Anne Wexler, who died on August 7, 2009, at the age of 79, was at once a Washington insider, a respected political operator, and a pioneer for women's leadership.
I had heard of Anne years before I met her; in 1970, when the number of women playing any visible role in politics was painfully low, I was excited to hear about this effective campaign manager for Joe Duffey, an insurgent anti-Vietnam War Democrat running for the Senate in Connecticut. (When I say effective: among the young people she recruited for that campaign were Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham, John Kerry, and Tony Podesta). The campaign was not successful, but the relationship was – Anne and Joe married in 1974.
I think I actually met Anne at the Democratic National Committee where she developed a voter registration program for the 1976 Presidential campaign that actually kept track of its numbers, a revolution for the time.
By 1978, she had joined the Carter White House as head of public liaison; working to build support for administration programs on the Hill and with the public. I believe the words used to welcome her to the White House were "professional" and "grown-up," high praise then and now.
In 1981 Anne took her reputation and Rolodex down the street, and set up her own lobbying firm, an idea that may seem natural now but was very unusual then. Anne Wexler may not have been the first successful woman lobbyist in Washington, but she was certainly one of the trailblazers, signing a growing number of corporate clients; then choosing a Republican woman as her partner to form one of the first bipartisan firms.
Washingtonian Magazine named her one of the city's ten most powerful lobbyists, adding – in case anyone hadn't noticed – that this was even more remarkable "in a world still dominated by men."
The firm may have been bipartisan, but Anne was a committed Democrat and a feminist who supported other women personally and would enlist her network for them as well: as candidates and in business. I would meet her again and again in Presidential campaigns and at events for Democratic candidates. I saw her at Camp David, at a very special weekend for friends of the Clintons, and at some private lunches where we could catch up with each others' lives.
Before lunch I would meet Anne at her office so I could see the latest original political cartoons on the walls, always very funny (and almost always very Democratic). When we talked, we might exchange stories of being taken for one another: I would be greeted by people who told me they knew me from Connecticut or remembered when I worked for Jimmy Carter. Anne might be congratulated on a recent television appearance. We'd agreed when possible to accept the compliments and move on – so much easier than correcting people who wanted to be sociable. Besides, as I told her, there was no one I would rather be compared to – or confused with!
For me as for so many, many others, Anne was a friend and trusted advisor; someone you could count on for good ideas, and who knew how to get it done, whatever the "it" might be: to organize campaigns and elect candidates, to build coalitions on behalf of issues, to build a successful business while continuing to be active in public affairs. She did it all effectively and graciously. She was a pioneer at a time – not very long ago – when women like her were so few; and she is a role model now.