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Williams, Maggie

Maggie Williams

1954—

Government official

A public relations consultant and Democratic campaign strategist, MaggieWilliams is a powerful and controversial figure in American politics. During the 1990s she served in the White House as chief of staff to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and as an assistant to President Bill Clinton and was the first African-American woman appointed to these positions in a presidential administration. She later served as manager of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008. Williams is known for her skills in negotiation and people management as well as her commitment to the causes in which she believes. "I just have this thing about injustice," Williams told Martha Sherrill in the Washington Post. "Everybody hates the big injustices—I know. But I hate even the little injustices, even the way a salesclerk treats somebody who is shabbily dressed and happens to go into a nice store."

Excelled in School

The daughter of a schoolteacher and a government worker, Williams credits her work ethic to her solid family ties and childhood experiences. She grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and was taught that a strong belief in God and pride in her African-American heritage would help her make a difference in the world. After graduating from an all-girls Catholic high school, she moved to Washington, DC, to attend Trinity College.

Her professors at Trinity considered her a remarkable student with a great understanding of the political process. While there, she began to develop her sense of political savvy. As one of only a handful of African-American students at a school that was situated in a city with a large minority population, Williams resented the fact that the school ignored the issues happening around it. In an effort to make her fellow classmates, professors, and the Trinity administration aware of the struggles that people of color were facing at the time, she and Peggy Lewis, who was the editor of the school newspaper, published an issue of the paper that was devoted entirely to African-American concerns.

When Williams and Lewis were called on by the administration to explain, they justified their actions by quoting from the school brochure, which insisted that the school was concerned about the problems of the surrounding community. "We turned the brochure back on them," Lewis told Karen De Witt in the New York Times. "[Maggie] was very good at strategy from the beginning and always had a sense of self, a sense of culture and identity."

Worked for Children's Welfare

Williams gained first-hand experience with the political process soon after she graduated from Trinity in 1977 with a degree in political science. Her first job was as an aide to Congressman Morris K. Udall of Arizona. Even though she worked for him for only one year, she learned a lot about the system and how politics operates. Williams spent the next year in Paris, where she worked as an au pair.

She returned to Washington in 1979 and took a job as deputy press secretary for the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Her tenacity and dedication paid off as she worked her way into various positions throughout the Washington political scene. For the next several years, Williams functioned in a variety of capacities, acting as manager of the convention press office for the DNC, campaign press secretary for Congressman Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey, and director of media relations for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In 1984 Williams took a job with the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), which is considered the most powerful child advocacy group in the country. One of her first tasks was to develop a public service campaign to address the problem of teen pregnancy. Marian Wright Edelman, the founder and director of the CDF, credited Williams with making the program a huge success. "She conceptualized how to mobilize people," Edelman told Patrice Gaines in Emerge, "and put teenage pregnancy on the national agenda and on the black and white agenda. She understood we needed to sell kids as effectively as Procter & Gamble sells its products."

Williams persuaded Fallon McElligott, an advertising agency in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to create a teen pregnancy prevention campaign; she made such a good impression on the agency that it offered her a job. Williams, however, was satisfied in knowing that the award-winning campaign would bring the problem of teen pregnancy to the attention of the American people. The CDF was also impressed with her work and promoted her to director of communications.

The conservative policies of the Republican administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush left Williams feeling frustrated and defeated. In 1990 she left the CDF to pursue a master's degree at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. Williams told Sherrill, "It didn't make sense to me anymore, that I had to beg people to treat children right or to persuade people in government that [pregnancy] prevention for children was important. I got tired and it seemed real obvious to me that nothing was going to change. It didn't look hopeful to me."

At a Glance …

Born Margaret Ann Williams on December 25, 1954, in Kansas City, MO; daughter of a schoolteacher and government worker; married William Barrett, 1997. Politics: Democrat. Education: Trinity College, BA, political science, 1977; University of Pennsylvania, Annenberg School for Communication, MA, 1992.

Career: Aide to Congressman Morris K. Udall of Arizona, 1977-78; Democratic National Committee (DNC), deputy press secretary, 1979-80, manager of convention press office, 1980; campaign press secretary for Congressman Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey, 1982; Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, director of media relations; convention staff member managing backstage and podium activities for the DNC, 1984; Children's Defense Fund (CDF), communications director, 1984-89; Bill Clinton-Albert Gore Jr. presidential campaign, member, 1992; assistant to President Clinton and chief of staff to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, 1993-97; independent communications consultant, Paris, France, 1997-2000; Fenton Communications, president, 2000-05; Delta Financial Corporation, director of the board of directors, 2000-07; Hillary Rodham Clinton presidential campaign, manager, 2008.

Memberships: Institute of Politics, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, board member; City Year, member of board of trustees.

Addresses: Office—Griffin Williams Critical Point Management, 17 Watch Hill Rd. Westerly, RI 02891.

Recruited by Clinton, a Former Coworker

While working on her degree, Williams started receiving phone calls from a former CDF board member and friend, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was looking for media advice. Clinton was so impressed with Williams that she asked her to join the Bill Clinton-Albert Gore Jr. presidential campaign. Williams declined the generous offer, preferring to finish her degree instead.

Having written a master's thesis on the relationship between black public officials and black reporters who work for mainstream news organizations, Williams graduated from the Annenberg School in the spring of 1992. While waiting to enter the school's doctoral program to study media, the phone calls from Clinton increased in regularity.

Williams had been following the campaign and was increasingly upset with the way the media was portraying Hillary Clinton, especially during the Republican National Convention. Finally, after polite persuasion from several friends, Williams joined the campaign in August of 1992 to serve as Hillary Clinton's media adviser. Almost immediately, Clinton's image in the minds of Americans began to improve. Williams's strategy was simple: Let Hillary be Hillary.

When Bill Clinton won the presidential election, Williams agreed to stay on as Hillary Clinton's transition director. When the Clintons moved into the White House, they—along with some friends and colleagues—were able to persuade Williams to take a job with the Clinton administration.

As a tribute to her talents, Williams was given the title of assistant to the president and chief of staff to the first lady. No previous White House official had ever held this dual role. Her duties required that she keep two offices, one in the Old Executive Office Building, where her staff worked, and another in the West Wing of the White House.

As the manager of Hillary Clinton's staff of thirteen, Williams had a host of responsibilities that included everything from speech writing to schedule organization to testifying before Congress on the first lady's behalf. Her loyalty to Hillary Clinton was unquestionable. According to Time, Williams considered herself a "counterpart" to the president's chief of staff, and while some argued that her responsibilities were indeed tremendous, others felt that she may have broken White House etiquette by making an assumption of "equal rank." Still, many in Washington believed that Williams's expertise as a media strategist greatly benefited Hillary Clinton. Paul Costello, a leading public relations executive and political consultant, commented to Vanessa Gallman in Essence, "Maggie has helped [Hillary Clinton] rise above all the questions about her role, and she has helped shape the image of Hillary as someone concerned with helping people."

Implicated in White House Scandal

Williams did, however, run into problems during what became known as the "Whitewater controversy," an inquiry into the legality of some of the Clintons' real estate dealings during the 1970s and 1980s. The investigation failed to produce evidence that the Clintons had broken any laws, but Williams was implicated in the affair when a Secret Service agent testified under oath that he had seen her leaving the home of White House counsel Vince Foster carrying documents after Foster's suicide. Williams, for her part, denied the charges and continued to support the Clintons. Additionally, Williams was part of a campaign finance scandal in which she allegedly accepted an illegal $50,000 contribution to the Democratic Party from a Taiwanese businessman named Johnny Chung, who was eventually convicted of numerous charges involving fraud and tax evasion. By the time Williams left her position at the White House, she had racked up more than $300,000 in legal fees to defend herself and was ready for a change.

In 1997 Williams married William Barrett, who had worked in the U.S. Department of State under the Clinton administration. The couple moved to Paris, where Williams worked as a communications consultant for three years. In 2000 she returned to Washington, DC, when she was named president of Fenton Communications, one of the largest public relations firms in the United States. With this position, Williams became the highest-ranking African-American woman at a top-fifty public relations agency. At the same time, Williams was recruited in April of 2000 to serve as director of the board at Delta Financial Corporation, a mortgage lending institution. According to Glenn Thrush in the Chicago Tribune, Williams believed the company's policy of focusing on mortgage lending to minorities would help lift many low-income families into the middle class. However, as the subprime mortgage crisis began unfolding in 2007, it became clear that such lending was often more predatory than helpful. Williams again became caught in controversy, but she remained in her position as director until the company filed for bankruptcy in December of 2007.

The following month Williams, who had been serving as an adviser, was tapped by Hillary Clinton to manage her presidential campaign. While Clinton's campaign for presidency ultimately was unsuccessful, Williams remained a loyal friend and adviser. She continued consulting through the firm Griffin Williams Critical Point Management and as a board member supported the Institute of Politics at Harvard University and the national service organization City Year.

Sources

Periodicals

Emerge, May 1993, p. 47.

Essence, October 1993, p. 61.

Jet, October 16, 2000.

Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2008.

New York Daily News, February 11, 2008.

New York Times, November 29, 1993, p. B-6.

Time, March 21, 1994, p. 28.

Washington Post, January 15, 1993, p. B1; February 11, 1993, p. D1.

Online

Thrush, Glenn, "Clinton Campaign Head Made $200,000 with Subprime Lender," Newsday.com, March 30, 2008, http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/nation/ny-ushill305631627mar30,0,857842.story (accessed November 5, 2008).

—Joe Kuskowski and Nancy Dziedzic

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"Williams, Maggie." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Williams, Maggie." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved October 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/williams-maggie

Williams, Maggie 1954–

Maggie Williams 1954

White House official

At a Glance

Tackled Social Issues at the CDF

Joined the Clinton Team

Became White House Staff Member

Sources

As assistant to U.S. president Bill Clinton and chief of staff to the first lady, Maggie Williams plays a key role in the nations politics. Yet, she prefers to keep a low profile as she works on issues of importance to the Clinton administration. Several journalists have noted her reluctance to give interviews and have questioned her about it. Its not that Im shy, she told KarenDe Witt of the New York Times. Itsjust that ldont think its part of my job. Im accountable to Mrs. Clinton, to the President, to the staff. There are just so many hours in the day.

In spite of this, Williamss hard work and dedication have not gone unnoticed by the powerbrokers of Washington. Her peers describe her as a smooth negotiator and a good manager of people who is ready to fight for the causes in which she believes. I just have this thing about injustice, Williams told Martha Sherrill of the Washington Post Everybody hates the big injusticesI know. But I hate even the little injustices, even the way a salesclerk treats somebody who is shabbily dressed and happens to go into a nice store.

The daughter of a schoolteacher and government worker, Williams credits her work ethic to her solid family ties and childhood experiences. She grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and was taught that a strong belief in God and pride in her African American heritage would help her to make a difference in the world. After graduating from an all-girls Catholic high school, she moved to Washington, D.C., to attend Trinity College.

Her professors at Trinity considered her a remarkable student with a great understanding of the political process. While there, she began to develop her sense of political savvy. As one of only a handful of black students at a school that was situated in a city with a very large minority population, Williams resented the fact that the school ignored the issues happening around them. In an effort to make her fellow classmates, professors, and the Trinity administration aware of the struggles that people of color were facing at the time, she and a friend, who was editor of the school newspaper, published an issue of the paper that was devoted entirely to black concerns.

When Williams and her friend were called upon by the administration to explain, they justified their actions by quoting from a college catalog that insisted that the school was concerned about the problems of the community

At a Glance

Born Margaret Ann Williams, December 25, 1954, in Kansas City, MO; daughter of a schoolteacher and government worker. Education: Trinity College, B.A. in political science, 1977; Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, M.A., 1992. Politics: Democrat.

Aide to U.S. Congressman Morris K. Udall of Arizona, 197778; Democratic National Committee (DNC), deputy press secretary. 1979-80, manager of convention press office, 1980; campaign press secretary for Congressman Robert Torricilli of New Jersey, 1982; director of media relations, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; convention staff member managing backstage and podium activities for the DNC, 1984; communications director, Childrens Defense Fund (CDF), 1984-89; member, Clinton/Gore presidential campaign, 1992; assistant to the president and chief of staff to the first lady, 1993. Director on the boards of the Communications Consortium and Independent Action, a political action committee founded by Morris K. Udall.

Addresses: Office The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC 20500.

around the school. We turned the brochure back on them, her friend and former editor of the school newspaper, Peggy Lewis, told De Witt. [Maggie] was very good at strategy from the beginning and always had a sense of self, a sense of culture and identity.

Williams gained first-hand experience with the political process soon after she graduated from college in 1977 with a degree in political science. Her first job was as an aide to Congressman Morris Udall of Arizona. Though she only worked for him for a year, she learned a lot about the system and how the game of politics is played. Williams spent the next year in Paris where she worked as an au pair.

She returned to Washington in 1979 and took a job as deputy press secretary for the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Her tenacity and dedication to hard work paid off as she worked her way into various positions throughout the Washington political scene. For the next several years, Williams functioned in a variety of different capacities in the political arena, acting as manager of the convention press office for the DNC, campaign press secretary for Congressman Robert Torricilli of New Jersey, and director of media relations for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Tackled Social Issues at the CDF

In 1984 Williams took a job with the Childrens Defense Fund (CDF), one of the most powerful child advocacy groups in the country. One of her first tasks was to develop a campaign to help solve the problem of teen pregnancy. The founder and director of the CDF, Marian Wright Edelman, credited Williams with making the program a huge success. She conceptualized how to mobilize people, Edelman told Patrice Gaines of Emerge, and put teenage pregnancy on the national agenda and on the black and white agenda. She understood we needed to sell kids as effectively as Procter & Gamble sells its products.

Williams persuaded Fallon McElligott, an advertising agency in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to create an anti-teen pregnancy campaign; she made such a good impression on the agency that they offered her a job. Williams, however, was satisfied in knowing that the award-winning campaign would bring the problem of teen pregnancy to the eyes of the American people. The CDF was also impressed with her work and promoted her to director of communications.

The conservative policies of the Republican administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush left Williams feeling frustrated and defeated. In 1990 she left the CDF to pursue a masters degree at the University of Pennsylvanias Annenberg School for Communication. It didnt make sense to me anymore, Williams told Sherrill, that I had to beg people to treat children right or to persuade people in government that [pregnancy] prevention for children was important. I got tired and it seemed real obvious to me that nothing was going to change. It didnt look hopeful to me.

Joined the Clinton Team

While working on her degree, Williams started receiving phone calls from a former CDF board member and friend, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was looking for media advice. Mrs. Clinton was so impressed with Williams that she asked her to join the Clinton/Gore presidential campaign. Williams declined the generous offer, preferring to finish her degree instead.

Having written a masters thesis on the relationship between black public officials and black reporters who work for mainstream news organizations, Williams graduated from the Annenberg School in the spring of 1992. While waiting to enter the schools doctoral program to study media, the phone calls from Mrs. Clinton increased in regularity.

Williams had been following the campaign and was increasingly upset with the way the media was portraying Mrs. Clinton, especially during the Republican National Convention. Finally, after polite persuasion from several friends, Williams joined the campaign in August of 1992 to serve as Mrs. Clintons media adviser. Almost immediately, the image of Hillary Clinton in the minds of Americans began to improve. Williamss strategy was simple: let Hillary be Hillary.

When Bill Clinton won the presidential election, Williams agreed to stay on as Hillary Clintons transition director. And when the Clintons moved into the White House, theyalong with some friends and colleagueswere able to persuade Williams to take a job with the Clinton administration.

Became White House Staff Member

As a tribute to her talents, Maggie Williams was given the title of assistant to the president and chief of staff to the first lady. No previous White House official had ever held this dual role. Her duties require that she keep two offices, one in the Old Executive Office Building, where her staff works, and another in the West Wing of the White Housea testament to the Clintons faith in her.

As the manager of Hillary Clintons staff of 13, Williams has a host of responsibilities that include everything from speech writing to schedule organization to testifying before Congress on the first ladys behalf. Her loyalty to Hillary Clinton is unquestionable. According to Time, Williams considers herself a counterpart to the presidents chief of staff, and while some would argue that her responsibilities are indeed tremendous, others feel that she may have broken White House etiquette by making an assumption of equal rank. Still, many in Washington believe that Mrs. Clinton would have hit a lot more potholes if it werent for Williamss expertise as a media strategist. Paul Costello, a senior vice president for a prestigious public relations firm that advises other political leaders, commented to Vanessa Gallman of Essence: Maggie has helped [Mrs. Clinton] rise above all the questions about her role, and she has helped shape the image of Hillary as someone concerned with helping people.

Fortunately, Williams shares similar values and beliefs with her coworkers and the administration as a whole. One of the things I like about this administration is, it is based on the belief that government has a role, individuals have a role, families have a role, and you have to have a balance, she told Gaines. However, Williams is concerned that since she is now a part of the system that she has challenged in the past, she will have no one to blame but herself if the Clinton administration is not successful in solving some of the countrys biggest problemssuch as the American health care crisis.

But Williams remains steadfast in her support of the Clintons. She does admit that as an African American woman, she views certain things that are happening in the world as only another person of color could. When she was asked to speak to a group of students at her alma mater about the work experiences of African American women, Williams was quick to point out the realities of being black and female. It requires more energy, more tolerance, more faith, Gallman quoted her as saying. What it takes is confidence, preparation, and a refusal to limit yourself.

Sources

Emerge, May 1993, p. 47.

Essence, October 1993, p. 61.

New York Times, November 29, 1993, p. B-6.

Time, March 21, 1994, p. 28.

Washington Post, January 15, 1993, p. B-l; February 11, 1993, p. D-1.

Joe Kuskowski

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Williams, Maggie 1954–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Williams, Maggie 1954–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/williams-maggie-1954

"Williams, Maggie 1954–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved October 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/williams-maggie-1954