By Brandon Bailey
San Jose Mercury News.
Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg sought Wednesday to spike persistent rumors that she may run for political office, going beyond previous statements by telling NBC’s “Today Show”: “I have ruled it out. I don’t think that’s for me.”
The political ambitions of Facebook’s chief operating officer have been the subject of recurring speculation, based on her high profile in Silicon Valley, close ties with Democratic power brokers — and a potential network of supporters who have joined groups devoted to her best-selling book, “Lean In,” and its advice for women who want to advance their careers.
The charismatic, 44-year-old Sandberg has also been mentioned recently as a potential candidate for CEO at other companies, in part because Facebook’s 29-year-old chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, seems unlikely to retire in the near future.
But Sandberg told the Today Show’s Savannah Guthrie: “I really love my job and I have no plans to make any changes.”
Sandberg has denied political ambitions before, including in private conversation, according to some tech industry sources. Political experts, however, said even her latest statement isn’t necessarily binding.
“I don’t think it forecloses future action on her part. She could rule it back in at some point,” said Barbara O’Connor, a veteran analyst and emeritus director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento.
Sandberg’s statement that she has ruled out public office went further than an Associated Press interview earlier in the week, in which she said simply “I’m not running” but didn’t speak to the future.
For now, the interview appeared to dampen immediate expectations that Sandberg — who is a near-billionaire, thanks to stock grants from working at both Facebook and Google — might run for U.S. Senate if either of California’s longtime incumbents, Democrats Dianne Feinstein or Barbara Boxer, decide not to seek another term.
That came as a disappointment to her admirers.
“It’s too bad, because she’s clearly a leader of great skill, a woman who cares deeply about helping other women to succeed, and someone many of us would strongly support,” said Susan Estrich, a veteran Democratic political strategist who teaches law at the University of Southern California.
Before she came to Silicon Valley, Sandberg served as chief of staff to U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. She has since maintained close ties with Democratic figures.
But some in Silicon Valley weren’t surprised by her statement Wednesday. “It’s so not where she’s at,” said a tech executive who knows Sandberg well. “This was never something she was planning to do.”
As the No. 2 leader at Facebook, Sandberg runs the business side of the world’s biggest social network, reporting to CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In that role, said the executive who knows Sandberg, “she can make a ton of money and have a massive impact on people’s lives,” while enjoying “more power and less pain” than she might face as a politician.
Two other prominent Silicon Valley executives, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, have sought public office as Republicans in California in recent years. Both lost after bruising political contests.
While those two ran mostly on their business accomplishments, Sandberg’s book and her high-profile campaign to address women’s issues could help convince voters that she has something more to offer, O’Connor said.
But her “Lean In” campaign has drawn some controversy, with critics suggesting that the advice of a wealthy executive isn’t particularly helpful for women in lower-paying jobs. Some have cited her frequent public appearances — and a parallel campaign that encourages women to organize groups known as “Lean In” circles — as evidence of positioning for her own advancement.
Sandberg’s defenders contend that such criticism is a backlash aimed at detracting from her discussions about women’s issues in general. Some suggested that may be why she decided to put the political speculation to rest in Wednesday’s interview.
Other speculation will likely continue. The New York Post reported last month that Sandberg was in the running to become CEO of Disney, although sources close to Sandberg quickly denied it.
At Facebook, Sandberg oversees the company’s multibillion-dollar online advertising business and other operations. In the Today Show interview, which mostly focused on the release of a new edition of her book, she said,: “I love what we do to connect the world and I love being able to work on ‘Lean In’ in my personal time.”