Dean Preparing to Open Washington Office

Posted January 9, 2004 at 5:59pm

For more than a year, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has fashioned himself as the outsider in his run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Now he is about to open a beachhead in the insiders’ backyard.

The Dean campaign is laying plans to open an office inside the Beltway to house the flood of Democratic consultants and lobbyists who want to help Dean prepare for a race against President Bush by soliciting endorsements and crafting policy positions.

The new partnership between Dean and Washington demonstrates the surging confidence shared by both Dean and his one-time skeptics that the former Vermont governor will claim the Democratic nomination in the next few months.

Although voters in Iowa will not head to the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses for a week, Dean’s decision to make plans to open an office in Washington signals that he has begun looking past the primaries and toward a general election race against Bush.

The Washington headquarters will give campaign workers a place to collect policy positions from Democratic lobbyists and consultants — and serve as a base for aides who are working to sign up endorsements from Members of Congress and Democratic interest groups.

“There is a lot of policy talent in D.C. that we need to tap into in order to deepen and broaden the knowledge base of the candidate,” said Maria Echaveste, an informal Dean advisor in Washington.

The new office, which is still in the planning stages and will not be unveiled until after the primaries, will be run by Roy Neel, a Washington insider with four presidential campaigns under his belt.

“We want to show that [Dean] can work with folks inside the Beltway and that he is going to have the people in place who can do that,” said Neel, a former senior aide to Vice President Al Gore who signed on to the campaign after Gore endorsed Dean.

Neel plans to recruit more endorsements and to create a system to keep Dean supporters involved and aware of the campaign’s activities. He also wants to help Dean tap into the political machinery that Dean’s Congressional supporters already have on the ground in their districts.

The office also will house the growing number of campaign aides in Washington who now work from a ragtag collection of homes and borrowed office space.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the campaign’s director of policy and until recently its sole aide in Washington, currently works from his home, while Neel squats in the Alexandria office of Trippi, McMahon & Squier.

Dana Singisier, an Akin Gump associate who worked on both of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns and in his administration, was recently hired by Dean as deputy political director and will also work out of the new headquarters.

Several Dean supporters in Washington have been “advocating for some time that we need a place,” said Echaveste, who has organized an helps run informal meetings of Democratic lobbyists and consultants who support Dean.

The biweekly sessions are now held in a conference room borrowed from law firm Hogan & Hartson.

“I hope it will be open very shortly,” Echaveste added.