Months away from home pay off for Clinton aide

November 10, 1992|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

For 10 months, Chuck Richards lived out of a suitcase in a strange city, 1,200 miles from his family in Ellicott City.

But the sacrifices paid off last Tuesday when Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas became the first Democrat to win the White House in 16 years.

And last Tuesday night, Mr. Richards, an assistant manager in the Clinton campaign, and his wife, Gale, stood with thousands of other supporters outside the old Statehouse in Little Rock, Ark., taking in the sweetness of the moment.

Mr. Richards, 52, returned to his Dorsey Hall neighborhood last weekend after nearly a year of constant pressure, fast food and little sleep. And he will return next week to his job as a field director in the Public Employee Department with the AFL-CIO in Washington.

In the meantime, he will get reacquainted with his wife and two daughters, Amy, 20, a senior at Frostburg State College, and Toni, 15, a student at Centennial High School.

"It was an emotional ride, an exciting ride, but I was ready for the election and to get back home," said Mr. Richards, who shared an apartment with two other staffers during his stint in Little Rock.

Mr. Richards, whose work during the campaign focused on securing labor's endorsement for Mr. Clinton, has nothing but high hopes for the man he helped get elected president.

"This governor has a chance to be an outstanding president. Not only is he bright, which is obvious, but he's got the heart to go with it, and that's a great combination," Mr. Richards said.

"We're going to see this guy producing legislation and bringing people together in terms of race and gender," Mr. Richards said. "He feels strongly, passionately about that."

Despite the separation, Mrs. Richards is glad her husband was a part of the campaign.

"We went into this with our eyes full open, and it really boiled down to the fact that we felt that Bill Clinton was the candidate we both cared about -- deeply," Mrs. Richards said.

"And if there was any chance that Chuck could be a part of the campaign, then it would be worth it."

Mr. Richards became involved in the Clinton effort when the national campaign director, David Wilhelm, approached him about working on labor issues. The two men had worked together in the mid-1980s at the AFL-CIO.

In January, Mr. Richards, who had worked on the Mondale and Dukakis campaigns in Maryland, took a leave of absence from his job and went to Little Rock.

He was immediately dispatched to Illinois for five weeks to direct the primary campaign there and put together a campaign staff. He also spent four weeks in California, where he mobilized the labor vote for that state's primary.

Mr. Richards' main responsibility in the campaign focused on securing the important AFL-CIO endorsement for Mr. Clinton, a formidable task, since the union leadership didn't support him initially.

Much of his work involved acting as a liaison between the campaign and AFL-CIO state affiliates. Mr. Richards shared their concerns with Mr. Clinton and took the candidate's message to labor leaders.

AFL-CIO leaders endorsed Mr. Clinton in May, freeing up state labor leaders to work on the candidate's behalf. The labor group's endorsement of Mr. Clinton in the general election came in September.

"There was a period of time needed for him to learn more about the AFL-CIO and for the AFL-CIO to get to know this governor," Mr. Richards said. "He established who he is and what he believes, and there was compatibility on issues like health care and family leave where they could support him," Mr. Richards said.

For Clinton staffers, a year of work all came down to last Tuesday.

Mr. Richards spent most of the day at his desk at campaign headquarters, keeping his eye on the labor vote.

When the day started, the mood was apprehensive, Mr. Richards said, but by early afternoon "we knew we had the numbers we could be confident of."

Mr. Richards was particularly pleased with the labor vote, which he said ran 15 percentage points ahead of the general population in support of Mr. Clinton.

By Tuesday evening, Mr. Richards said, Little Rock had become "Times Square on New Year's Eve."

Though glad to be home, Mr. Richards said he will miss the camaraderie and the friendships of the campaign. He also will miss "Mama's" restaurant, where he ate many lunches in Little Rock.

As for making the transition from working on the campaign to a position in the Clinton administration, Mr. Richards is taking a wait-and-see attitude and plans to be at his AFL-CIO job Monday.

"If something is to happen, it will happen," Mr. Richards said. "If I have options in the future, I'll consider them at that time."

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