When Louis DeJoy was offered the job of US postmaster-general, the Republican fundraiser from North Carolina turned to friends for advice.
He “didn’t particularly want” the job, recalls one of them, Jim Melvin, a former mayor of Mr DeJoy’s hometown of Greensboro. But he thought it was one he could do well at, given his expertise as a logistics executive. Another, former North Carolina governor Pat McCrory, says he encouraged his friend to accept the position, but “warned him he would probably catch a lot of heat”. That turned out to be an understatement.
Since his appointment in June, the 63-year-old has felt that heat increase from a simmer to a boil. As President Donald Trump decries “catastrophic” postal voting as being rife with fraud and favouring Democrats, Democratic lawmakers warn that Mr DeJoy, a major Trump donor, seems to be doing the president’s bidding by making it harder for Americans to vote by mail.
Those concerns were exacerbated by the US Postal Service’s warning last week that mail-in ballots might not arrive in time to be counted for the November presidential election. A cost-cutting strategy pushed by Mr DeJoy, which has included reducing the number of sorting machines and mailboxes and cutting staff overtime, had been leading to mail delays
This week, after days of protests outside his homes in Washington DC and Greensboro and calls for his resignation, Mr DeJoy attempted a U-turn. He announced the cost cutting would be postponed until after the election “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail”.
Most of his critics remain unsatisfied. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said Mr DeJoy had “admitted” to her that he did not plan to replace the mailboxes and sorting machines that have been removed, or put in place plans to allow workers more overtime. Others worry the postal service’s board of governors will do little to curb the changes — four of the six men who currently sit on its board, all Trump appointees, have donated to the Republican party and Republican candidates.
For some, Mr DeJoy has become a symbol of the excesses and cronyism of the Trump administration: a deep-pocketed donor who has been elevated to the head of a 220-year-old institution of 630,000 people, despite no previous experience in the postal service.
“Laws exist to ensure that the government pursues the national interest — not the personal political interests of the president,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the non-profit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed a criminal complaint against Mr DeJoy on Thursday.
For Mr DeJoy’s supporters, however, the furore is yet another example of Trump critics ascribing sinister motives to normal bureaucratic procedures and maligning anyone who is seen as being close to the president.
On Friday, Mr DeJoy appeared at a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill where he was grilled on the policy changes he has made at the service, his own position on mail-in voting and his relationship with the president and other members of the administration. On Monday, he will be in the hot seat again for a hearing in front of the House of Representatives.
Born in Brooklyn, Mr DeJoy graduated from Stetson University and worked as a certified public accountant in Florida before moving back north and taking over his father’s small trucking business. Between 1983 and 2014, he turned the company, New Breed Logistics, into a 7,000-person organisation with clients ranging from his current employer to Verizon, Disney, PepsiCo and Boeing. In 2014, he sold it to a competitor, XPO Logistics, for $615m.
Along the way he moved the company to Greensboro, where he and his wife Aldona Wos, a doctor, became active in philanthropy and fundraising. Ms Wos served as George W Bush’s ambassador to Estonia and, later, as North Carolina’s health and human services secretary. The couple has two children.
In the lead-up to the 2016 election Mr DeJoy emerged as one of the few Republican donors who was “pretty supportive” of Mr Trump, a fellow donor said. After that, he “steadily moved up the ranks”, becoming a familiar presence at the Republican National Committee’s donor retreats, and hosting Mr Trump for a fundraiser at his Greensboro home, a 15,000-square-foot mansion nicknamed “the Castle”.
Since 2016, Mr DeJoy has donated $1.2m to the Trump campaign and more than $1.3m to the Republican party. He served as the finance chairman for next week’s now mostly virtual Republican convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Ms Wos has been nominated by Mr Trump to be ambassador to Canada.
People who know Mr DeJoy describe him as a straight-talker, less colourful than some of the more flamboyant types that dominate the Trump fundraising world. “He’s not a backslapper,” the Republican donor said. “He’s not one of these overly effervescent smiley types, but he gets the job done and is collegial without being overly bullshit-y.”
Such qualities will be useful as complaints pile up about the delayed delivery of prescriptions and other vital postal items in some parts of the country. The post office’s inspector-general is examining Mr DeJoy’s policy changes and compliance with federal ethics laws. The stake of at least $30m he is reported to still own in XPO — a USPS contractor — is also being examined as a potential conflict of interest.
On Friday, Mr DeJoy seemed unfazed by the heat, fiercely defending his cuts, which he said were critical to the long-term survival of the service. He dismissed the accusations of political interference, adding that the postal service is “very committed . . . to having a successful election . . . the insinuation is quite frankly outrageous”.