Inspiring Latina: Patti Solis Doyle
Front-runner Patti Solis Doyle is making history on Capitol Hill.
By Angie Romero
By coincidence or perhaps fate, the gray, nondescript building in Arlington, Virginia, where Patricia Solis Doyle runs Senator Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was a district office of Citizenship and Immigration Services until 2004. It’s a fitting space for Patti, 42, the daughter of Mexican immigrants and the first Latina to run a U.S. presidential campaign. Her corner office is furnished with Clinton hand-me-downs, including an old kitchen table and daughter Chelsea’s armoire. But one thing stands out: a Diego Rivera painting, Los Sembradores. It shows two Mexican men toiling in the soil, bringing forth new lifethe perfect metaphor for Patti’s current task.
After managing Hillary’s two triumphant races for New York Senate and heading her political action committee and fund-raising efforts, Patti has become Clinton’s single most important political adviser. “I can’t imagine running for president without her by my side,” Hillary has said of Patti, who confirms she’ll never run for office and is content being a behind-the-scenes player. But what a player she is: At press time, Hillary was leading an ABC News/Washington Post presidential poll with 41 percent of all Democratic support (Barack Obama was her closest competitor at 27 percent). Hillary never even officially asked Patti to run the campaign, where she manages approximately 250 people and millions of dollars in funds. “It was more like, ‘Of course Patti’s the campaign manager,’” explains Patti, who coined the now-ubiquitous term “Hillaryland” back when Hillary was the first lady.
“I love that my job is unpredictable,” Patti says. “At any point someone can say the building’s burning, and I get to pull out the fire extinguishers.” Whether it’s a meeting with supporters or a briefing on the Hispanic vote, her strategy is the same: “Play out every possible scenario and have a game plan for each.” The latest fire? One of Hillary’s most devoted fund-raisers, Norman Hsu, is wanted for grand theft; Patti and company immediately gave his $23,000 in donations to charity.
The incendiary nature of this campaign has Patti operating on about four hours of sleep a day. She rises at 6 a.m., gets her kids (9-year-old daughter Lee and 5-year-old Joseph) ready for school, then conducts her first conference call at 7:30 a.m. She speaks to Hillary several times daily, updating her on everything from budgets to polls. Three days a week, she relieves her husband, Jim (a handsome Harvard Law grad), in time for “bath and story time.” Once the kids are tucked in, she works until 2 a.m. Perhaps Lee put it best in a drawing that sits in her mom’s office: “My mom is a rabbit...she hops off to work every day, she hops back home.”
That’s what Patti has been doing since she became Hillary’s first hire as a scheduler 16 years ago. At the time, Patti, a Northwestern University graduate (she attended on a merit scholarship) was working on Richard M. Daley’s successful Chicago mayoral bid. It was an unexpected move for a woman who studied communications and dreamed of becoming an on-air reporter, but her oldest brother, Danny, alderman of Chicago’s 25th Ward, had encouraged her to get into politics. When Daley’s campaign manager, David Wilhelm, was tapped to head Bill Clinton’s first presidential run in ‘92, he took along some young, hard-working staffers. “The day I landed in Little Rock was the day Hillary decided she needed help,” Patti rem-inisces. “David said, ‘I’ve got this great girl from Chicago,’ and Hillary said, ‘I’m from Chicago.’ The rest is history.”
And unlike most in her field, Patti has stood by the same player since day one, in part because they’ve become close friends. “She came to the hospital when my kids were born, read at my wedding and called my father when he was dying of lung disease,” Patti says of Hillary. “So this race is very personal. I’d do anything for her.”
That dedication is paying off, particularly with Hispanic Democrats. Current polls indicate that 59 percent of them support Hillary. That’s her strongest showing among any major demographic group and a huge asset in California, Florida, Nevada and other states with early primaries. Patti also keeps a close eye on Hillary’s national Hispanic outreach teamthe first of its kind assembled by any candidate, says Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli, Hillary’s director of Hispanic communications.
As a native of Chicago’s predominantly Mexican Pilsen neighborhood, Patti cares deeply about immigration, an issue she’s brought to the fore in this campaign. “It’s very personal for me,” she says. “As a community and as a culture, we provide so much richness to this country.” To understand her passion, one need only know the story of her parents, Santiago and Alejandrina. Born in Monterrey, Mexico, Santiago came to the States illegally in the early 1940s and was deported twice; after his third immigration, he got his visa and eventually brought over his wife and their four children. They moved to Chicago, where Patti was the sixth and last child born. Santiago worked three jobs to pay for his children’s private, Catholic schooling, earning no more than $18,000 a year. Alejandrina labored in an industrial Laundromat, while Patti worked at a cowboy boot store. “He always said, ‘Hazte valer’make yourself valuable,” says Patti of her father, her greatest mentor. “To me, it meant work hard, get a good education and never embarrass yourself or your family.” Watching Patti, you know Santiago is somewhere smiling.
“Get involved with local campaigns for school boards, state assembly or mayor. Or volunteer for your congressman or congresswoman. You’ll get valuable experience.”
“Know the key players and what the important issues are.”
“Solid friendships are more valuable in politics than gold.”
Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli recently joined the DC office as Vice President of Hispanic outreach. She has previously served as Director of Hispanic Media for the Senate Democratic Communications Center under Minority Leader Harry Reid and as the National Director of Hispanic Media for the Kerry-Edwards Campaign.
Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli advising Sen. Harry Reid in the Leader's office guaranteeing our voices are heard in the fast growing Hispanic media
Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli -- Director of Hispanic Media: Rodriguez joins the SDCC to focus primarily on outreach to Hispanic media. Rodriguez-Ciampoli previously headed an aggressive media effort to reach out to Hispanic voters for the Kerry-Edwards campaign. Before that she was Director of Specialty Media at the Democratic National Committee.
That’s the first time I’d ever heard the word “Latina.” They just make them up, discard them, as they go.
I find this very interesting. The donations were given to charity? Which charities? Where's the list? Did I miss it? (I just bet some of those "charities" have some pretty strange connections with who they support - like subversive groups, etc.) And, I thought that campaign contributions given for a candidate were for that use only, and if not, were to be returned to the people who made the donations, even if via Hsu, shouldn't those funds have gone back to the donors?
I know I would not be happy if I sent money for a candidate's campaign and found out it went to a charity that I did not pick to get my money!
Oh man, that is priceless.