Crawford to Leave Pelosi’s Office

Posted June 8, 2005 at 6:44pm

After a quarter-century on the Hill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s top aide, George Crawford, is retiring from his post and leaving the halls of Congress for the West Coast.

Crawford, 50, will step down as Pelosi’s chief of staff on July 1 and return to California where he grew up and attended college. Another veteran House Democratic aide, John Lawrence, a longtime aide to Pelosi’s closest Congressional ally and friend Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), will succeed Crawford.

“It will be a big change,” Crawford said Wednesday of his exit. “I’ve been on the Hill for over 24 years.”

Crawford acknowledged that it is unusual for a senior staffer to leave Congress mid-session, but felt the timing was right. The Minority Leader’s office is in solid shape, House Democrats have seen some recent successes, the midterm elections are still almost two years away and he is ready to spend more time with his family, he said.

“It’s a different mindset out [in California], but I’m looking forward to slowing down a little bit,” he said.

Pelosi said Crawford’s departure sparked mixed emotions. While happy about his prospects, she will miss him personally and the contributions he made to her leadership team and the Caucus. Pelosi said Crawford “has done an exceptional job” and brought with him “unparalleled knowledge” of the issues, politics and Congressional procedure.

“We had a strong office before George came on board, but he took us to another level,” Pelosi said in an interview. “He gave us the leadership we needed to go to the next level.

“He understands the politics of what is possible around here.”

Crawford isn’t set on his next professional move, but he insists he will not retire for good or abandon his interest in politics. In the meantime, however, Crawford will try to rediscover his golf swing and catch some of his son’s baseball games.

“I’m 50, I still have plenty of time to do something else,” Crawford said. “I just don’t know what that will be.”

Lawrence has spent 30 years on the Hill, and comes with a strong track record, having served as Miller’s chief of staff, the staff director for the Resources Committee and now as the top Democratic aide on the Education and the Workforce Committee, on which the Bay Area Democrat is the ranking member.

Pelosi said Lawrence is “a master strategist who will bring a wealth of talent and expertise” to her office, adding his policy background will work well for House Democrats and their focus on core issues of jobs, education and health care.

“John Lawrence is a good match for the needs we have now,” Pelosi said. “George Crawford afforded me the opportunity of going in a number of directions for his successor, and when I thought about it, I thought it was important to move in the direction of communication and the needs of American families.”

One of the most seasoned staffers in House Democratic circles, Crawford has worked for some of the institution’s most colorful and powerful Members. He began his Congressional tenure as a part-time typist for then-Rep. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.), but earned his stripes in the 1980s as a young legislative aide to then- Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.).

Crawford joined the Rules panel in 1983 when Pepper was the chairman, and stayed on when the late Rep. Joe Moakley (Mass.) served as the leading Democrat. Crawford served as the top Democratic staffer on the committee for 10 years.

Pelosi tapped him four years ago when she was a rank-and-file Member running for Minority Whip. Crawford reluctantly left his comfort zone on the Rules Committee to join Pelosi and stayed with her as she ascended to the job as the top House Democrat. Crawford called Pelosi “extraordinary” and said she has all the makings of a great leader because of her strategic and operational mindset, vision and commitment to the party.

“I have had a great career,” Crawford said. “I feel blessed. I have had a charmed life up here.”

While many Republican House leaders have seen top veteran aides depart their offices over the last year or so, Pelosi has kept nearly all of her senior staff in place since becoming the Democratic leader more than two years ago.

Steve Elmendorf, former chief of staff to then-Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), said Crawford served Pelosi well, noting he has an unmatched knowledge of House rules and helped her find her stride as the Democratic leader. He added that Lawrence’s transition should be seamless given he has a strong relationship with Pelosi, strong political skills and knows the Caucus well.

“It’s a hard job, and George was there for four years,” Elmendorf said. “Lawrence is a great choice.”

In his time as Pelosi’s chief of staff, Crawford is credited with assembling a solid leadership organization, advancing the House Democratic message and expanding the party’s outreach beyond the Beltway to key constituency groups. The soft-spoken staffer who avoids media attention at all costs is also known as a master delegator who keys into others’ abilities and strengths.

Crawford said he can leave with peace of mind: “The foundation — what we’ve built here — is really strong. The building blocks have been laid.”