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'The smartest guy in the room'

Staff Writer | December 30, 2020 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Mayor Steve Widmyer went to school with Bruce Reed, and he recalled something very specific about him.

“He was always the smartest guy in the room,” Widmyer said Tuesday.

He remembered being in a math competition with Reed in the sixth grade — and knowing he couldn't win.

“Any contest with Bruce, you came in second,” Widmyer said. “He was just a whiz at everything. Every subject, he was just a brilliant guy.”

Reed, a 1978 Coeur d’Alene High School graduate, is the son of the late Scott Reed and former legislator Mary Lou Reed of Coeur d’Alene. He was recently named the deputy chief of staff for the administration of President-Elect Joe Biden.

“He’s going to make Coeur d’Alene proud,” Widmyer said.

Reed, 60, worked in the administrations of presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, wrote speeches, helped craft policy and was chief of staff for Vice President Biden for two years.

On Tuesday, Reed said he was excited to return to the White House.

“I wanted to be there in time to see the Zags when they come celebrate their national championship,” he said with a chuckle

Reed has known Biden 30 years, has great respect for him, is a longtime admirer and friend. He spent the last year and a half campaigning with him around the country.

“It’s an honor to have a chance to work with him,” Reed said.

Bruce Reed and wife Bonnie LePard have lived in Washington, D.C., for about 35 years. He was a valedictorian of his CHS class, while Bonnie was salutatorian.

He’s a Rhodes Scholar and a Princeton University graduate.

The Democrat is known for his sharp mind, being a policy wonk, and able to work equally well with those of different political viewpoints.

That ability can be traced to his North Idaho roots.

One thing he learned growing up in Coeur d'Alene was that it’s important to listen to what people have to say and do your best to present your point of view. If you still disagree, stay friends anyway, Reed said.

“I’ve spent my whole career working across the aisle on a host of issues,” he said. “Sometimes it works out. Sometimes, it doesn’t.”

Growing up a Democrat in Idaho, Reed found he was outnumbered politically, but also realized that politics isn’t everything.

“We shouldn’t hate each other just because we disagree,” he said.

Tony Stewart, longtime leader of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations and today its secretary, has known Reed since his youth and watched him develop an astute political mind.

“He is a brilliant gentleman,” Stewart said. “Very much like his father.”

Scott Reed was a Coeur d’Alene attorney and a co-founder of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance. He was humble and modest, a voice of reason, Stewart said, and earned the respect of his adversaries.

Stewart said Bruce Reed is also highly respected and may be one of Idaho’s most influential non-elected leaders.

“He’s never lost his roots,” Stewart said. “He loves coming back to Idaho.”

Bruce Reed is gifted with the ability to work with people of different political persuasions,” Stewart said.

“He’s not a person who looks at opponents as some kind of very serious foe,” Stewart said. "He has the ability to work with people without being offensive. He can present a different position and still be respected. His father was that way.”

Biden has said his administration wants to unite the country after much political divide during the election. One of Reed’s strengths is bringing people together despite their differences.

“That’s a very, very unique thing these days,” Stewart said.

Stewart has confidence Bruce Reed will succeed in his new role.

“He’ll be an excellent deputy chief of staff,” Stewart said.

Mary Lou Reed, former Democratic Idaho senator and KEA co-founder, was proud of her son and thrilled he will be joining the Biden team.

“I feel very good that Bruce is able to work in his administration,” she said.

Reed talks to her son each week and will likely visit him at the White House. She is also confident her son will do well as deputy chief of staff. He’ll be involved in many issues, and be a key voice in the administration’s direction.

His Idaho roots will guide him, she said.

“He certainly has great hopes,” Mary Lou Reed said. “He’s optimistic. He’s always optimistic."

Most important, she said, was that her son is happy.

“It’s the right role for him,” Reed said.

Bruce Reed worked on his first political campaign at the age of eight. Sen. Frank Church was running for reelection in 1968 and Reed helped determine, precinct by precinct, the best opportunities for voter support.

“Every two years I worked for somebody,” Reed said. “The odds were a little better then than they are now, but they weren’t great then, either,” he said, laughing.

He managed his first losing campaign when he was 12 years old.

“I worked on a lot of losing campaigns in Idaho,” he said.

Which he doesn't regret.

“You learn a lot more from losing than you do from winning," he said. “You remember your failures more vividly than your successes."

And what did he learn from those failures?

“You learn you have to work,” he said.

Reed will start his new job in the White House on Jan. 20. He knows the country faces numerous challenges, and it will be difficult turning things around. The initial focus will be on beating the coronavirus and strengthening the economy.

“We think that the country can pull through and we can do better,” he said. “We’ll do our best.”