Author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring The Pots In American Politics," Donna Brazile made history as the first African-American woman to manage a presidential campaign when she helped Al Gore win the popular vote in the 2000 election. She now serves on the board of the Louisiana Recovery Authority and chairs the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute.
Ms. Brazile is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland. She will be in Pittsburgh tomorrow to kick off the National Council of Jewish Women's Rachel Porter Social Action Fund Program at the Eddy Theatre, Chatham College. For more information call 412-421-6118.
Q: Being a New Orleans native, do you have confidence in Mayor Ray Nagin?
A: Working as a member of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, I have confidence in city officials, including the mayor, to help come up with a plan and process, as well as an overall plan to help rebuild the city of New Orleans. I don't believe that the destruction and the widespread damage, as well as the enormous task that we all face in rebuilding our homes and communities, can be left to one public official. This is a situation where all hands are on deck.
Q: Is the rebuilding process going at a reasonable rate?
A: You know, I think most Americans forget that the city of New Orleans was underwater for over 57 days. It was not hit by just one catastrophic hurricane -- the worst natural disaster in American history -- it was hit again by Hurricane Rita, which came ashore on Sept. 24 . As a result of it, 80 percent of the city was damaged or destroyed. We lost over 100,000 homes, 18,000 businesses, so it's going to take more than one year for the city to show more signs of recovery.
Q: How about your family? How are they doing down there?
A: You know, it's still very hard to try to go through what my family has gone through. This has been the test of a lifetime for them personally and for all of us. They are doing better. Some of them have returned to the area. My sister Lisa is living in a trailer. It breaks my heart to see her in a trailer with her two kids. My brother, Kevin, has decided to stay in Columbia, S.C. He's purchased a home, and he's going to make South Carolina his new home. My sister Cheryl (I'm one of nine children) is the only one that has been able to return to her house. My dad, Lionel, and two other siblings are in Baton Rouge and I don't think they are prepared to go back anytime soon. It's going to take a long time.
Q: Your family is almost like a microcosm of New Orleans.
A: We trace our roots to 1832 so we've been there a long, long time. It's very difficult to describe the situation without looking at the overall picture.
Q: You like the idea of giving people more than one day to get to the voting booth. Wouldn't the danger of corrupting the votes be greater, too?
A: I believe we should open up the voting process at least two weeks prior to Election Day to give citizens an opportunity, especially those who work two jobs and those who work, you know, from sun up to sundown. I mean, Election Day should not be a stressful activity. We should try to accommodate voters. Yes, we can prevent fraud by making sure we have accurate voter lists. We can prevent fraud by making sure we have machines that actually do tabulate the responses. We can prevent fraud by educating people on how to use the technology and what's at stake and how to engage in the political process.
Q: If Al Gore had won the presidential election would the Democratic National Party's Voting Rights Institute have been established?
A: You know, I trace some of the problems at the ballot box back to the 1988 political cycle, when there was widespread allegations of voter abuse and voter fraud and voter suppression. Back in the 1994 session I got to [me and others] put resources behind helping citizens to learn where their polling place was located. That was often one of the big problems on Election Day. There's no question that as a result of the 2000 election we felt it was imperative that we establish a Voting Rights Institute to help all Americans navigate the political system so they could find the tools they need to be able to go out and participate in the political process. While the Voting Rights Institute is housed in the Democratic National Committee, I think the Republican Party would be well advised to also have an institute geared to helping the American people understand the voting process and how to get involved politically.
Q: Or maybe one day they would merge into a bipartisan Voting Rights Institute.
A: Well, I'm hoping one day that we can learn the language of bipartisanship, but that takes people putting aside their own narrow partisan agenda and working together. Finding common interest, finding common goals and finding ways to work together.
Q: Who has a better chance of being elected president, Democrats New York Sen. Hillary Clinton or Illinois Sen. Barack Obama?
A: I like both individuals. For me personally to speculate on the future of either one of those politicians would get me in a lot of trouble. I like them both. I love Barack Obama's spirit. I think he is a great American. He is a rare political species. I also have deep admiration and respect for Hillary Clinton. She has been an inspiration to us all. One of the most admired women in America today. Hillary Clinton has set her own path. She has reached the heights in her life because she was willing to make a difference. Hillary has what it takes to break that final glass ceiling that ultimately we will break in American politics, that is the presidency, and allowing a woman to hold that most important position.
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Patricia Sheridan can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-2613.