KANTOR, MICHAEL ("Mickey"; 1939– ), U.S. lawyer and lobbyist. Kantor was U.S. representative to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and then as secretary of commerce in the Clinton administration served as a staunch advocate of free trade and a tireless foe of restrictive trade barriers abroad. The scion of Nashville-based furniture retailers, Kantor attended Vanderbilt University, where he became a star shortstop for the baseball squad. Graduating in 1961, Kantor served four years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, later studying law at Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated in 1968. In 1972, he worked as a staff coordinator for vice presidential candidate R. Sargent Shriver during George McGovern's unsuccessful bid for office. After representing migrant farm groups as an anti-poverty lawyer and founding the Los Angeles Conservation Corps in 1973, Kantor managed Senator (D-California) Alan Cranston's reelection. In 1976, Kantor joined the Los Angeles lobbying firm of Manatt, Phelps, Phillips & Kantor, where he represented entertainment industry clients such as the U.S. National Cable Television Association as well as companies such as Occidental Petroleum, Lockheed, Philip Morris, and General Electric. Kantor specialized in securing market access and growing foreign markets through trade, direct investment, joint ventures, and strategic business alliances. Failure to repeat his success in ensuing political campaigns did not prevent Kantor, a friend of Hillary Clinton and an apt fundraiser and political dealmaker, from helping Bill Clinton secure the Democratic Party nomination and the presidency in 1992. Named to the Clinton transition team, Kantor became U.S. representative to the WTO in January 1993, a position he held until 1996, when he took over as commerce secretary after the death of Ron Brown in an airplane crash. Kantor left the Cabinet in 1997, involving himself in Clinton's efforts to fend off impeachment. That year, Kantor joined Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw, LLP, a Washington-based legal firm specializing in global project finance, and Morgan & Stanley Co. Inc. as a senior advisor. After a year's hiatus from politics, he lobbied on behalf of the American wheat industry and other major clients.
Described as "gruff," "prodigiously tempered," and possessing the "tact of a pit bull," Kantor traumatized the international community, alternately charming and browbeating counterparts and governments from Canada and Mexico to China and Japan. During negotiations with Japan on behalf of American automakers, Kantor presented his opposite number, Ryutaro Hashimoto, a kendo martial-arts sword symbolizing courage, honesty, integrity, and patience. Hashimoto, who would become Japan's prime minister, is reputed to have feared that Kantor might use it on him, declaring that "He's scarier than my wife when I come home drunk." As Clinton's trade enforcer, however, Kantor proved unusually successful, negotiating hundreds of trade agreements that generated close to $100 billion in contracts for U.S. businesses. Kantor's achievements were offset by several personal tragedies, including the loss of his wife in a passenger-jet crash in 1978, and of a 17-year-old son in a car accident ten years later. He has two grown children and a nine-year-old daughter by his second wife, former NBC reporter Heidi Schulman.