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Pelosi to Tap Clinton HHS Aide

A former Clinton administration spokeswoman who spent eight years as a Democratic press secretary on Capitol Hill has the inside track to become House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) new senior-level communications strategist.

Democratic House sources indicated that Melissa Skolfield, who served as assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, is the likely pick for the Minority Leader’s top adviser position. Pelosi has been seeking a heavy hitter to help develop the Democratic House message and chart a political and communications plan for the 108th Congress.

Skolfield, now a senior vice president at Golin/Harris International in Washington, has not yet been named officially, but she met with Pelosi last week in what’s viewed as the final stages of the hiring process.

A New Orleans native, Skolfield spent five years as the principal public affairs adviser to Clinton Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. She also worked as deputy assistant secretary for public affairs.

Shalala, now president of the University of Miami, said in a telephone interview that Skolfield is a tremendous choice for the communications job. She said she tried to hire Skolfield to work with her at the university, but Skolfield declined.

“She’s very strategic, she’s cool as a cucumber and the most skillful professional I’ve ever worked with,” Shalala said. “She never gets rattled and she works with most Democrats and Republicans.”

In her hunt for a senior strategist, Pelosi has turned to Clinton White House spokesmen Mike McCurry and Joe Lockhart for counsel. Pelosi also tapped Diane Dewhirst, press secretary to then-Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine), to lead the search.

Democratic sources indicated that in addition to Skolfield, other candidates included Barry Toiv, former Clinton deputy press secretary; Lorraine Voles, spokeswoman for then-Vice President Al Gore; Maria Cardona, former communications director at the Democratic National Committee; and Maura Keefe, former chief of staff and spokeswoman for Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn).

Democratic sources have said Skolfield would work hand-in-hand with current Pelosi Communications Director Brendan Daly. Daly would continue at his current job, but focus primarily on the leadership office’s interaction with reporters and managing daily press operations. Skolfield, on the other hand, would focus on the larger picture, charting the long-term Democratic message and strategy to win back the House in 2004.

Earlier this month before interviews began, Daly said: “We’re looking for someone with political experience, strong communications experience and know-how to put together a communications plan and make it work.”

Skolfield spent several years on the Hill, including six as press secretary for then-Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) and two as spokeswoman to then-Rep. Michael Andrews (D-Texas).

As for the prospect of Skolfield returning to Congressional employment, Shalala said: “She likes a challenge. And for someone who spent her career on the Hill and in government, it’s a wonderful opportunity.”

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