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If you’ve read or heard anything about Donna Brazile, campaign manager for Gore 2000, you already know this much: she is the first African American woman to manage a campaign for a presidential nomination; she is the kind of old-style liberal Republicans love to hate; and her outspokenness often gets her into hot water.
The first time this occurred was in 1988, when Brazile offered her resignation from Massachusetts’ Gov. Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign after urging reporters to investigate allegations that then-Vice President George Bush was a philanderer. But much more recently, Brazile was under fire after she questioned the Republican Party’s commitment to blacks. In January she suggested the party uses African American Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., and retired Gen. Colin Powell as political puppets. “Republicans bring out Colin Powell and J.C. Watts because they have no program, no policy. They have no love and no joy. They’d rather take pictures with black children than feed them,” she said.
According to political scientist Ron Walters of the University of Maryland and Democratic strategist Bill Carrick, she may well have a point. The mistake on her part, they agree, was to actually say it publicly. “Colin Powell is such an icon that it was politically incorrect to say that about him because he’s been out on this youth crusade,” says Walters. “But at the same time, he was part of an administration that took very tough positions on social issues, so he should not be given a pass.”
Brazile, now 40, entered politics at age nine when she went door-to-door for a city council candidate who promised a neighborhood playground. The third of nine children, she was raised in extreme poverty in Kenner, Louisiana, by her mother, who worked as a maid, and her father, a laborer. As a teenager, she worked as a volunteer for Jimmy Carter, and after graduating from Louisiana State University, helped organize the 20th anniversary commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington. Her campaign portfolio includes the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt’s in 1988.
Before joining Gore 2000, Brazile served as chief of staff for Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s delegate to Congress. Brazile, says Norton, “is a political prodigy,” blessed with a photographic memory and extraordinary analytical skills. “Donna has the ability to look at a problem, see what everybody else misses, bring it all together and get it done.”
When Gore promoted Brazile from deputy campaign manager to her current post, eyebrows rose across the Beltway. Some found it difficult to connect the dots between the unrepentantly liberal Brazile and the more centrist Gore.
Why was she chosen? Carrick, who worked with her on Gephardt’s bid for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, says, “She’s a great organizer. She’s a great manager of people. And she understands politics.” She is not, he adds, a spin doctor. “She has a total inability to engage in the ritual nonsense that defines many of the relationships between the news