Adventures in Feministory: Donna Brazile, the First Woman of Color Presidential Campaign Director
Early in the morning of November 8, 2000, Donna Brazile sent a text to
then–presidential candidate Al Gore. The candidate lay in wait with several aides, watching as the chaotic election results unraveled. Out of either determination, or stubbornness, she texted “Never surrender. It’s not over yet.” Even without winning the election, Donna Brazile had already made history as the first woman of color to ever direct a major national presidential campaign.
At the age of nine, Donna Brazile stormed the political scene of her hometown in Louisiana, mounting a campaign to elect an official that promised her neighborhood a playground (and you thought contemporary politicians were manipulative). She rose through the ranks, meeting Coretta Scott King and eventually working on the successful campaign to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a federal holiday.
Donna Brazile worked on every Democratic presidential campaign from 1976 to 2000, starting off with Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale’s election bid. Her career briefly stalled in 1988 when Michael Dukakis fired her from her national director position after she charged that George H.W. Bush was having an extramarital affair (up to dispute) and ran a racist campaign (no shit). Without a job, Brazile spent time at home in Louisiana and returned to Washington to spend nine months working at a homeless shelter. She ran a successful campaign for Eleanor Holme’s Norton’s DC congressional seat during the 90s, but only played minor roles in Clinton’s campaigns.
Then, in 1999, vice-president Al Gore reintroduced the American public to Donna Brazile as manager for his presidential bid. Gore sought Brazile’s brash tactics and no-nonsense manner to counterweight his own reserved, stuffy persona. George W. Bush called her Gore’s “attack dog.” Associates at the Democratic National Committee praised her ability to “do anything” in a presidential campaign. And perhaps presaging the failure of their overall campaign, a former Jesse Jackson aide clarified that “[Brazile is] not a doctor. She can’t fix what’s wrong” with Al Gore.
Though Gore stepped down from public office in 2001, Brazile barely took a seat between election day and starting work on at the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute. Since the campaign, she has worked in the DNC in some form since the campaign, and returned to her home state of Louisiana to sit on the board of the post-Katrina Recovery Authority. Now, she has found a comfortable post near the top as the vice chairwoman of the DNC.
Donna Brazile has built a reputation on an outsized personality and lack of self-filter that characterizes behind-the-scenes political operatives but not the candidates that speak directly to the public. She can be found offering her candid thoughts on a number of news shows and even at Ms. magazine—not to mention playing herself on The Good Wife.
In one of her columns for Oprah’s website, Brazile offered advice on five things she would never part with—not political possessions, but personal ones. Among her scars, her “colored girls”—a name for four women of color in DC politics she came of age with, and a stark reminder of the era Brazile emerged from—and photographs of her mother, she lists her most beloved, and most likely, hated possession: her “foul mouth.”
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