Cheryl Jacques is stepping down as president of the Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) after less than a year on the job.
Announcement of Jacques' resignation, over 'differences in management philosophy' between her and the HRC governing boards, came in a statement released by the organization late on November 30. The initiative for change appears to have come from the boards.
'It just didn't work out,' said Vic Basile. He is a former executive director of HRC and cochaired the search committee that hired Jacques. 'Cheryl has a lot of strengths and she's a good person, but on balance, it wasn't working for her and it wasn't working for us. This was a good time resolve it, in the lull between the election and when the new Congress comes in.'
Jacques cited defeat of the Federal Marriage Amendment ( FMA ) and increasing the HRC budget to $30 million and membership to 600,000 as among her accomplishments. All parties denied any link to results from the recent national elections.
The HRC Board of Directors cochairs will lead the organization during the transition until a new executive director is in place. Michael Berman is president of the Duberstein Group, a Washington lobbying firm. Hillary Rosen is the former head of the Recording Industry Association of America. She was a consultant to HRC on the FMA and is the spouse of former HRC executive director Elizabeth Birch.
Jacques, 42, resigned from the Massachusetts Senate to join HRC. She had never lived outside of the Boston area; had been publicly out for only three and a half years; had not worked extensively within the gay community; nor did she have any experience working at the national level.
The search committee did not believe those would be significant impediments when they hired her. However, they did prove to contribute to her limited effectiveness on the job.
One Capitol Hill lobbyist was appalled to learn in a conversation with Jacques, after 3-4 months on the job, that she did not know that Sen. Arlen Specter was the lead Republican sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act ( ENDA ) , the crown jewel in HRC legislative agenda.
HRC later endorsed Specter's Democratic opponent in the general election, despite his being a huge underdog in that race. Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News and active in Democratic politics in Pennsylvania for decades, said HRC would have been 'smart' to either not endorse in the race or to have issued a dual endorsement.
Specter won convincingly and is slated to chair the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over much of the legislation important to HRC.
The lobbyist said that as a result of such missteps, several Republican Senate offices formally friendly to HRC have become decidedly icy.
The departures of long time senior employees was a major source of unhappiness for several HRC board members. Among those leaving were Kim Mills who headed up workplace and education activities and Harvey Hurdle, the chief financial officer. Other senior employees have expressed their unhappiness with Jacques and were contemplating leaving.
'I'm rejoicing, she was totally clueless, she was in so far over her head,' Michael Bauer said in response to the news of Jacques departure. He is a gay democratic political consultant and fundraiser in Chicago. He served on the board of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which supports openly gay candidates for office.
Carl Schmid, former head of the Washington, DC chapter of Log Cabin Republicans and a former HRC advisory committee member, criticized the partisan tone that HRC took during the last election cycle. He said, 'The slogan, 'George W. Bush, you're fired,' made it difficult for some Republicans to support HRC. It doesn't do anything to educate Americans about same sex marriage.'
The HRC boards are scheduled to meet in Las Vegas over the weekend of December 4, with hiring a new executive director sure to top their agenda.
One option is to return to the applicant pool from a year ago. Winnie Stachelberg, HRC's long time political director was among the three finalists. She is highly respected for her political acumen and lobbying talents.
However, the skills that work best inside the beltway may not be the same ones that work best outside the beltway. The executive director plays a leading role in raising money, public speaking, and articulating a vision before the gay and mainstream communities. Some have made the comparison with John Kerry, whose skills made him an excellent policy wonk but a less effect campaigner.
Schmidt offered, 'They need someone who can understand Republicans and work with the administration and truly be a bipartisan organization. We [ as the gay community ] have to do more of a job in the red states.' He hoped that the community does not use this as an excuse to demonize HRC.
'I'm a passionate Democrat,' said Bauer, 'but in case anybody hasn't noticed, we lost. This is a time to be embracing Republicans.' He thought it would be 'a really smart move' for HRC to hire a Republican, or at least someone who can talk to Republicans.
'As much as I don't like the Bush administration, they are going to be there for four years and we need to find someone who can play with the current administration.'
Bauer dismissed the possibility that HRC might hire recently out and recently resigned New Jersey Governor James McGreevey. 'We can't hire anyone with an ethical cloud over their head' as McGreevey does with putting his boyfriend on the state payroll. And there has to be some history of involvement in the community.
If HRC is serious about working with Republicans, it might consider hiring Steve May. The former Republican Arizona state legislator electrified the Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund ( SLDN ) national dinner in October with an off the cuff speech that mixed self-deprecating humor and inspiration.
His opposition to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' when called up in the Army Reserves brought experience with the national media, and he has stood up to leaders of his own party in defending the gay community.