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Meet Janet Napolitano, a Mountain-Climbing, Peeps-Loving Ex-Prosecutor

Posted Apr 22, 2010 8:41 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Many TV viewers know Janet Napolitano for her gaffe as she spoke about the would-be underwear bomber who was tackled on a Christmas Day flight. In two interviews, the Homeland Security secretary said authorities had things under control after the bomb failed to detonate. But in the third, she shortened her response to say “the system worked”—a sound bite played over and over again.

But since the much-ridiculed flub, Napolitano has used the bombing incident to seek more cooperation on airline security from other countries and has “re-emerged as one of the strongest members of the Obama Cabinet,” the Washington Post reports in a profile. Not only is Napolitano on the so-called short list of potential Supreme Court nominees, she is also a possible candidate for attorney general, if the position were to become available, the story says. Some see the former Arizona governor as presidential material.

“How Napolitano, 52, won over hard-to-please heavyweights while managing the most unwieldy department in Washington is a testament to her relentless persona,” the Post says. “The tough and stocky former prosecutor once climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and even delivered her speech at the 2000 Democratic convention three weeks after a mastectomy.”

Napolitano is described as hard-charging and tough, and is known to confront aides about mistakes, the story says. But she has kept her aides for life, possibly because of her penchant for gift-giving or her "offbeat sensibility," the story says. On a recent trip to Spain, she stopped inside a scarf store to buy a present for her assistant of 11 years. On the same trip, she also serenaded her entourage at dinner and posed beside a museum portrait of an angry-looking dwarf.

Napolitano has a “wry sense of humor,” an “encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture,” a passion for Peeps candy, and a love of song, the story says. The Post tells of her mock double take after being told that some of her aides describe her as unflappable, almost Zen, under pressure.

"Did you say 'thin?' " she asked the reporter, laughing.

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