Passing the torch is an important part of politics. It’s a fact that nobody can remain in office forever, and leaving a legacy that you’re proud of is a stated goal of many career politicians. Not every move will be popular, though, and that is a fact that nearly every politician has stumbled on at least once during their careers. 

A Beginning in the 80’s

John Kerry has found himself on the short end of public opinion multiple times over his lengthy political career. Kerry first got into politics in 1985, when he served in the United States Senate for the state of Massachusetts. He remained in that role until 2013, with a brief stint as the Democratic nominee for president in 2004. 

Source: American University of Central Asia

After his tenure in the Senate, Kerry moved on to serve as the United States secretary of state from 2013 to 2017 in the administration of Barack Obama. Kerry remained active in public affairs during the Trump administration, becoming a vocal opponent to the president before he left office in 2021. 

Returning With Biden

Kerry returned to government again in January of 2021, becoming the first person to hold the new position of U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, under President Joe Biden. This follows some of the duties that Kerry held in the Obama administration, where he signed the Paris Agreement on climate change on behalf of the United States in 2015. 

Source: Wikimedia/Office of U.S. Climate Envoy

An envoy for the United States, Kerry worked with multiple other countries on climate change policies. These countries include China, India, and the Middle East. The goal of this work was to help these other countries meet emissions goals and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, with some limited success.

A Long and Storied Political Career

Kerry’s political career is a long and storied one, with an admirable military history from before he ever entered politics. The 80-year-old has made a significant impact in his nearly 40 years in politics, and it doesn’t appear that he will be backing down anytime soon. 

Source: Wikimedia/Office of U.S. Climate Envoy

In January of 2024, sources close to Kerry revealed that he was going to be stepping down from his position as climate change envoy in order to work with the 2024 Biden presidential campaign. Biden and Kerry have worked together for many decades, going all the way back to both men’s time in the United States senate, and this is a logical continuation of their political partnership. 

Making Waves on the Way Out

However, Kerry is not leaving his position without having made some waves. The envoy on climate change, since its inception, has worked relatively quietly, and under the radar. 

Source: Wikimedia/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

Sources close to Kerry state that this is because the man has always preferred to be a little more private, and that tendency extends to his professional and political lives as well. As a courtesy, Kerry has also extended this privacy to the employees who have worked with him in the office, and has never made public the names of individuals working with him in the envoy on climate change. 

Ruffling Feathers

This is a fact that has ruffled some feathers across the country, particularly on the parts of conservatives. Some have come out against him, stating that Kerry is acting “shady” by keeping the names of his employees quiet when they work for a public office. 

Source: Wikimedia/U.S. Department of State

The Boston Herald even went so far as to file a Freedom of Information Act request to gain the information. FOIA is a federal freedom of information law that requires the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased or uncirculated information and documents controlled by the U.S. government upon request. 

Ignoring an FOIA Request

FOIA was intended to make United States government agencies’ functions more transparent, so that the American public could more easily identify problems in government functioning. The act has been repeatedly changed in the years since it was first implemented by both legislative and executive branches, changing what information it applies to and how an application must be put in. 

Source: Wikimedia/Office of U.S. Climate Envoy

The FOIA request was filed on the part of the Herald in July of 2022, and Kerry chose to ignore the request. The State Department, when asked, said that the records were available, but added, “The Office of Information Programs and Services’ electronic records systems indicates this request is in process and has an estimated date of completion (EDC) of Oct. 1, 2024.”

An Outright Dismissal

Many have criticized the Biden administration for the choice to ignore the FOIA request. Biden has built a significant part of his platform around transparency of government, and conservatives have pointed to Kerry’s office as an example of Biden’s alleged hypocrisy.

Source: Wikimedia/Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äusseres

When contacted regarding the FOIA request after the announcement that Kerry would be leaving the envoy, Kerry informed the Herald in a “final” response that the full identity of his office staff would never be released.

The FOIA Request Updated

“This action closes your request in this office,” he stated, via the State Department’s Statutory and Compliance Division. 

Source: Wikimedia/Prime Minister’s Office, Government of India

After this statement was released, though, the FOIA request was updated. Six names of office employees were added to the request, of the 27 employees who work in the office. These names only came after the Herald pointed out that two of them were already on Kerry’s climate change website.

An Annual Payroll of Millions

Kerry’s office, in public payroll records, has revealed an annual payroll of $4.3 million. This is a significant amount of money, and many conservatives have made a racket over finding out who is being paid what in the office, to ensure transparency of allocation of taxpayer dollars.

Source: Wikimedia/Office of U.S. Climate Envoy

However, after being shut down yet again, Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect the Public’s Trust, told the Herald that Kerry was being contemptuous in his refusal.

“Naked Contempt for Taxpayers

“This combination of secrecy and arrogance has been the hallmark of this powerful State Department unit,” he said. “To suggest it would be a violation of privacy to name the Director of Communications, for example – a person making more than $180,000 per year to, ironically, craft public messaging – shows naked contempt for taxpayers.”

Source: Wikimedia/The White House from Washington, DC

He finished, “The American public funds the paycheck of every person in this office, and they’re entitled to know whom they’re paying and what for.”

Titles and Data Included

The 27 entries on the payroll paperwork include brief titles for the office employees. Some of the titles include “policy analyst” and “senior advisor,” and bi-weekly pay data is included next to the rather vague titles.

Source: Wikimedia/Scottish Government

Those that have since been named after the FOIA request was updated are Rick Due and Sue Biniaz, deputy special envoys; Elliot Diringer, senior policy advisor; Leonardo Martinez, senior advisor; and David Livingston and Jesse Dylan Young, policy analysts.

A Hypocritical Omission

The final letter to the Herald from the State Department’s Statutory and Compliance Division states that posting the names of all the federal employees “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual’s personal privacy.”

Source: Wikimedia/Scottish Government

Conservatives have pointed out that that particular standard didn’t stop former Labor Secretary Marty Walsh from sharing his staff names, titles, and pay last summer. Walsh, who was the former mayor of Boston, earned $203,100 as the Labor Secretary.

Unclear Who Will Lead the Charge Next

Kerry has been criticized for being secretive and quiet in his role in the State Department since he was appointed to the office in 2021. He has stated that he only reports to President Biden in his role, a comment that only informs the future now that it’s public information that Kerry will be working with Biden’s campaign.

Source: Wikimedia/U.S. Department of State from United States

It’s unclear who will take Kerry’s position in the State Department now that he’s leaving. It’s possible that one of his still-anonymous employees will be chosen to take the leadership role now that Kerry is stepping away, and it’s also possible that they’ll bring in someone entirely new. Either way, the position is an important one, and Kerry is leaving the office to fulfill an even bigger role in the 2024 Biden campaign.