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latimes.com: Democratic fix-it man takes on Gore's sputtering campaign

July 11, 2000
Web posted at: 2:09 p.m. EDT (1809 GMT)

latimes.com WASHINGTON (CNN) -- NAFTA, the scandal-plagued Commerce Department, permanent trade relations with China.

William M. Daley has a way of landing in jobs that many would consider lost causes.

His latest: the presidential campaign of Al Gore.

But those who have watched this 51-year-old Chicago pol close on those and other tough sells say the vice president has found just the right man to fix his sometimes sputtering campaign.

"The scarecrow got a brain, the lion got courage, the tin man got a heart and the mechanical candidate got a mechanic," said Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.).

Indeed, when the Commerce secretary formally takes over the Gore campaign on Monday, the Democratic fix-it man is likely to bring dramatic change: a remember-who's-boss style, a much larger staff and an engaged but hands-off approach to management.

Take, for example, the way he deals with the common political challenge of competing egos.

In 1996, after fighting successfully to bring the Democratic Party convention to Chicago for the first time since 1968, Daley was named a chairman and ultimately steered the convention's smooth passage.

But at a pre-convention event, a self-appointed VIP was terribly unhappy about his position on the podium. Daley wouldn't hear it.

He politely but directly told the grumbling VIP: "Guess what? This is not about you. We're here for a bigger picture," said Leslie Fox, the convention's executive director. "Bill's agenda was reelecting Bill Clinton. That kind of discipline and focus is what is going to serve Gore so well."

To those who have worked with him--and against him--Daley is a keen political strategist who makes swift judgments, focuses on the big picture and has no patience for other insiders' petty agendas.

Raised on the machine-style politics of his father, the bigger-than-life Irishman who ran Chicago for 20 years, Daley learned at an early age the arts of arm-twisting and deal-making. He also learned that "politics is about addition," that enemies in one battle should be treated with respect because they may become key allies in the next.

But Daley has put his own twists on his father's lessons--relying heavily on focus groups and other modern campaign techniques and drawing on a broader coalition of groups than Richard J. Daley ever did. And Bill Daley, who dresses nattily in tailored suits and French cuffs, brings to each task an affable, self-deprecating style that belies a shrewd political mind.

In the early 1970s, Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko wrote that the Daley boys weren't smart enough to tie their own shoes, recalled David Axelrod, a media consultant who worked on Richard M. Daley's 1989 mayoral campaign.

Bill Daley, who was in his 20s at the time, picked up the phone, called Royko and said: "I just want you to know we're all wearing loafers now, so it's no problem," according to Axelrod, who heard the story from Royko.

"Royko said it was the worst thing anybody could ever do to him," Axelrod continued. "Here he had been gratuitously nasty, and the guy calls up and makes a joke about it. He said it was totally disarming. It was also totally brilliant."

"Bill . . . called a guy who was a towering figure and he totally defanged him."

Even now, Daley talks about the Gore campaign by downplaying his new role.

"I'm not the smartest guy on the block. I'm not the smartest person in the world or, by any stretch, smart maybe," Daley said in a recent interview. "So, if you're not getting other people coming in who are smart and can do things," he said of his plans to expand the campaign staff from 75 paid workers to 375, "then you're going to fail."

For all his smoothness, however, Daley also has sharp edges. The consummate insider, he has no patience for disloyalty or disagreement within the ranks. And his negotiating tactics have been known to alienate allies as well as win the respect of adversaries.

A fellow Chicago Democrat, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, has accused Daley of exercising excessive influence--first, to try to make him vote for the North American Free Trade Agreement and, more recently, over Gutierrez's endorsement of former Sen. Bill Bradley for president.

And outsiders have criticized Daley's penchant for deal-making.

During back-room negotiations over NAFTA, "everything was up for sale," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. "The president was the one signing the checks, but Daley was the one negotiating the amounts."

Yet Daley remains respected by labor leaders. "We've had bruising battles, but I would say Bill Daley is still a friend," said Don Turner, president of Chicago Federation of Labor, the 500,000-member Cook County arm of the AFL-CIO.

Now, as Daley begins trying to help the Gore campaign gain on Texas Gov. George W. Bush, many point to his experience running his brother's mayoral races, particularly the highly contentious 1989 contest.

At that time, Chicago politics was roiled by racial tensions. Richard M. Daley ran against black candidates in both the primary and general elections, and Chicagoans of all races expected him to be the candidate of and for white ethnic residents.

But Bill Daley, as campaign chairman, imposed an absolute discipline.

"Bill felt it was important to convey to the city and black community that if and when Rich became mayor, he was going to be a uniter rather than a divider," recalled John Schmidt, a law partner of Bill Daley's who has held top posts in his brother's campaigns and his administration.

The candidate frequently campaigned in black areas of the city.

Bill Daley also found a powerful symbol in Avis LaVelle, an African American radio journalist whom he recruited to be press secretary.

"Bill's a smart man, and he knew that in this very charged environment you needed to be trying to send the right signals," said LaVelle, who now is vice president for government and public affairs at University of Chicago Hospital.

Rich Daley won that hard-fought election with only a small percentage of the black vote. But when he was reelected last year, he garnered 44.5 percent of the black vote.

Having his youngest sibling control his uphill campaign worked well--killing any impulse he had to run things himself, which would have doomed his campaign, said Mayor Daley, 58, during an interview in his City Hall office. "I knew he was going to work hard. I knew he had good judgment," he said.

Rich Daley urged the vice president to similarly release control of his campaign to Bill Daley, so that Gore can focus his attention on winning over the American public.

Daley said he suspects that his brother's newest job has something to do with the reverence for public service and public officials that they learned from their father.

That must have made it seem impossible for Bill Daley to turn down the vice president when he called after midnight last month to ask him to be his campaign chairman. "I just knew it had to be done," Daley said.

As his brother entered local politics, Bill's eye turned to the national scene.

"Bill appreciated being the son of Mayor Daley and appreciated being the brother of Mayor Daley, but I think he's always wanted to carve out his own place. And it's hard to do that in Chicago and Illinois, where there's no place to be but in their shadows," said LaVelle, who formerly served as an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services.

Now Bill Daley seems more than a bit dismayed about leaving the relative calm of the Commerce Department for the rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign.

After fielding a call from the Gore campaign in his private office, Daley returned to his ornate and sprawling public office to finish an interview, his face flushed red with apparent agitation.

Sighing, he bemoaned his coming departure from a job that would be a "no brainer" for the next several months. "I could have just sat and shot hoops," he said. "Ah, what the hell, it's a challenge."


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Tuesday, July 11, 2000

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