David Axelrod’s post-D.C. life: TV, a book, future leaders and epilepsy research

November 5, 2013

Susan Axelrod, Kuwait’s Ambassador Salem Al-Sabah, and David Axelrod during a dinner at the Kuwat embassy. (Vicky Pombo)

David Axelrod sounds kind of relieved not to be in Washington these days.

“It seems like a good time to be a visitor,” said the longtime Democrat strategist said, only half-joking.

After six years in President Obama’s inner circle, Axelrod is working on his next act: TV pundit, educator and author. (Of course he’s working on a book. You had to ask?) But at a dinner Sunday night he and wife Susan were honored for their work closest to their heart: Epilepsy, the disease that has afflicted their 32-year-old daughter, Lauren, since she was a baby.

“I would give anything to not to have had this happen to our child and to our family,” he told the audience. “But there are blessings associated with a tragedy. You learn things about life, about what’s important.”

Axelrod was a young, unknown journalist in Chicago when his daughter was first diagnosed. Years later his wife co-founded CURE (Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy), and his subsequent political success gave the couple a national platform to talk about the disease — and more recently, about the impact of the Affordable Care Act on young families struggling with serious medical issues.

The dinner at the residence of Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem Al-Sabah and his wife, Rima, included VIPs such as Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Reps. John Dingell and Joe Kennedy, MPAA head Chris Dodd, businesswoman/philanthropist Connie Milstein, NBC’s David Gregory, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough (who was singled out by Axe for a special shoutout), several ambassadors and Bob and Lee Woodruff, who emceed the benefit because Bob’s father had epilepsy and the ABC journalist briefly suffered from seizures after his 2006 head injury in Iraq.

Axelrod is now based in Chicago, dividing his time fundraising for CURE, working as a political analyst for NBC, and serving as director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, a program to train the next generation of leaders. But no campaigns in his future.

“There’s nothing I could do in American politics that would surpass what I’ve already done,” he told us. “There’s no client I could work with whom I have a closer or better relationship than I do with Barack Obama. And I always felt like I didn’t want to do this for the rest of my life.”

So no chance, he said, he’ll dive back into the 2016 fray: “No no no. Absolutely not.”

And no more mustache. Axelrod famously shaved off his signature fringe last December — on live television — after MSNBC host Joe Scarborough raised $1 million for epilepsy research.

“I got 10 steps away from shaving it off and my wife said to me, ‘I always hated that thing anyway,’ ” he told us. “I said, ‘We’ve been married for 33 years. You could have said something.’ And she said, ‘I didn’t think you’d do anything. But now that it’s off, leave it off.’ So I’m going to leave it off.”

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Earlier: Reliable Source: David Axelrod on his ‘kind of strange’ mustache shave, raising money for epilepsy research

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Emily Yahr | November 4, 2013