The Apprentice

Posted February 3, 2004 at 5:55pm

Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, one of an ensemble cast of 12 remaining characters vying for the affections of “The Donald” on NBC’s “The Apprentice,” knows something about crushing the competition.

After all, the statuesque Washingtonian comes to the show with ample experience in two of the most vicious bloodsports around: beauty pageants and politics.

“Like politics, show business is all about ‘who you know,’” Manigault-Stallworth said in an e-mail. (NBC policy does not permit cast members on the show to speak directly to the media until they are “fired” or the show ends, whichever comes first.)

Manigault-Stallworth is a former top-five finalist in the Miss D.C. America pageant who went on to win both the Mrs. D.C. America and Mrs. D.C. USA contests after tying the knot with Texan

Aaron Stallworth. She is also a veteran of the Clinton White House, where she served in then-Vice President Al Gore’s scheduling and advance office and later in the office of presidential personnel.

Now a D.C. political and image consultant — who has trained a Miss USA, a Miss Taiwan and a Miss Guyana — she currently wields her magic as a vice chairwoman for the Democratic National Committee’s African American Leadership Council, where she has helped raise money for the committee’s fledgling effort to more fully integrate black leaders into its political and fundraising apparatus.

Manigault-Stallworth, who turns 30 tomorrow, is also a managing partner at Access America Enterprise Corp., a D.C. lobbying firm.

“She’s very good at keeping a cool head and getting the job done,” said African American Leadership Council Director Kevin Jefferson, who first met Manigault-Stallworth when both served in the vice president’s office.

Later, when Jefferson moved over to the DNC, he sought her assistance in setting up the council, launched in 2002.

“She helped me get it off the ground,” said Jefferson, who said that Manigault-Stallworth was particularly adept at parlaying her White House connections into big bucks. “She has natural business skills, natural ability with people.”

Such traits should serve her well as she attempts to survive Donald Trump’s 15-week, televised “job interview” to select — through a series of business challenges, ranging from selling lemonade on the streets of New York City to running Planet Hollywood for a day — an individual to head one of his companies. But Manigault-Stallworth has taken some flack on the show for her tough, in-your-face manner. (To be fair, she appeared to project a more irenic posture during last week’s episode.)

“That’s just good business acumen,” said Jefferson of her changing stance vis-à-vis her competitors. “Like any good business person, she adjusted to the terrain.”

Manigault-Stallworth was bitten by the political bug early on thanks in part to a politically active family. By the time she was 9 years old, she remembers working out of her church basement as a volunteer for the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential bid.

Since then, she has put her talents to work on a variety of local, state and national campaigns, ranging from Philadelphia Mayor John Street’s (D) successful re-election last year to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) campaign in 2000. And during Gore’s White House bid four years ago, Manigault-Stallworth “was one of the best advance people on the volunteer team,” according to former Gore campaign manager and Roll Call contributing writer Donna Brazile.

While Manigault-Stallworth’s post-Trump plans include speaking engagements and writing, the Howard University Ph.D. candidate appears more than receptive to the idea of working on a campaign of her own in the not-so-distant future, and said she has already been approached about running for office.

“It’s certainly a possibility,” she said.

“There are two types of people in the game … kings and kingmakers,” said Ervin Reid, a council adviser who has worked closely with Manigault-Stallworth. And while Reid praised her willingness “to do everything from standing on a corner to stuffing envelopes to making calls asking people for $5,000 -$10,000,” at the end of the day, he said, she’s “the type of person who would want to be the king.”

“She’s always talking about going back to Ohio and running for Congress or running for a state office,” added Jefferson, emphasizing that while Manigault-Stallworth is an “Eleanor Holmes Norton-type,” he didn’t see the Buckeye State native trying to unseat the popular, six-term Democratic Delegate for D.C.

Indeed, given her Youngstown roots, where Manigault-Stallworth was raised in the projects, it’s not beyond the scope of the possible that the former beauty queen could one day make a bid for the reconfigured seat that ex-Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio) once represented before his July 2002 expulsion from the House.

As for her shelf-life on the show, Manigault-Stallworth, who has survived four episodes so far, isn’t spilling any secrets.

“You will have to keep watching and see!” she said.