Sunday, February 17, 2008

In Maggie She Trusts

After a series of defeats and setbacks Hillary has decided it’s probably best to dance with the one who brung her

From the L.A. Times

When crisis would strike the Clinton White House, senior staff would meet at 7 a.m. in a kind of war-planning session. Sometimes an uncomfortable truth would waft silently about the room, like steam from the coffee mugs.

Leon E. Panetta, a former chief of staff to President Clinton, recalls that one person in those meetings would often speak the truth when others hesitated: Maggie Williams.

"She would raise it and she would deal with it directly," Panetta said of Williams, who was then the first lady's top aide. "I never got the sense that she was holding back."

More than a decade later, Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to win the Oval Office for herself, and this week she turned to her former chief of staff to reinvigorate her campaign.

"People know that when Maggie says something, it's because she believes it and she doesn't have another agenda," Panetta said. "In politics, that's a very unusual set of traits."

Clinton has known Williams since the early 1980s, when Clinton was on the board of the Children's Defense Fund and Williams was the advocacy group's communications director.

Since then, the two have developed an intense personal loyalty, but not a blind one -- Williams is known as someone who is able to tell Clinton what she doesn't want to hear.

"She is a consigliere to Hillary and always has been," said Lisa Caputo, who was press secretary to Clinton as first lady and who is informally advising the Clinton campaign.

Caputo said Clinton, 60, and Williams, 53, treat each other more as peers. By contrast, Clinton's former campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, while equally trusted, is 42 and had related to her boss more as an employee than as an equal.

After college [Williams] worked in the press office of the Democratic National Committee and for Rep. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) before landing the job at the Children's Defense Fund.

At the White House, Williams was the highest-ranking African American, and she became an integral part of the Clinton inner circle. The mere fact that she attended Panetta's high-level meetings was unprecedented. Hillary Clinton was the first presidential spouse to have an office in the West Wing, and she installed Williams next door with a dual title as "assistant to the president."

Friends say her self-deprecating manner allows her to focus those around her on the task at hand and the principles at stake. She is passionate and persistent and -- rare for someone in politics -- not egocentric. And that's one reason she inspires others.

One friend tells a story from her time at the Children's Defense Fund when the nonprofit was trying to start a public service ad campaign to discourage teenage pregnancy. Williams tried to persuade a cutting-edge advertising firm to work for free.

She got "no" for an answer, but continued to phone the Minneapolis firm's director for months. Eventually, he told her he would be in Washington -- for 15 minutes to change planes -- and would see her then. Williams met him at the airport, made her pitch and sealed the deal. The firm worked pro bono for the organization for the next five years, until Williams left

No one is saying how long she will run the campaign.

But her return has already made a difference. Said Caputo: "Morale is up."

Well win or lose she’s had a phenomenal record- maybe Hillary should announce Maggie would be her v.p. That would be one handy way to sew up the black women’s vote…if not the height of hubris considering that she’s behind right now. But no risk no reward
(though Maggie would have to step out from behind the scenes which I don’t feel she’d enjoy-besides the picture accompanying the Times article these are the only other images I found of the right Maggie Williams though you can watch her welcome message as a JFK School of Government Fellow here

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