The Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration and longtime Los Angeles civic leader and Democratic politics figure died Friday at home of complications from bladder and kidney cancer, said the law firm O'Melveny & Myers. Christopher was senior partner at the firm and its former chairman. President Jimmy Carter called him "the best public servant I ever knew." From the L.A. Times obituary by Elaine Woo:
As deputy secretary of State in the Carter administration, he played a pivotal role in securing the release of the Americans held hostage in Iran. As secretary of State for President Clinton, he kept warring parties at the table during the Dayton, Ohio, peace talks between the Bosnians and Serbs. After returning to private life, he served as Vice President Al Gore's emissary in the Florida vote recount that settled the disputed 2000 presidential election.
When Los Angeles fractured along racial lines after the 1991 police beating of Rodney G. King, Christopher was drafted to head the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department, which quickly became known as the Christopher Commission. Under his leadership, the 100-day inquiry produced a plan for the department's overhaul, including a strong call to replace Chief Daryl F. Gates, who later resigned.
The unity of the commission -- which included members selected by Gates and his main antagonist, Mayor Tom Bradley -- was in large measure a testament to its self-effacing chairman, whose quiet diplomacy produced results.
"Most talking is not glamorous," he once said. "Often it is tedious. It can be excruciating and exhausting. But talking can also tame conflict, lift the human condition, and move us close to the ideal of peace."
Born in Scranton, North Dakota, Christopher attended Hollywood High School and graduated from USC and Stanford Law. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas and began in politics as a part-time researcher and speechwriter for then-California Atty. Gen. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, who was running for governor. In 1965 Christopher was vice chairman of the McCone Commission that reported on the causes of the Watts riots in Los Angeles.
From the New York Times online obit:
Methodical and self-effacing, Mr. Christopher alternated for nearly five decades between top echelons of both the federal government and legal and political life in California. He served as the Carter administration’s point man with Congress in winning ratification of the Panama Canal treaties, presided over the normalization of diplomatic relations with China and conducted repeated negotiations involving the Middle East and the Balkans.
Though widely admired for his even-handedness and equanimity — he was once described as every husband’s ideal for a wife’s divorce lawyer — Mr. Christopher was also criticized as lacking passionate, big-picture diplomatic vision. Even friends and associates, to whom he was known as Chris or sometimes as “the Cardinal,” said they could not discern a guiding geopolitical philosophy, regarding him as more a consummate tactician than as a conceptualizer.
Christopher's books include "In the Stream of History: Shaping Foreign Policy for a New Era" (Stanford University Press, 1998), and "Chances of a Lifetime" (Scribner, 2001).