Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Haven't I Seen This Before?

In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “This is déjà vu all over again.”

Today Annie Linskey reported in the Baltimore Sun that former governor (and my ex-boss) Bob Ehrlich has landed at the Washington, D.C. office of an international law firm, King and Spalding, where he will serve as “Special Counsel.”

It made me think back to almost exactly four years ago, when Ehrlich announced he had been hired by North Carolina firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge and Rice.

I felt Ehrlich was a good hire then, and I think he’s a good hire now.

As a former governor he brings a certain degree of cache to the firm. What’s more, as a former GOP congressman, he has a lot of friends with gavels on the Republican side of Capitol Hill. These connections will certainly be useful to his new employer and clients.

The next portion of Ms. Linskey’s story presented me with the darker side of déjà vu.  

“Long-time Ehrlich aide Greg Massoni will also work for the firm,” she writes. “He will be in the communications shop. Ehrlich said there could be additional announcements about other aides shortly.”

Given the challenges posed by the current economy, I'm not completely unsympathetic to the plight of a fiftysomething father of four without a college degree trying to find steady work.

Still, I’m genuinely curious as to what responsibilities the folks at King and Spalding will bestow upon Massoni, a man my friend Joe Steffen famously once called the “highest paid umbrella holder in the history of Maryland State Government.”

An experienced  TV producer, Massoni had no background in strategic public relations before joining the Ehrlich Administration. According to his biography at the Womble Carlyle website, his sole listed responsibility there was serving as a “co-author” of the firm’s strategic communications blog, “Wag the Dog.” But a review of all blog entries dating back to June 2008 reveals that none contained his byline.

Hopefully the new firm will allow him to develop his talents beyond his historic role as Ehrlich’s Sancho Panza. Otherwise, we all know how much law firms like paying big bucks to non-lawyers who stand around doing nothing.
Four years ago, some of my friends – fellow expatriates of Ehrlich world – found it puzzling that the partners of a Democratically-leaning North Carolina firm would allow Ehrlich to bring so many well-paid non-lawyers like the redoubtable Massoni with him. So, it surprises me that another firm might be allowing them to do the same thing again.

After all, the crisis communications venture they tried to launch at Womble crumbled. And, the campaign they abandoned it for ended in humiliation and scandal.

But that’s not what disappoints me about this déjà vu situation. What disappoints me is how some of my former colleagues are stubbornly refusing to leave the Ehrlich all you can grab buffet.

Some would seemingly prefer to continue leveraging Ehrlich’s considerable generosity and largesse for their own personal enrichment, rather than stand on their own professional feet - or feats.

Every political job is temporary. Win or lose, it always comes to an end. And when it does, more often than not, you resume the career you had before the political odyssey began.

That’s what I had to do. That’s what almost everyone else in Ehrlich world did when the administration ended in 2007.

But we did it. We stuck our resumes out there and competed for jobs like everyone else. And when we succeeded, it was because of our own efforts and credentials and not because we left it to someone else to take care of us yet again.

Mike Deaver didn’t take a position in Ronald Reagan's post-presidential office in Century City. James Baker didn’t trail George H. W. Bush back to Kennebunkport. And James Carville isn't sitting down the hall from Bill Clinton up in Harlem.

When the ride is over, it’s over. Clinging to the gravy train, especially after it has derailed, lacks nobility, dignity, and class.

Ehrlich was a very positive force in my professional life, and I am grateful for the experiences I acquired by working with him. But it’s time for all of us who worked for him to stand on who we are, not who we were.

Just because your host is too polite to tell you the party is over does not mean you shouldn’t go home anyway.

The ride is over, gentlemen. And, by all accounts, it was a pretty good one.

Leave the man be.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Reschurrection Redux

So my recent blog entry about Paul Schurick’s new role with a small, Washington, DC-based public affairs firm generated a lot of feedback.
Most of this came from people confused by Schurick’s use of the term “of counsel” to describe his new role. Many people seem to believe this term is not applicable outside of a law firm environment (it isn’t). Other didn’t know that Schurick was a lawyer (he’s not).
Additionally, since I published that blog entry, other questions have surfaced about some of the claims made in Schurick’s biography on the Capitol Management Initiatives website.
At issue is the following contention: “Schurick successfully integrated communications and policy development as a Chief of Staff and Communications Director for two Maryland governors, a big city mayor, and a Member of Congress.”
I can’t speak to Schurick’s role in the Schaefer political universe as I was not a part of it. But, based on my own experiences in Ehrlich world, I see three problems with this statement.
First, Schurick never served as Ehrlich’s gubernatorial chief of staff.
As Schurick’s own archived biography on the Maryland Manual website indicates, Schurick served as Ehrlich’s gubernatorial Communications Director from 2004 through January 17, 2007. Two men – Steve Kreseski and Chip DiPaula – held the position of chief of staff at different times.
Second, Schurick never served as Ehrlich’s congressional chief of staff, either. That position was held by Steve Kreseski during the entire eight years Ehrlich was in the House of Representatives.
Third, Schurick states that he was Ehrlich’s congressional “communications director.”  
According to the Maryland Manual website, Schurick held the titles of “Political Director and Communications Director” for Congressman Ehrlich from 1997 through 2000. I served as Ehrlich’s congressional press secretary from January 1995 through August 1998. While Schurick may have received the title of congressional “Communications Director” at some point after I left, he didn’t have it during the time our service to Ehrlich overlapped. In fact, The Baltimore Sun’s Bill Zorzi filed a story announcing Schurick’s hire on October 27, 1997.  In it, he describes Schurick’s role as “political director.”
Schurick’s Capitol Management biography is a study in both hyperbole and hagiography, and I could probably have a lot more fun with it were I to go through it line by line. But, that would be gratuitous. As Ronald Reagan said, “Facts are stubborn things,” so I will stick with those.  

Saturday, March 5, 2011

LBJ: From A Roar to a Whisper

Last weekend I discovered CSPAN 3 – also known as CSPAN History. Amazing that I never got into it before, as its programming caters directly to my penchant and passion for American history.

I was especially fascinated by this half hour program from the LBJ presidential archives. Apparently, it had never been aired before.

When he was president, LBJ directed the White House Naval Photographers Unit to record various happenings during his administration as part of a legacy building project. This video – which features Lady Bird Johnson conducting a tour of the White House in 1968 – was part of that effort.

It’s not unusual, of course, for presidents and their families to give televised tours of the White House. Harry Truman, Jacqueline Kennedy, Barbara Bush, and Laura Bush all performed similar tours, focusing on the history of the mansion and its many historical artifacts. Mrs. Johnson covered much of the same ground, but also tried to tie in her own family’s experience of living there.

For me, the program got interesting at about the 20:45 mark, when the camera crew caught up with LBJ in the Oval Office. I recommend that every student of the presidency take a moment to watch it. Rarely have I seen better evidence of the job’s ability to grind down even the strongest, most ambitious men who have held it.

At the time this film was made, Johnson had already abandoned his reelection plans and was finishing up his administration as a lame duck president. Looking sad with dark circles under his eyes, Johnson engaged in a rambling, five minute, seemingly off-script monologue.

He talked wistfully about his four decades of service in Washington, and then touched upon his accomplishments in the areas of education and health care.

Then he expressed hope that the new president would be able to "communicate with young people" and “foster understanding” among the races – as if he were admitting that he himself had failed to achieve either goal during a time of such social unrest.

He concludes by noting that, while every president has makes mistakes in office, no person who ever ran for the job did so wanting to do the wrong things. “And, as we leave office,” Johnson sadly notes, “in a good many instances, many of the people seem to feel that most of the things we’ve done have been wrong.”

I listened carefully to see if the camera crew had picked up the sounds of chanting protesters outside the White House gates that day. I could not hear any, but it was clear that LBJ could, even when they were not there.

The goal of the program was to give LBJ another historical vehicle to tout his accomplishments to posterity. Instead, he came across as a depressed, defensive, beaten man.

I have never cared much for LBJ as a politician or a president – read Robert Caro’s excellent biography series The Years of Lyndon Johnson to understand why – but I found myself feeling sympathy for him.  Here was a master politician known for his legendary powers of persuasion, stripped by circumstances of his ability to sway his audience.

Another unpopular Texan who waged an unpopular war – George W. Bush – left office with a strutting sense of confidence and cocksureness which vexed his enemies on the left. After watching LBJ’s very human, spontaneous vulnerability, I can't decide if that makes me like Johnson more and Bush less, or vice versa.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Res-Schurick-tion

Though I’m a member, I’m not on Linked In very much. So, I was a little surprised today when I signed on after an absence and saw the name of one of my former State House colleagues suggested as a contact.

I have not heard very much about the activities of Team Ehrlich since the election. So, imagine my surprise when I saw that senior Ehrlich aide Paul Schurick seems to have resurfaced on the political landscape – not in Maryland, but close enough.

Ehrlich’s erstwhile communications honcho has landed at Capitol Management Initiatives, which describes itself as a "Washington DC-based strategy and public affairs firm that specializes in Targeted Advocacy.” While the firm does not identify his exact role on its own website, Schurick himself lists his title as “Of Counsel” on the publicly available version of his Linked In page.

Of Counsel is a term sometimes used by law firms to designate attorneys who do not have a client portfolio but have other responsibilities, such as business development. I assume that’s what Schurick will be trying to do for them – although, I have never seen that term used at anything but a law firm before. Maybe the culture at Womble Carlyle, where Schurick served as the firm's crisis communicator-in-chief rubbed off on him.

Anyway, I wish the big guy the best in his new role. This will give him a new challenge until the next comeback scenario arises.

In the meantime, here is Schurick’s biography from the Capitol Management website. Call it a hunch, but given its adjulatory tone, I’m guessing he wrote this all by himself.

Paul Schurick

Paul Schurick brings a seasoned political operative background and distinctive project management skills to the Capitol Management team. In a career that has embodied bipartisanship, Schurick has held policy, communications, and political jobs on both sides of the aisle. From his work at the municipal, state, and federal government levels, to his time directing a strategic communications practice group for a large law firm, he has developed a unique and well-rounded perspective of the both the public and private sectors.

With more than 30 years experience working with and influencing public policy, Schurick successfully integrated communications and policy development as a Chief of Staff and Communications Director for two Maryland governors, a big city mayor, and a Member of Congress. Having led countless efforts to ensure policy makers recognize the role proper communications and constituent engagement play in successful public initiatives, Schurick developed a reputation as an adept networker and relationship builder for the executives he served. He continues to enjoy excellent relationships among elected officials, policy makers, and private industry leaders.

His public career took him into the wheelhouse of government, where he mastered and managed media relations, contract administration, legislative affairs, budgeting, and government agency affairs. Known for his even handed approach, he has managed large staffs and project teams and directed successful efforts in government reform, transportation, economic development, gaming, public safety, and health care. Signature accomplishments include assisting with the passage of The Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act and Maryland’s first-ever charter schools law and directing the complete structural overhaul of Maryland’s state government internal and external communications systems.

As an integral member of multiple victorious state wide campaigns, including the election of a Republican to Maryland’s governorship for the first time over 35 years, Schurick has proved time and time again his proclivity for winning in tough situations. Able to manage vast political networks and organize field operations to form winning coalitions, his operational experience with voter contact and turn out is a key element to his success.

In the private sector, Schurick created and managed a strategic communications practice group for Womble Carlyle Sandrige and Rice, PLLC, a large Mid-Atlantic law firm. As he did countless times with government initiatives, he was able to successfully integrate communications plans with often-complex legal strategies for clients, including Fortune 500 corporations, non-profit organizations, and small businesses. He is adept at building internal and external communications strategies, including conducting communications audits, brand development, grassroots operations and preparing executives for all manners of communications challenges.

Throughout his career Schurick has shown an innate ability to organize, manage, and build lasting and strong coalitions. Schurick’s greatest strength is turning relationships into partnerships and given the great political divides that can often inhibit progress, his skill of developing and managing nontraditional partnerships has enabled him to achieve success in the most daunting of political and professional circumstances.

A native of upstate New York, Paul Schurick has lived in Maryland for 30 years, currently residing in Crownsville, Maryland with his wife Cindy and daughter Alison. He is a graduate of West Virginia University, holding Bachelors and Masters degrees in economics.