Roger Ferguson could be President Obama's Goldilocks candidate for Federal Reserve Board chairman.
Someone not too hot (Larry Summers) or too cold (Janet Yellen.) Someone just right.
Ferguson has been a Fed insider like Yellen, serving as vice chairman from 1999 to 2006, and, like Summers, holds a PhD from Harvard. As chief executive of TIAA-CREF since 2008, Ferguson has seen the financial markets up close and personal. Last year he led a tough Group of 30 analysis of corporate governance at financial companies.
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Ferguson's name surfaced last spring when folks started focusing on the fact that Ben Bernanke's second, four-year term as Fed chairman would end on Jan. 31, 2014.
The New York Times floated Ferguson as a possible successor to Bernanke in late April. Even earlier, Neil Irwin of the Washington Post laid out the possible candidates and concluded Ferguson ranked third behind Yellen and Summers.
But Ferguson faded as the alternative candidate to Yellen and Summers, once Obama mentioned Don Kohn, another former Fed vice chair, in a private meeting with Democrats. The 40-year Fed veteran retired in 2010 and is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a member of the Bank of England's Financial Policy Committee.
But Kohn will turn 71 in November, which puts him on the old end of the spectrum of candidates. Ferguson is a decade younger. (Yellen just turned 68 and Summers is 58.)
Summers joined the Obama administration at its start and served as director of the National Economic Council for two years. The White House seems determined to nominate him, even taking the unusual step recently of telling his critics to back off.
The administration may want someone from "their team" at the Fed's helm for the last years of Obama's presidency - the period that's likely to form his legacy.
Economic growth is a key factor in any president's popularity and the White House is right to conclude that the Fed chair will play a crucial role as the central bank unwinds its easy-money policies.
But getting Summers confirmed will cost the White House. It's impossible to predict the deal's specifics, but it won't come cheap. Summers has enough adversaries on the Hill and Yellen has plenty of allies.
It could still happen, but it won't be easy.
Personally, I'm still pulling for Yellen. She's clearly qualified and the first female Fed chair would be a big deal. Many women in the Senate agree, and that's where this confirmation battle will take place.
But I have to admit Yellen hasn't done herself many favors since this contest heated up. She declined to talk to the Wall Street Journal when it profiled her and decisions like that create a vacuum that others' opinions then fill.
People are questioning whether she's a "real leader," whether she is "dynamic" enough. It's sad but true, like too many women, Yellen is not much of a self-promoter. Of course, this has little to do with how she'd do the job, but it does factor into landing it.
If Obama doesn't nominate the first female Fed chair, then he could nominate the first African-American one in Ferguson.
The Old Boys Club will never be disbanded if leaders like Obama don't seize opportunities like this one.