Gore 2000 names former Rep. Coehlo campaign chairman
May 11, 1999
Web posted at: 6:33 p.m. EDT (2233 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 11) -- Former California Rep. Tony Coelho has been named general chairman of Vice President Al Gore's 2000 presidential effort, Gore's campaign committee announced Tuesday. He is expected to "oversee" the existing campaign staff headed by campaign manager Craig Smith.
While the naming of a campaign chairman had been expected for some time, speculation before Tuesday largely focused on other advisers with long-term ties to Gore, such as former aides Roy Neel, Jack Quinn and Peter Knight; Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo; or Commerce Secretary Bill Daley.
Tony Coelho spoke at the 1988 Democratic convention
Campaign spokesman Roger Salazar promised that all would remain closely connected to the Gore operation, saying "they are very strong advisers to the vice president, and when the time comes, their positions will be made clear."
But sources tell CNN the decision on a campaign chairman was not one the Gore team wanted to make at this point. They hoped to have a quiet spring and summer, but criticism of slow start and internal bickering between some of Gore's private consultants, campaign staff and members of the vice president's office prompted the move.
According to one senior official, the committee needed to bring in "an adult" to run the campaign and free up Gore, who sources said was spending too much time refereeing disputes between his own aides and advisers.
Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg believes the move may give the "appearance of trouble" with the candidacy.
"The perception in Washington and of political activists will be that they decided they needed somebody else, that maybe they are in trouble, or the appearance of trouble, and they had to go find some other veteran Democratic insider. That's not good news," says Rothenberg.
Although there has been much speculation of other changes within Gore's staff, sources tell CNN, no major shake up is expected until Coelho has had a few months to get use to his new position.
A California congressman with a history of success
In Congress, Coelho rose like a rocket. Elected in 1978, he took over the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee after the 1980 election, and led it from rags to riches by wooing political action committees and raised big bucks. In 1982, the Democrats gained 26 seats and lost only one during President Ronald Reagan's landslide of 1984.
Coelho became majority whip, the number three leadership position, in 1987. He roused the crowd with anti-George Bush speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. (232K wav file)
"He knew how to touch base, and how to put together operations, and that's a huge asset and ability that not everybody has," says Rothenberg.
In Congress, Coelho was a major architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He suffers from epilepsy, a condition that caused the Roman Catholic Church to rejected his youthful application to study for the priesthood.
After reports surfaced that he had failed to disclose the purchase of some junk bonds in 1989, Coelho -- perhaps mindful of the scandal which had dogged former Speaker of the House Jim Wright -- resigned.
"I'm not involved in personal power. I think power's important to get things done. But I think it's important to do what's in the best interest of the party, what's in the best interest of the causes that are important to you, and what's in the best interests of my family," Coelho said at the time. (160K wav file)
He was never formally accused of anything improper.
Out of Congress, he has been a successful investment banker. He returned to politics on President Bill Clinton's request in 1994, hitting some rocky ground as a senior adviser to the White House and Democratic party for that year's midterm elections. Democrats suffered huge losses in 1994 year, forfeiting control of both the Senate and House.
Coelho will not be taking a salary from the campaign, and will begin working full-time out of the campaign office starting the week of May 17.
CNN's John King and Bruce Morton contributed to this report