Terry McAuliffe, the most prolific fund-raiser in Democratic Party history, was unanimously elected party chairman Saturday by members who shrugged off his ties to the campaign finance scandals of the Clinton administration.
McAuliffe, 43, claimed the post when his sole rival, former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, stepped aside after days of negotiations. Under an agreement reached early Saturday, Jackson will serve as the party’s “national development chair,” a newly created position that will focus on voting rights and grass-roots organizing.
McAuliffe, who grew close to former President Clinton while raising tens of millions of dollars for his campaigns and causes, was handpicked by Clinton and Democratic leaders in Congress to head the party through the 2004 election.
He vowed to give President Bush a taste of “the same medicine” Republicans administered “from the day Bill Clinton took office” and wasted no time going after Bush over the disputed polling in Florida.
“George Bush says he’s for election reform. Reform this,” said McAuliffe, who then ticked off several alleged irregularities surrounding the Florida vote: “Stop asking people of color for multiple forms of ID. Print readable ballots. Open the polling places. Count all the votes and start practicing democracy in America again.”
Disdain for Bush Victory Is Shown
Much of official Washington appears on its best behavior in this presidential honeymoon period. But the benevolence failed to extend to the roughly 450 partisans gathered for the Democratic National Committee’s annual winter session. For them, Al Gore’s failure to claim the White House--despite winning the popular vote--festered like an open wound.
Joe Andrew, the outgoing chairman, delivered a scathing valedictory in which he ridiculed Bush’s penchant for mangled syntax and called him “a lousy president” and “sock puppet” manipulated by Vice President Dick Cheney.
“We’ll fight them until hell freezes over, and then we’ll fight them on the ice too,” Andrew said. “Mark my words: It will be an ice-cold day in West Palm Beach before we ever let this happen again.”
McAuliffe, who has made a fortune in real estate and business development, has an effervescent energy as well as unparalleled ability to wring campaign contributions from people. He raised more than $26 million for the Democratic Party at a single event last year.
But his lucrative touch also brought less-welcome notice. His name surfaced in connection with several of the fund-raising controversies of the Clinton years, including a 1996 cash swap between the Democratic Party and the Teamsters union and the use of the Lincoln Bedroom to reward some Clinton campaign contributors.
In a break with tradition, McAuliffe declined to meet with reporters Saturday after his election as party chairman, which came on a voice vote. But supporters were quick to defend McAuliffe and dismissed suggestions that he offers Republicans a welcome target.
“Horse manure,” said Steven J. Ybarra, a national committee member from Sacramento. “That extreme arm of the Republican Party will subpoena anything that’s living, walking or breathing from the Democratic Party.”
Andrew, who chose to step aside rather than fight McAuliffe’s installation by party elders, said much the same thing.
“We are the party of Bill Clinton, and it doesn’t matter whether Terry McAuliffe or Maynard Jackson is our chair,” Andrew said in an interview. “We will continue to be the party of Bill Clinton because we’re very proud of our accomplishments. Obviously, there are controversies that come with those accomplishments.”
Some in the party were aggrieved over the way Clinton and others selected McAuliffe with virtually no input from the Democratic Party rank and file. Led by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), a group of dissenters coaxed Jackson into the race and campaigned for him until the last hours before Saturday’s session.
The deal allowing Jackson to head the party’s new Voting Rights Institute and direct party-building efforts addressed at least some of his supporters’ concerns about inclusion. “I’m more interested in fighting Republicans than having us fight each other,” Jackson said in ending his candidacy and endorsing McAuliffe.
Fittingly, given the Florida controversy, McAuliffe’s acceptance speech was delayed for more than an hour because of a closely fought contest for the position of party secretary. After a show of hands twice failed to established a clear-cut winner--and with the candidates separated by fewer than five votes--Andrew called for a roll call to ensure that “every vote is counted.”
When the tallying was complete, incumbent Kathleen Vick was the winner over challenger Susan Turnbull, 208 to 186.