There are not yet books on the shelves inside this corner office deep within the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Her new desk, like the walls, is virtually bare. Less than 48 hours after becoming the DNC chairwoman, a handful of framed family pictures and some fresh flowers are the only evidence her new office is even occupied.
“We’re in the process of moving in now,” the Congresswoman says. “We have to make this look less like a man’s office, because that’s pretty much what it’s always been. It’s really ugly. We’re going to pretty it up a little bit.”
But don’t let the tulips and irises fool you.
This Florida Democrat may be a 44-year-old mother of three young children, but she will also serve as President Barack Obama’s leading attack dog for the next 18 months.
She has an uncanny knack for being both disarming and aggressive in the same conversation. She is a breast cancer survivor and longtime politician who knows that her ability to connect with women is one of her greatest political assets in the fight to help re-elect Obama.
Just don’t question her intention to play an active role, despite the constant juggling act that already defines her life.
“Anyone that knows me knows that I wouldn’t take a job — I don’t collect titles. I work my ass off,” she told Roll Call in an interview. “I had a specific conversation with the people around the president that I did not want this job if they were just plunking me at the top of the organization as a figurehead. There was a specific discussion that they were bringing me in because they wanted me at the table, because they wanted me to be able to help them make strategic decisions, important strategic decisions, and be able to use the talents, for lack of a better term, that I have in fundraising, in messaging, in grass-roots outreach.”
Her resolve is clear, but the last active Member of Congress to hold the DNC chairmanship, then-Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.), was little more than a figurehead during his term between 1995 and 1996. A co-chairman was appointed at that time to help lead the operation.
In the years since, governors and strategists have led the party. Wasserman Schultz said it’s a good time to shift away from a top-down leadership structure.
“The difference between Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Tim Kaine, and for that matter Howard Dean and Terry McAuliffe before him, I just had a very different style as a legislator than the previous three chairs who were executives,” she said. “It’s the right time for a style like mine. ... We need to get everybody on board. We need to get everybody fired up. We need to make sure that everybody feels important.”
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.