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The Tentacle


February 1, 2006

Who is Donna Brazile?

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Donna Brazile, campaign manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000, recently was the featured speaker at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration at McDaniel College, in Westminster.

She gave a 45-minute presentation on the legacy of Dr. King, leading a life of service and giving back to the community, to a packed WMC Alumni Hall.

Considering Ms. Brazile’s political acumen, experience and reputation for not being a shrinking violet – one account referred to her as a “tenacious political attack dog.” You may want to take this opportunity to reacquaint yourself with just who this one person whirlwind, veteran political strategist and campaign manager is all about.

Ms. Brazile was born December 15, 1959, the third child of Lionel and Jean Brazile’s nine children. She was raised in working class poverty in Kenner, LA. She rose from those humble beginnings to historic national prominence when she became Sen. Al Gore’s political director in 1999 and later ascended to be his national presidential campaign manager – the first African-American to lead a national presidential campaign.

Well respected in Democratic circles, outspoken and experienced in grass-roots politics, many political scientists felt that she was brought on board by Senator Gore to shake things up in a lackluster campaign that was floundering. Throughout the campaign, she remained an unabashed Senator Gore advocate.

In 2004, she released a best selling political memoir – “Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics” – which chronicled her 35 years of public service and personal accomplishment, from voter registration, civil rights, political organizing, teaching to public speaking.

After being introduced, Ms. Brazile greeted McDaniel President Joan Coley. “Madame President – I like saying that…” She then went on to tell how she likes watching the popular television series “Commander in Chief,” which features a female president of the United States. It gives her hope for the future, she said.

Ms. Brazile reminisced that she never marched with Dr. King, but she was greatly affected by his death on April 4, 1968. She was eight years old. Inspired by the life of Dr. King, she “got the fever early and got involved in politics,” and the following year, at age nine, she went door-to-door registering voters for a city council candidate. He had promised a playground and after he was elected, he lived up to his promise.

In 1981, when she was attending Louisiana State University, she gained national attention as a nation-wide student coordinator for the Martin Luther King Jr., Holiday Committee, which advocated declaring Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday.

In 1983, at the invitation of Coretta Scott King, Ms. Brazile helped organize a celebration of the 20th anniversary of Dr. King’s 1963 Washington march. In 1984, she worked on Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign as the southern states field director. Four years later, in 1988, she first worked for Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt's attempt to gain the Democratic presidential nomination and subsequently for Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis' campaign.

It was while working for Governor Dukakis that she first earned her reputation as being prone to verbally articulate impulsive judgments. However, this standing has served her well with a party that appreciates a loose cannon approach in addressing the majority party. Never-the-less, Governor Dukakis let her go after she encouraged the media to look into his opponent’s – then Vice-President George H. W. Bush – alleged marital infidelities.

From 1990 to 1999, she served as the chief of staff of the District of Columbia's delegate to Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton.

She is now the founder and managing director of a political consulting firm in Washington, a columnist, a regular guest on national news magazine programs such as CNN’s “Inside Politics” and “Crossfire,” and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Maryland and Georgetown University.

Ms. Brazile spends a great deal of time speaking on college campuses and has frequently been mentioned as a political candidate herself. She has not shied from that rumor and many have suggested that she will run for a seat on the Washington city council this year.

A political veteran, known for her ability to spark a conversation, she encouraged the audience at McDaniel to “start now (and) get busy…” to give something back to our great country. “Do as Dr. King wanted us to do.”

“Dr. King would have led us down a different path after 9/11.” He would have brought “people together. Not let problems fester. We need new priorities that will make us stronger. Priorities that will make life what Dr. King would want. Dr. King would never use a political campaign to divide a nation.”

“Put away your political compass” and get out your “moral compass… So many – too many – politicians spend too much time trying to figure out what people are thinking” and not “what they feel.”

It’s “time we take hold of our future. Dr. King led a terrific movement. The movement is not dead. Civil rights is not over.”

“This is a great country. Many of you today enrolled in college, are future leaders of this great country. You will inherit all the problems and you’re going to need Dr. King.”

On May 21, 2003, in a prescient column, Ms. Brazile co-wrote in the Wall Street Journal, that is just as relevant today, she remarked: “There is much work to be done if we Democrats are to address a perception that has dogged our party for three decades: that we are AWOL on national security. In the midst of a war on terrorism, our party and its leaders must wake up to the fact that we can no longer give short shrift to security issues if we hope to regain our status as the majority party.”

Conventional wisdom is that Democrats need Ms. Brazile.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at: kdayhoff@carr.org



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