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John Sununu

John Sununu

John Henry Sununu (born July 2, 1939) served as the 75th Governor of New Hampshire (1983–89) and later White House Chief of Staff under President George H. W. Bush. He is the father of Christopher Sununu and John E. Sununu, a formerUnited States Senator from New Hampshire. Sununu was the chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party from 2009 to 2011.

Early life

Sununu was born in HavanaCuba, the son of Victoria (née Dada) and John Saleh Sununu, an international film distributor.[1] His father’s family came to the United States from the Middle East at the turn of the century. His paternal ancestry is Palestinian from the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem community in Jerusalem. His father, John, was born in Boston. Most of the last two generations of Sununus were also born in the United States. Sununu’s mother, Victoria Dada, was born in El Salvador. Her family was Greek Orthodox Christian and settled in Central America at the turn of the century. Most of his closest relatives in Beirut have died, including an uncle who returned to the Lebanese capital from the United States several years ago. The Governor paid his last visit to Beirut as a child in the late 1940s.[2]

He earned a bachelor of science degree in 1961, a master of science degree in 1963, and a Ph.D. in 1966 from theMassachusetts Institute of Technology, all in mechanical engineering. Sununu scored a perfect 1600 on his SATs. He is a member of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.

From 1968 until 1973, he was Associate Dean of the College of Engineering at Tufts University and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering. He served on the Advisory Board of the Technology and Policy Program at MIT from 1984 until 1989.

Republican, Sununu served in the New Hampshire House of Representatives from 1973 to 1975.


Sununu became New Hampshire‘s 75th Governor on January 6, 1983, and served three consecutive terms. He served as chairman of the Coalition of Northeastern Governors, the Republican Governors Association and, in 1987, the National Governors Association.

White House Chief of Staff

Sununu was the first White House Chief of Staff for George H. W. Bush, serving from 1989 to 1991.

Sununu is considered to have engineered Bush’s mid-term abandonment of his 1988 campaign promise of “no new taxes”.[3]

Sununu is responsible for recommending David Souter to President George H. W. Bush for appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States, at the behest of New Hampshire senator Warren RudmanThe Wall Street Journal described the events leading up to the appointment of the “liberal jurist” in a 2000 editorial, saying Rudman in his “Yankee Republican liberalism” took “pride in recounting how he sold Mr. Souter to gullible White House chief of staff John Sununu as a confirmable conservative. Then they both sold the judge to President Bush, who wanted above all else to avoid a confirmation battle [after Robert Bork].”[4] Rudman wrote in his memoir that he had “suspected all along” that Souter would not “overturn activist liberal precedents.”[5] Sununu later said that he had “a lot of disappointment” about Souter’s positions on the Court and would have preferred him to be more similar to Justice Antonin Scalia.[5]

 President Bush speaks on the telephone regarding Operation Just Cause with Sununu and Brent Scowcroft, 1989.

Time magazine dubbed Sununu “Bush’s Bad Cop” on the front cover on May 21, 1990.[6]

At the recommendation of George W. Bush,[7] Sununu resigned his White House post on December 4, 1991.[8][9]


Sununu co-hosted CNN‘s nightly Crossfire from March 1992 until February 1998.


From 1963 until 1983, he served as President of JHS Engineering Company and Thermal Research Inc. In addition, he helped establish and served as chief engineer for Astro Dynamics Inc. from 1960 until 1965.

Sununu is President of JHS Associates, Ltd. and is a partner in Trinity International Partners, a private financial firm.

Sununu is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a member of the Board of Trustees for the George (H.W.) Bush Presidential Library Foundation.

He is also a member of Honorary Council of Advisors for U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce (USACC).[10]

Personal life

He is married to the former Nancy Hayes, and they have eight children, including former U.S. Senator John E. Sununu. In recent years, he moved to Hampton Falls, New Hampshire. He and his wife were subsequently elected as the town’s honorary hog reeves and poundkeepers.[11] The title is usually given to an unsuspecting newcomer each year. The Sununus had recently moved from Salem to Hampton Falls to be closer to relatives.

Sununu’s daughter Cathy is the president of the Portsmouth Museum of Art in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.[12]

Sununu has met the eligibility requirements for the Mega Society, the world’s most exclusive high-IQ society, which accepts only those who score in the 99.9999th percentile on IQ tests (Mensa, the world’s largest high IQ society, accepts scores in the 98th percentile).[13]


Sununu angered some when he was the only governor of a U.S. state not to call for repeal of the controversial UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 (“Zionism is Racism”). He later reversed his position on this issue and supported the Republicans’ pro-Israel 1988 platform.[14]

As White House Chief of Staff, Sununu reportedly took personal trips, for skiing and other purposes, and classified them as official, for purposes such as conservation or promoting the Thousand Points of Light.[15] The Washington Post wrote that Sununu’s jets “took him to fat-cat Republican fund-raisers, ski lodges, golf resorts and even his dentist in Boston.”[15] Sununu had paid the government only $892 for his more than $615,000 worth of military jet travel.[16] Sununu said that his use of the jets was necessary because he had to be near a telephone at all times for reasons of national security.[17] Sununu became the subject of much late-night television humor over the incident.[15] Sununu worsened the situation shortly afterwards when, after leaking rumors of financial difficulties in his family, he traveled to a rare stamp auction atChristie’s auction house in New York City from Washington in a government limousine, spending $5,000 on rare stamps.[18] Sununu then sent the car and driver back to Washington unoccupied while he returned on a corporate jet.[18] In the course of one week, 45 newspapers ran editorials on Sununu, nearly all of them critical of his actions.[19] Sununu resigned his White House post on December 4, 1991.

Sununu repaid over $47,000 to the government for the flights on the orders of White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, with the help of the Republican Party.[20] However, the reimbursements were at commercial rates, which are about one-tenth the cost of the actual flights; one ski trip to Vail, Colorado alone had cost taxpayers $86,330.[21]

In pop culture

In the 1991 police comedy film The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear, Sununu is played by Peter Van Norden.[22]

In January 1995, John Sununu made a cameo appearance on the first episode of the Delta Burke CBS sitcom, Women of the House, titled “Miss Sugarbaker Goes to Washington”. In the episode, Suzanne Sugarbaker is a guest on the CNN political program, CrossfireMichael Kinsley also appears.

In the 1996 film Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, a clip (from This Island Earth) of a jet plane prompts Tom Servo to quip, “John Sununu goes for a haircut.”

Sununu is also referenced in the Family Guy episode “A Picture Is Worth a 1,000 Bucks“.


  1. Jump up^ 1
  2. Jump up^ “Behind the Sununu Surname”The New York Times. November 21, 1988. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
  3. Jump up^ York, Byron (December 10, 2011). “Read-my-lips feud returns in Romney-Gingrich fight” Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  4. Jump up^ “Chief Justice Souter?”. Wall Street Journal. February 29, 2000.
  5. Jump up to:a b Tinsley E. Yarbrough (2005). “David Hackett Souter: Traditional Republican on the Rehnquist Court”. Oxford University Press. Retrieved June 27, 2008.
  6. Jump up^ “Bush’s Bad Cop”
  7. Jump up^ Bush, George W. (2010). Decision PointsCrown. pp. 81–82. ISBN 978-0-307-59061-9.
  8. Jump up^ NY Times (xx 1991) “Sununu as Symbol; Departure of Embattled Chief of Staff Removes Convenient Target of Critics”
  9. Jump up^ Rosenthal, Andrew (December 4, 1991). “SUNUNU RESIGNS UNDER FIRE AS CHIEF AIDE TO PRESIDENT; CITES FEAR OF HURTING BUSH” Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  10. Jump up^ “USACC. Brent Scowcroft”. Retrieved April 22, 2010.
  11. Jump up^ Morse, Susan. “From governor to hog reeve“. Portsmouth Herald. March 25, 2007
  12. Jump up^ McQuaid, Cate (July 2, 2010). “On the waterfront New Hampshire museum’s dazzling if uneven exhibit is a sprawling take on contemporary art, ‘At the Edge’”.The Boston Globe. Retrieved July 2, 2010.
  13. Jump up^ Chotzinoff, Robin (November 20–26, 1985). “It This the Smartest Man in America?”. Westword. Thompson, D (July 5, 1986). “Marilyn’s Most Vital Statistic”. Courier-Mail (Australia). Seipp, Catherine (November 1987). “Brains – They’re the smartest people in L.A.”. Los Angeles (magazine). pp. 210–216. Anderson, Jack; Dale Van Atta (November 28, 1988). “Is 176 I.Q. Enough for White House?”. Washington Post. Baumgold, Julie (February 6, 1989). “In the Kingdom of the Brain”. New York Magazine. Morris, Scot; Ronald K. Hoeflin (April 1990). “Mind Games: the hardest IQ test you’ll ever love suffering through”. Omni magazine. pp. 90 ff. Lichfield, John (June 30, 1991). “Profile: Fat Man on a Jet Plane: John Sununu”. The Independent (London). pp. 23. Derfner, Larry (August 8, 2003). “It smarts!”. The Jerusalem Post. p. 5. Sager, Mike (November 1999). “The Smartest Man in America”. Esquire (magazine). pp. 143ff. Retrieved September 23, 2009. “Introduction to the Hoeflin Tests”. Retrieved July 29, 2006.
  14. Jump up^ Duffy, Michael; Goodgame, Dan (November 28, 1988). “The Markets Vote”.TIME.
  15. Jump up to:a b c “Air Sununu Grounded”. Washington Post. May 10, 1991.
  16. Jump up^ “The control tower takes over Air Sununu.”. US News & World Report. May 20, 1991.
  17. Jump up^ Rosenthal, Andrew (23 April 1991). “Sununu Travel Records to Be Opened”.The New York Times. Retrieved 13:10, Tuesday, June 2, 2015 (UTC). Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  18. Jump up to:a b Duffy, Michael (1 July 1991). “The White House: A Bad Case of the Perks”.Time. Retrieved 13:10, Tuesday, June 2, 2015 (UTC). Check date values in:|accessdate= (help)
  19. Jump up^ “Too Much Sununu News?; Post Said to Ignore Democrats’ Abuses”. Washington Post. June 28, 1991.
  20. Jump up^ “My so-called famous classmate”Salon. 1 June 2004. Retrieved 13:10, Tuesday, June 2, 2015 (UTC). Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  21. Jump up^ “The flights of Air Sununu; the White House chief of staff mixed politics and playtime on some of his ‘official’ trips. (John Sununu)”. US News & World Report. May 6, 1991.
  22. Jump up^ The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear at the Internet Movie Database