Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell thought it would be easy, but in the end saying goodbye to the government agency he's served for seven years was anything but. Without much su

WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Hollywood Reporter) -- Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell thought it would be easy, but in the end saying goodbye to the government agency he's served for seven years was anything but. Without much success, Powell fought back tears March 10 as his last meeting came to a close. By his count, it was his 90th.

"Government service is not lucrative," he said. "It takes a painful toll on the person and on the family, but it is the highest honor and the greatest privilege anyone can have. I often think about why that is. I remember back in law school, a leading U.S. attorney said there was nothing cooler than walking into a courtroom and saying, 'Your honor, I stand here on behalf of the American people.' And there's nothing cooler than thinking I'm sitting here solely on behalf of the American people."

Powell credited his fellow commissioners -- nearly all of whom he's clashed with over one policy decision or another -- for their dedication and friendship and for making his days on the commission the best time of his life.

"I've loved it. Every single day of it," he said. "So thanks to the most remarkable public staff I have ever worked with and to my tremendous colleagues, both the ones sitting here and the ones before. It will be the greatest memory of my life. With that, all those in favor of me leaving signify by saying 'Aye.' "

Amid the laughter, only Powell's voice could be heard saying "Aye." To a standing ovation, Powell took the gavel, which had been his as chairman for four years, and handed it to Marlene Dortch, the commission secretary. Dortch had been one of those bureaucrats with no public face until Powell brought her out to open each meeting and report the items up for votes. Some staff members had tears in their eyes as they stood and clapped.

Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy, his most loyal ally on the panel, called him the "broadband guy."

"Before most of us even knew what it was, he understood that it would transform society," she said.

Even commissioner Michael Copps, whose stands contrary to Powell's have bedeviled the chairman since he took the center chair, praised his service.

"We've had some differences occasionally on some high-profile issues, but these are not my focus today," he said. "What few people outside the commission realize is that the bulk of our work here is done not on any partisan basis. A majority of our decisions are actually reached in unanimity. When differences do arise, they are due to differing interpretations of the facts in the case, or the applicability of the rules or a particular statute in question. The spirit of collegiality still lives at your favorite regulatory agency."

By the time the commission meets next month, somebody else will wield the gavel.

Michael Gallagher, a senior official in the Commerce Department who oversees the National Telecommunications and Infrastructure Administration, and current FCC commissioner Kevin Martin have reportedly emerged as the top contenders to take Powell's place. Rebecca Klein, a former chairman of the Texas Public Utility Commission and former aide to then-Texas Gov. George Bush, also has been mentioned as a possible replacement. The White House is expected to make the announcement soon.

Gallagher has worked closely with Powell, and Powell aides have made no secret of their preference for him over Martin. Powell and Martin have clashed at times when Martin refused to support some of Powell's proposals.

Martin, however, also has close ties to the White House. Since he already is a commissioner, he would avoid a confirmation fight since his elevation to chairman would not have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Martin worked on Bush's first presidential campaign, moved to the White House after the election and was appointed to a commission job in spring 2001. His wife, Cathie Martin, is a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Powell told reporters that he'd discussed his succession with the White House but took no position on who should get the job. He said that he decided to leave now even though there is unfinished business at the commission.

"Could you do more? Yes," he said. "You can always do more, but it's time to go. It's like a merry-go-round. It's not going to stop spinning because I jumped off. You jump on for a while. It rolls around. Hopefully you rode it fast. You had your fun. Then comes a time when you let somebody else get on it."