OAKLAND, Calif. — Dee Dee Myers, the first female White House press secretary in history and recently a top executive for Warner Bros., will become the chief economic and business adviser for California Gov. Gavin Newsom as he grapples with a pandemic-stricken economy.
Myers, 59, will start Friday as senior adviser to Newsom and director of the Goveror’s Office of Business and Economic Development, she said in an interview with POLITICO. She’s joining the governor’s office as not only California needs repair, but also Newsom’s reputation after he attended an expensive dinner with lobbyists last month that drew criticism as the state entered an unprecedented surge of coronavirus infections.
“There are challenges — but a lot of opportunities here,” Myers said of the state’s economic situation, adding that she’s eager “to get these businesses, and small businesses, back on their feet and provide resources and capital.”
Myers said she intends to advise the governor on California’s vaccine rollout as part of her work with the business community.
“Job One is distributing that vaccine,” she said. “My role in that will be helping to facilitate recovery and helping businesses through that, while keeping an eye on the big picture … helping to advance the governor’s agenda on both those tracks.”
Myers became nationally famous as the White House press secretary for the first two years of President Bill Clinton’s tenure, breaking a gender barrier. She later served as a consultant for The West Wing television series, during which the press secretary C.J. Cregg is said to have been partly based on her Clinton role.
She is familiar with California politics, however. Before working for Clinton, Myers cut her teeth working for state Sen. Art Torres, as well as for Los Angeles Mayor and 1986 gubernatorial candidate Tom Bradley. She also served as press secretary on Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s 1990 gubernatorial campaign.
The Newsom economic post was previously held by Lenny Mendonca, who served as Newsom’s point person in California’s divergent corporate and business community. Mendonca departed in April and explained to CalMatters that he had been suffering from anxiety and depression. But the abrupt departure of the experienced business leader left a major gap in Newsom’s administration as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.
Myers’ move to Newsom’s inner circle adds a seasoned adviser with a national profile on networks and cable TV. Her presence in Newsom’s office — known as the “Horseshoe” — also could shore up an administration that has seen high-level departures this year. They include the exits of communications director Daniel Zingale and legislative director Anthony Williams, as well as the impending departure of chief of staff Ann O’Leary, as reported by POLITICO.
The communications veteran’s background could also help Newsom rebound after political gaffes like his French Laundry birthday dinner with lobbyists, as well as overcome criticism and resentment from business interests who say his stay-at-home orders may permanently force thousands of California restaurants, nail salons and small retailers out of business.
Myers no longer works for Warner Bros., but she sits on the board of Wynn Resorts, the Nevada-based conglomerate of restaurants, hotel, hospitality and gambling interests. She received $408,156 in compensation last year for sitting on the Wynn board. Myers said she will retain her Wynn position.
She volunteered earlier this year to assist Newsom with crisis communications and strategy after working with O’Leary on the governor’s Business and Jobs Recovery Task Force, which recently dissolved. Myers plans to remain in Los Angeles while working for Newsom.
Myers said she believes “there is a light at the end of the tunnel” as she settles in for the long run. Even with a pile of pressing economic and social problems related to the pandemic, she noted that President-elect Joe Biden will take office in weeks and a vaccine is on the way.
For five years until February, she served as executive vice president for worldwide corporate communications and public affairs at Warner Brothers, one of the world’s “big five” movie studios.
As a member of the executive committee and a close adviser to the CEO of Warner Brothers, Myers helped the movie giant navigate some consequential upheavals. Those included the studio’s merger with AT&T, the end of Warner Bros CEO Kevin Tsujihara’s tenure following misconduct allegations,and the installment of new CEO Ann Sarnoff.
She was raised in California and, like Newsom, graduated from Santa Clara University. She said she relishes the opportunity to work alongside Newsom, whom she’s known for years.
“He’s really smart … he’s a big and creative thinker, and I find that very energizing, to think about what’s possible,” she said. “He really understands, I think, the innovation economy and the potential of the innovation economy.”