washingtonpost.com  > Metro > Obituaries

Tom Brazaitis; Longtime D.C. Journalist

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 31, 2005; Page B07

Tom Brazaitis, 64, a leading political writer and longtime Washington bureau chief of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, died March 30 at his home in Washington. He had kidney cancer that spread to the brain.

In a 2003 column, Mr. Brazaitis, a former sports journalist, wrote that, like the Cleveland Browns football team, he was playing "prevent defense" in his battle with the illness.

Tom Brazaitis, shown in 2001, also co-wrote two books on politics.

_____Obituary Submissions_____
Visit the obituary information page to learn about news obituary and death notice submissions.

"My season, like theirs, is on the line," he wrote. "One more loss may be one too many. The difference is that whether they win or lose this year, there will be other seasons. For me, this could be the end game."

Thomas Joseph Brazaitis was born Aug. 8, 1940, in the working-class Collinwood neighborhood in Cleveland. His father was a transit system laborer; his mother, who came from a musically gifted family and passed that talent to her son, played organ at a Catholic church for 50 years.

Mr. Brazaitis, who stood 6-foot-1, entered Cleveland's John Carroll University on a basketball scholarship. He captained the team and was sports editor of the student newspaper before graduating in 1962.

He spent two years in the Army and then became a cub reporter with a community weekly after the Plain Dealer turned him down for a sports writing job.

As an editor at a chain of weekly Cleveland newspapers, he focused his attention on political coverage, which he likened to sports.

"The two endeavors have much in common, except that the stakes are higher in politics," he once wrote. "The games played in Washington, in state capitals and in city halls affect us all."

In 1971, he joined the Plain Dealer, working his way from the police to city hall beats. Sent to the Washington bureau in 1974, his first assignment was covering the U.S. House hearings on President Richard M. Nixon's impeachment during the Watergate fallout.

Starting as bureau chief in 1979, he directed his paper's presidential coverage. He sometimes went abroad, including a reporting trip to the Vatican after the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981. "He survived, and, as it turned out, has lasted in his job longer than I have in mine," he wrote upon retiring as bureau chief in 1998.

Afterward, he became a senior editor in the bureau, a job of wide latitude and little administrative responsibility.

He continued to write a liberal-leaning syndicated column published in Newhouse newspapers such as the Plain Dealer, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Oregonian of Portland and the Star-Ledger of Newark.

He was a former president of the Regional Reporters Association, which he helped start in the late 1980s to give smaller newspaper bureaus in Washington greater access to politicians.

In some respects, Mr. Brazaitis was a Washington anomaly. He was relatively low-key in the world of punditry, seldom appearing on television with the exception of C-SPAN and making occasional visits to the public radio program "The Diane Rehm Show."

He also could sing. As a member and former music chairman of the Gridiron Club, a group of D.C. journalists who spoof politicians and bureaucrats, he was heralded for having one of the few skilled voices.

In 2001, he played the role of former presidential aide Brent Scowcroft and sang to the tune of "Mona Lisa": "Condoleezza, Condoleezza / Bush has picked you / . . . Are you tough, are you mean, Condoleezza? Or just a smart and lovely token work of art?"

He wrote two books with his wife of 15 years, Eleanor Clift, a contributing editor at Newsweek magazine: "War Without Bloodshed: the Art of Politics" (1996) and "Madam President: Shattering the Last Glass Ceiling" (2000).

His marriage to Sheila Loftus Brazaitis ended in divorce.

Besides Clift, of Washington, survivors include two children from his first marriage, Mark Brazaitis of Morgantown, W.Va., and Sarah Brazaitis of New York; three stepsons, Edward Clift of Burbank, Calif., Woody Clift of Belcherville, Mass., and Robert Clift of New York; and five grandchildren.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company