Donna Brazile (1959- )

Donna Brazile
Courtesy Ron Aira (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Donna Brazile, author, campaign manager, adjunct professor, political analyst, and current vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was born December 15, 1959 in New Orleans, Louisiana to Lionel and Jean Brazile. Brazile was the third of nine children, and her father (a janitor) and mother (a domestic worker) often had a hard time making ends meet. Brazile became interested in politics at age nine when she heard that a local candidate for city council had promised to build a playground in her neighborhood. The young Brazile volunteered for the campaign and passed out pamphlets to her neighbors. The candidate won, the neighborhood got a playground, and Brazile discovered her new passion for political activism.  At age 17 Brazile volunteered for the Carter-Mondale campaign in 1976, stuffing envelopes at the local campaign headquarters.

Brazile attended Louisiana State University where she earned her degree in industrial psychology in 1981. After graduation Brazile worked as a lobbyist for the National Student Education Fund in Washington, D.C. During the same time period Brazile was hired by Coretta Scott King to help plan a re-enactment of the 1963 civil rights march on Washington in 1983. Brazile worked with the Dr. Martin Luther King Foundation to help establish Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday.

In 1984 Brazile took a position as mobilization director and director of the Rainbow Coalition for Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. Later that year she worked on Walter Mondale’s failed campaign for the presidency. In 1987 Brazile was hired as National Field Director for Missouri senator Dick Gephardt, who was making a bid for the Democratic Party nomination. Brazile was the first African American to hold such a position for a white presidential aspirant. Thanks to Brazile’s organizational skills, Gephardt won the Iowa caucuses, but ultimately lost the nomination to Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis.

In 1988 Brazile began work as field organizer for Governor Dukakis’s presidential campaign against Republican George H.W. Bush. The notoriously disorganized Dukakis campaign was a struggle for Brazile. The Bush campaign used a variety of means to slander Dukakis, including running what Brazile and many others saw as blatantly racist ads. Angry that the Dukakis campaign did not effectively respond to these attacks, Brazile condemned the Bush campaign as racist and accused Bush of being an adulterer. Realizing that her statements were inappropriate Brazile resigned from the campaign.

During the early 90s Brazile worked as chief of staff for D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. Brazile also served as an advisor for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns in both 1992 and 1996. In 1999 Al Gore appointed Brazile as his campaign manager, making her the first African American woman to manage a presidential campaign.

After the 2000 election Brazile was appointed chair of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) Voting Rights Institute. In 2004 Brazile published her memoir about her life and work in politics titled Cooking with Grease. Brazile currently serves as the vice chairwoman of the DNC and is a political commentator for CNN and NPR. Brazile is also an adjunct professor of gender and women’s studies at Georgetown University.