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Washington, D.C.’s liberal landscape was rocked late last week when news broke that Ralph Neas, president and CEO of People for the American Way since 2000, is stepping down to become president emeritus and help search for his successor. “I’m kind of reeling,” says Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice. “Ralph is someone you always want on your side — tenacious, smart, always goes the distance. I’ll miss him.” The surprise announcement offered no explanation, and PFAW board members were cagey or silent. “I’m not exactly positive why,” said Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and a member of the board’s executive committee. “But I think that in his storied career, Ralph felt he had one more great chapter left.” In an interview, Neas, 61, said he felt “the time was right” to step down and enjoy more time with family. He says the move was his choice, and not related to recent fund-raising shortfalls: “We had a tough year last year, but everyone did.” Membership climbed from 275,000 to one million during his tenure, Neas says. Neas launched his career as an aide to Sen. Edward Brooke (R-Mass.) in the early 1970s. But a nearly fatal case of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in 1979 left him paralyzed for months. He recovered with a new sense of mission and held the top job at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights from 1981 to 1995. Neas turned the loose coalition into a powerhouse, toppling Reagan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork and helping win passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act. He took his high-energy style to PFAW, where he continued to battle judicial nominees. But he also steered the organization toward registering more minority voters — more than a half-million in the past three years, he says.
Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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