelle wanting to know why I was leading a campaign against Gaddi and what ‘dirt’ did I have on him. I had no ‘dirt’ on Gaddi, except that he wasn’t an RPCV. That was enough for me. But not, of course, that important to the Washington Post.
With former Director Jack Hood Vaughn, I appeared at a Congressional Heading chaired by Chris Dodd (The Dominican Republic 1966-68) to make a case not just against Gaddi, but for an RPCV to be named director. Vasquez, however, cleared the United States Senate Foreign Relations committee by a vote of 14-4. This was the first time that had been dissent on a Congressional vote for the position of Peace Corps Director. Gaddi was then accepted by the full Senate on a voice vote. (Of course, so no Senator had his name tagged with a vote.)
It would not be an easy time for Vasquez at HQ, given the war in Iraq and the protests by RPCVs and PCVs in-country. For example, a group of 60-70 Volunteers in the Dominican Republica planned an anti-Iraq War protest to be held outside the American Embassy in Santo Domingo. They were warned not to do it by in-country staff, risked being kicked out of the country. Three Volunteers did protest and nothing happened to them. (For more details check out Peace Corps Chronology 1961-2010 by Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras 1975-77).
Gaddi would be Peace Corps Director from January 23, 2002, until September 7, 2006. He would leave the Peace Corps to become the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, assigned to Rome, Italy. My guess is that he saw living in Rome as his ‘real’ Peace Corps tour.
Controversy over appointment as Director
Appointed as Director of Peace Corps under George W. Bush, Vasquez had donated $100,000 to Bush’s campaignand was criticized by former Volunteers for lacking experience with, or previous membership in, Peace Corps. The Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post  and New York Times editorialized against Vasquez’s nomination and returned Peace Corps volunteers signed a petition opposing his nomination. However Vasquez cleared the United States Senate Foreign Relations committee by a vote of 14-4, and was accepted in the full Senate on a voice vote.
Accomplishments as Director
Vasquez’s major initiatives and accomplishments as Peace Corps Director include: an agreement with Mexico in 2003 to host volunteers, emphasis on recruitment of minorities and of community college graduates, upgrading Peace Corps’ infrastructure, especially IT upgrades in the online application tracking process, the Volunteer Delivery System, an emphasis on safety and security of volunteers (including the creation of a Situation Room at Peace Corps Headquarters), modifying Peace Corps’ “Five Year Rule” for employment, and the expansion of the Peace Corps to one of its highest levels in 30 years.Vasquez visited 60 countries during his tenure as Director, meeting with volunteers in the field to advance the agency’s mission and goals of promoting world peace and friendship.
Gaddi Holguin Vasquez (born January 22, 1955) was the 8th United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, in Rome, Italy. He was nominated by President George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate on June 29, 2006. Vasquez was sworn into office on September 7, 2006, by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and served in the position until 2009. Prior to that, he was the first person of Hispanic ancestry to head the Peace Corps.