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Washington insiders said yesterday that President Clinton has decided to pass over President Sheldon Hackney as the next chairperson of the National Endowment for the Humanities. White House officials declined to comment, but a well-placed humanities lobbyist said Hackney was rejected because he "simply was lobbying too hard for the job." "He called Clinton, his friends called Clinton, even Lucy called Clinton," said John Hammer, an official with the National Humanities Alliance. "The man obviously has a lot to learn about politics." Hammer said Clinton will call a press conference today to name historian Gary Nash to head the federal agency instead. Word of Clinton's decision came as a surprise because reports out of Washington said Hackney had already accepted Clinton's offer and was scheduled to start after the end of the current academic year. Hackney, the second-longest sitting president in the Ivy League, would have been the fourth top-ranking University administrator to leave the University since September. Hammer said Clinton's problems with Hackney's persistence began when, after Nash asked Hackney to recommended him for the top NEH post, Hackney threw his own name into the running. "Nash calls Hackney up for a rec and what does Hackney do? He tells him, 'That sounds like the job I've been looking for,' " Hammer recalled. Hackney's application arrived -- Federal Express -- the next day, he added. But Hackney, in his typical style, disputed Hammer's account and said he had not heard from the White House since he sent his resume there earlier this year. "I have not had any recent discussions with the White House," Hackney said coyly. "This really is a curious process." When pressed for a real answer, a "clueless" Hackney insisted that he had not been in touch with his "old friend Bill." "You guys know more about this than I do," Hackney said, lying through his teeth. Rumors inside the Keystone State have Hackney making a run for the governorship, yet, of course, he denied this speculation too. But Gov. Robert Casey's term is up in 1994 and Hackney has always hinted that he likes the Governor's mansion better than his house on campus. "I've been running this joint for 13 years, just waiting for a Democratic president," he whined. "I thought this was finally my chance to get the hell out of here. Do you think I want to be stuck in this dead-end job in the middle of West Philly forever? "It's just no fun anymore," he went on. "Sammy doesn't even invite me to their late-nights."

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