Charles Manatt, 75; guided Democratic Party
WASHINGTON - Charles T. Manatt, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a US ambassador during the Clinton administration, has died. He was 75.
His daughter, Michele, said he died last Friday at Kindred Hospital in Richmond of complications from a stroke.
Mr. Manatt was party chairman from 1981-85, during the first term of Republican Ronald Reagan and a difficult period for Democrats. A longtime California Democrat, Manatt was credited with building the party’s finances; modernizing it through computerization, direct mail, and other initiatives; and building a new headquarters in Washington.
On the eve of the 1984 Democratic convention in San Francisco, presidential nominee-in-waiting Walter Mondale tried to replace Mr. Manatt with Carter administration official Bert Lance. Mondale backed off after an outcry within the party, triggered in part by Mr. Manatt’s positive reputation in the ranks and Lance’s ties to a banking scandal for which he had been tried and acquitted. Reagan cruised to an easy victory over Mondale for a second term.
Mr. Manatt and the party fared better in 1992, when he was cochairman of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. Clinton later appointed Mr. Manatt as ambassador to the Dominican Republic, where he served from 1999-2001.
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Chuck Manatt,’’ Clinton said in a statement released by Mr. Manatt’s law firm, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. “We were friends for 30 years, and I saw firsthand how he used his energy, intellect, and common sense to help restore the Democratic Party after 1980, to make America more prosperous and just, and to make friends for our nation around the world.’’
Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the current DNC chairwoman, praised Mr. Manatt yesterday as an “active force for change.’’
“His opinion remained sought after to the day of his death, and his influence will long be felt in our party,’’ she said.
Mr. Manatt was born in Chicago and raised on a farm near Audubon, Iowa.
Mr. Manatt was a chairman of the California Democratic Party during the 1970s and later served as finance chairman of the national party. He also was a trustee of George Washington University from 1980-2008 and chairman of the board of trustees from 2001-2007.
He leaves his wife, Kathleen, and their three children, Michele, Timothy, and Daniel.