Obituary: John Damon Andrews / W. Pennsylvania political fixture made his mark behind the scenes

March 13, 1950 - Dec. 15, 2013

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Damon Andrews, a behind-the-scenes political fixture in Western Pennsylvania who was drawn into politics by the example of a Georgetown University professor who also inspired Bill Clinton, died in his sleep early Sunday of a heart attack. The Knoxville resident was 63.

Mr. Andrews worked on presidential campaigns down to those for local elected office and through them all became noted for his expertise at "fieldwork." While overseeing a campaign includes the basics of paperwork, door-knocking lists and volunteers, it also requires a sensitivity for people and their needs: Unpaid workers need more than cold pizza to get them through long days, and Mr. Andrews added that personal touch in his campaigns.

"Damon was a smart, caring person who believed he was helping change the world and make things better for people," said attorney and Democratic fundraiser Lazar Palnick. "He believed in the common goal of everyone pulling together in America to do things."

Mr. Andrews put in time as executive director of the Democratic State Committee in Harrisburg in 1995-96, and working in the mayoral campaigns of Bob O'Connor and Luke Ravenstahl in 2005 and 2007, but he made his name as the first full-time Pennsylvania volunteer for Mr. Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992.

The son of a Pennsylvania trooper who grew up in Uniontown, the Georgetown graduate worked briefly as a reporter and then in hospital administration before he decided to work for Mr. Clinton's struggling Democratic primary campaign in New Hampshire. He had dropped everything to work for Mr. Clinton, a fellow Georgetown graduate, following the teachings of influential history professor Carroll Quigley, whom the Democratic candidate would mention in his speech accepting the party's nomination that July.

Mr. Andrews returned to Western Pennsylvania to campaign and went on to the Democratic National Convention in New York, where he and Mr. Palnick, the campaign's state coordinator, listened to Mr. Clinton's speech from the floor of Madison Square Garden and cried. During the campaign, Mr. Andrews also met fellow volunteer Linda Piso, and in 1997 they were married.

Earlier in 1992 he was sharing a desk and a phone in the party's offices in Greensburg with another Democratic operative working for Lt. Gov. Mark Singel's primary run for U.S. Senate. It was Bill Peduto, whom Mr. Andrews opposed many years later while he was briefly in charge of Mr. Ravenstahl's first mayoral re-election campaign, and Mr. Peduto was for a time the challenger.

"It was very difficult to be mad at Damon," Mr. Peduto said Monday. "Above everything else he was a gentleman."

Jack Wagner, the former state senator and auditor general, got to know Mr. Andrews when Mr. Andrews was field director for Mr. O'Connor's winning mayoral campaign, and then hired him five years later to work on his failed bid for the Democratic nod for governor in 2010. One of his specialties was providing the candidate with background information on people they were visiting on the campaign trail.

"He was the guy working behind the scenes, working very hard, and made you look good," Mr. Wagner said.

Corey O'Connor would drive by his city council campaign office in 2011 on his way home in Squirrel Hill and notice the lights were usually on late at night with Mr. Andrews inside. His campaign manager was there so often and forgetting to feed parking meters that his car got booted. Mr. Andrews had a couple years earlier lost his own father, and often went to Calvary Cemetery to lay flowers on the grave of Mr. O'Connor's father, who died in 2006.

He also used that Murray Avenue office to meet with young Democratic staffers excited to get into politics in those early Barack Obama years,

"He was a very reserved guy behind the scenes but eager to impart knowledge to people," said J.J. Abbott, who was then a campaign staffer for Allegheny County Controller candidate Chelsa Wagner and now assistant press secretary to state Attorney General Kathleen Kane. "Especially in modern campaigns, people get caught up in tactics and strategies, but he was very much a people-centric person. He valued the personal side of politics -- developing relationships and maintaining them."

In addition to his wife, Linda, Mr. Andrews is survived by sister Roslind of Dade County, Fla.

Memorial arrangements were incomplete Monday.


Tim McNulty: tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.


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