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Weldon Latham, a senior partner and chair of the corporate diversity counseling group at Davis Wright Tremaine, has long been active in Democratic Party politics. The former U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development general deputy assistant secretary is now turning his attention to the 2008 presidential election and has been selected as a national co-chairman of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Latham talked with Legal Times Anna Palmer about his relationships with the Clintons, his role as national co-chairman, and some of the biggest hurdles Clinton must jump to get elected.
LT: How do you know the Clintons? Latham: I’ve known both Bill and Hillary since the president was running for office. I’ve been active in Democratic politics for 30 years and a trustee for the Democratic Party. I met [Bill] repeatedly at Democratic Party events once he was elected. And I had occasion to meet the senator at various times when she was first lady and I was a strong supporter of hers in my home state of New York.
LT: Have you done fund-raising and given advice to the Clintons in the past? Latham: It’s been both. During the president’s tenure, I often became engaged in giving advice and counsel regarding issues of affirmative action, diversity, and minority business programs and general business programs, so I had occasion to do all of those. When Hillary ran for Senate, I was a major fund-raiser.
LT: What’s your role as national co-chairman? Latham: The four of us national co-chairs have several roles: one, outreach; two, fund-raising; three, policy advice and counsel.
LT: What is Hillary’s biggest challenge to getting elected? Latham: One of her biggest challenges is helping people get to know her. She is one of the few famous people that you really don’t know. The media has created an image of her, and some people have said she’s harsh and shrill, which is anything but the truth. Anybody who’s worked with her knows that’s not the truth. She is very open to advice and counsel and just a brilliant person who doesn’t flaunt it.
LT: Who will you be focusing your outreach efforts on? Latham: The three communities that I have particular expertise in [are] one, business; two, legal; and the third is the minority community. I want to do outreach in all of those communities. I also teach law at Georgetown [University] Law Center and do corporate speaking all over the country to corporations and legal groups on the subject of diversity. It gives me many different forums to tell people about my view of Hillary Clinton and how she will make our lives and our businesses better under her leadership.
LT: Does she already have a legal network? Do you plan on doing outreach in that arena? Latham: She’s got a huge legal network. I was amazed during the Clinton administration how many people from their class in Yale [Law School] they recruited into the government. It was a phenomenal number. There’s a whole host of people who have served in the Clinton administration during the time he was president. There are certainly dozens of people she has interacted with here in Washington and in New York. There’s a huge Clinton network of people that have become true believers in her ability to be as good a president as she’s been — not only good but unique — a senator.
LT: Will your fund-raising efforts be D.C.-based or more national? Latham: It’s national. I think there are an awful lot of people that have been highly disappointed with the presidency of George W. Bush. I do a lot of work for business, and people in the business community who tend to support Republicans out of habit will confidentially tell you they miss the days of the Clinton administration, strictly from a business prosperity perspective. I think the most important thought is that given the status of the country today — the status of international affairs, economy, domestic initiatives — people are anxious to have a president to basically not do on-the-job training.
LT: What do you see as Hillary Clinton’s biggest strengths? Latham: She’s . . . a strong yet compassionate leader. One word comes to mind is, she’s just a brilliant person. A combination of being brilliant, a good leader, a good listener, and experience second to none makes her uniquely qualified to be the next and hopefully best president.
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