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With a black leather folder pressed under her arm and long, honey-brown hair flowing down her back, Amani Council, director of government affairs at the Family Research Council, is about to show some moves. She strides out of the humid weather and into the Rayburn House Office Building, flashing a set of near-perfect teeth to passersby as she sets out to do the kind of Hill maneuvering the conservative, anti-abortion FRC hasn’t done too much of — reaching out to Democrats. For Council, professional gain depends on how good you are at building personal relationships. That’s the motto of the full-time lobbyist who often works into the late evening hours for the nonprofit but still finds time to dabble as a real estate agent, consultant, D.C. socialite, and mentor, all at the age of 34. Her multitasking, though, makes it hard at times for some people to keep up with her, say those who know her both personally and professionally. “She’s just so goal- and mission-driven that I would guess it would just be frustrating for her to be around people who don’t get anything done,” says Libby Macke, director at Project Reality, a nonprofit abstinence advocacy organization that works closely with Council and the FRC in building support on Capitol Hill. Although Council thrives on her juggling act, her core job as a lobbyist remains the most problematic, though she says she’s content for now at the FRC. She is paid less than those who work for for-profit companies, and she must navigate a thicket of partisan politics, especially with the Democrats again in power. Her main frustration though, as a young, African-American woman in a field dominated by older, white men, lies in the lack of mentoring in her industry. “My salary at FRC is in the 60s, and of course I desire more. I’ve been approached a few times while working for FRC to leave and chase a higher paycheck. However, I haven’t felt called to do so,” says Council, who is single and has no children. “To assist with my financial responsibilities and meet my desire of working for myself, I play the balancing act.” Ideally, Council says, if her small, one-woman company, Council Consulting, was up and running full time, she would focus only on that and her real estate. Although being a Republican at a conservative organization provides her with a large degree of comfort when it comes to promoting the group’s agenda on the Hill, Council sees herself as a major player in the organization’s attempts to cross party lines in its legislative efforts — though sometimes she feels alone in doing so. “I love the organization because it stands on family values and puts family first in legislative policy. So I know I’m here for a purpose,” says Council, who has worked as the organization’s director of government affairs for the past 10 months. “But Republicans aren’t the only people who have values when it comes to social issues. You can collaborate without compromising, and I’m trying to make that happen here.” Tom McClusky, vice president for government affairs at the FRC and Council’s boss, says that as his team has been playing a new role after the shift in Congress, Council’s relationships with Democrats on the Hill have been significant in her position as lead lobbyist on several FRC issues. “We’ve tried to lobby Democrats, but the Democratic leadership has always been hostile toward the issues that we lobby,” McClusky says. “Council is an extremely social person. That’s where a lot of her contacts to the Democrats have been helpful.” �A WAY OF CONNECTING’ Right before she steps into Florida Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown’s office to pitch an FRC-backed abstinence funding issue, Council pauses and flashes her smile at staff assistant Joseph Bastian, who is sitting at the front desk. Bastian, surprised, smiles back. The two exchange words before he pushes a few buttons, then tells Council, “You can go in now.” In another room, Brown’s chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, shuffling papers behind his desk, looks up as Council walks in and belts out, “There she is, the Paris Hilton of the Hill.” It’s the way the 5-foot-3 Council can wear a dark brown, gem-embroidered skirt from Marshalls, purchased years ago, like it hit the shelves yesterday. It’s the way she thrives in any social environment and the way people turn their heads to glance at her as she walks, back straight and head up. Most important, it’s her popularity with legislative staffers and lobbyists that separates her from many of her wrinkled-suit, BlackBerry-clutching peers. Dean Nelson, executive director of the Network of Politically Active Christians, took notice of her style. That’s why he suggested Council for the position at the FRC in the first place. After working with her while she was a resident assistant at Christopher Newport University in 1996, Nelson later hired Council to help coordinate fund-raising events and assist with marketing for his network. Later, when the FRC needed someone to work the Hill, Nelson, whose organization works in collaboration with the FRC, realized that Council’s work with Republican Rep. Randy Forbes (Va.) and former Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.) and as manager of member advocacy for the Society of Human Resource Management made her the perfect fit. “Amani brings diversity to an organization that oftentimes can be criticized for being a white-dominated, pro-family organization,” Nelson says. “She brings not only a level of professionalism but a level of energy. African-Americans are more conservative than whites in polling, really. Amani is an attractive, fresh face that represents the majority of African-Americans.” Council made her television debut in February on the Christian Broadcasting Network during an interview on the survival of a Florida baby born at 22 weeks. On-air, Council, in her usual polished demeanor, pushed the FRC’s anti-abortion beliefs. She’s hoping that the FRC uses her more to its advantage when it comes to nationally representing its issues. The issue that brought Council to the Hill last month was funding for abstinence education programs. Knowing that Title V, a $50 million appropriation for abstinence education, would expire on June 30, the FRC, in collaboration with other pro-abstinence groups such as Project Reality, began pushing for its reauthorization. Title V was initially created in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families bill and its funds are distributed to states. After learning that the House Energy and Commerce Committee was not planning to move the bill forward because of resistance by some lawmakers, the FRC decided to act. The organization urged people to call committee members and wrote a letter to committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) and ranking member Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) requesting reauthorization. Council decided it was time to reach out to minority communities and Democrats. She knew that wouldn’t be easy, especially because the FRC has backed a number of Republican-led initiatives, such as a federal ban on gay marriage. As she walks the Rayburn Building, Council attempts to garner enough signatures for the FRC’s letter to Dingell and Barton from what she calls “true Blue Dog and pro-life Democrats.” “As many people know, abstinence is a very contentious issue,” says Macke of Project Reality. “There’s lots of disagreement on exactly what students should be taught when it comes to sex education, but Amani has a way of connecting with people in a bipartisan way. That’s one of her major strengths. Not everyone can do that.” Making her way to the office of Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Council does a brief catch-up with Sarah Perz, Kaptur’s legislative assistant, and begins her pitch, opening her black folder and pulling out the letter she wants Perz to give to her boss to sign. “Title V includes $50 million that goes toward abstinence education in schools, and we’re really trying to work across the board here and not be party-line-specific,” she says with a slight smile, directing Perz’s attention to the letter as the two sit at a table. “I know your boss has done some work in the past on abstinence, and we would really appreciate her support.” �MY BIGGEST CHALLENGE’ While redirecting FRC’s targets on the Hill, Council is contemplating where she best fits in the long run. Self-confident and affable, she can spark a conversation with just about anyone whether at a meeting, at a party, on the Metro, or standing in line at a restaurant. Her ability to thrive in social settings leads her to parties and networking events thrown by other lobbyists, lawyers, organizations, and friends. Lobbying allows her to use her people skills to get things done legislatively, and selling real estate allows her to use those same skills to bring in extra cash. The last deal Council closed as a real estate agent with Re/Max was two months ago, and she’s currently working two more. And her public relations and event planning business, though it has yet to gain full momentum, is where her heart is. But beneath her polished and confident demeanor, she admits to some uncertainty about her profession. She isn’t sure she has all the necessary skills for her job. And because of what she says is a lack of mentoring in her chosen industry, sometimes it’s hard for her to see the future. “My biggest challenge is that I honestly have been thrown into the lions’ den,” she says. “People looking from the outside would never know this, but I often wonder how I can do what I’m doing now 10 times better. I don’t feel like I’m at the top of my game. If I had a mentor to help me really get to know what it is I’m doing, how powerful would I be?” Robert Drummer, former president of the Washington Government Relations Group, an organization of black lobbyists and government relations professionals, says that although pay at for-profit firms is typically higher than that at nonprofits, several other factors beyond pay influence people as to which environment they’d prefer to work in. When it comes to lobbyists re-examining their careers,”black lobbyists, like our counterparts, look at a wide array of factors, including but not limited to mentoring, role models, opportunities for growth and quality of life,” says Drummer, who also serves on the board of the American League of Lobbyists. The WGRG has a database of about 300 black lobbyists, a minuscule percentage of the 30,000 registered lobbyists in Washington. Council admits that she wants to make efforts to get more out of lobbying. That’s why she says she’s excited about a mentoring program the WGRG has discussed developing that would pair young lobbyists with veterans of the craft. As a volunteer at the Southeast White House, a nonprofit program helping the District’s lower-income communities, Council serves as a mentor of a 10-year-old girl and is hoping to take on the role of “mentee” when it comes to stepping up her lobbying game. “There’s not too many black people in the field, and having someone who has been in the business for a while to show people like myself how to open up opportunities and make contacts in the field would be extremely helpful,” Council says. And because some WGRG members work in major for-profit shops such as the Livingston Group and Alcalde & Fay, having some insight into the goings-on there is appealing. “It would be very different than our focus at the FRC,” Council says. It would be good to see how things are done at other lobby shops.” THE FIGHT CONTINUES With Council’s help, the FRC eventually garnered enough signatures for the letter to send to Dingell and Barton. Two weeks ago, the Senate voted to reauthorize the program for at least three months. The House, however, failed to move on the legislation and is expected to address the issue this week after the July 4 recess. Although Kaptur and Brown, two of the representatives whose staffs Council met with, didn’t sign on to the FRC’s letter, others did. And despite not signing on, those two will remain in Council’s Rolodex. “Sarah Perz in Kaptur’s office says the congresswoman wasn’t interested in supporting the FRC’s letter at the time but that she was willing to work with the organization on other issues. And we were told that Brown has signed on to another letter that was the opposite of ours,” Council says. So despite her worries about her career, she’s — at least right now — going to be putting her energy into the FRC. “It’s not over,” she adds. “The three-month thing is just an extension. There’s still a fight, and I’ll still be working Democrats on the Hill.”
Osita Iroegbu can be contacted at [email protected].

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