Democratic Campaign Chief Eli Segal

Eli J. Segal, right, talks strategy with Gen. Wesley K. Clark, left, during Clark's Democratic presidential nomination campaign in January 2004.
Eli J. Segal, right, talks strategy with Gen. Wesley K. Clark, left, during Clark's Democratic presidential nomination campaign in January 2004. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Eli J. Segal, 63, a resourceful entrepreneur and a Democratic political operative who helped run Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign and then joined Clinton's White House staff, died Feb. 20 at his home in Boston.

He had mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. The family said the source was unknown.

Mr. Segal's political pedigree extended to the 1968 anti-Vietnam War presidential campaign of Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.). Through his political friendships, he was invited to have significant roles in a series of Democratic presidential bids, all of them unsuccessful until Clinton's.

The Arkansas governor, a friend from Sen. George McGovern's presidential campaign of 1972, asked Mr. Segal to join the effort as chief of staff, which made him responsible for all but the communications side of the campaign.

He conducted hiring and fundraising and outreach to businesses. He was particularly good at helping Clinton win endorsements from corporate chiefs, which aided his reputation as a market-oriented centrist.

Mr. Segal had proved himself able as an entrepreneur. At age 28, he began working for Miles Rubin, a prolific Democratic donor who ran the defense company Pioneer Systems Inc.

Over the years, Mr. Segal became chief executive of several companies, including Vogart Crafts Corp., a manufacturer of yarn and crafts that was a subsidiary of Pioneer Systems; American Publishing Corp., which produced games and puzzles; and Bits & Pieces, a mail-order game catalog. In 1990, he acquired a bankrupt magazine called Games, soon making it profitable.

In the Clinton White House, he held the title of assistant to the president. One of his major accomplishments was seeing through the legislation to create the Corporation for National and Community Service, commonly called AmeriCorps. He relied heavily on the experience of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who saw the program as part of the Peace Corps legacy.

Starting in 1993, Mr. Segal served three years as the first chief executive of AmeriCorps, which promises young people payment for college in return for community service. Hundreds of thousands have served in the program.

In his second term, Clinton asked Mr. Segal to head the Welfare to Work Partnership, a not-for-profit group spawned from massive welfare reform legislation. Mr. Segal worked to encourage businesses to hire people off welfare. Shortly after stepping down in 2000, he received the Presidential Citizens Medal for service to the nation.

He became board chairman of City Year, a service organization that was a model for AmeriCorps. Mr. Segal led a similar effort in South Africa after meeting President Nelson Mandela.

Eli Jay Segal was a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., a 1964 history graduate of Brandeis University and a 1967 graduate of the University of Michigan law school.

While working for McCarthy, he became incensed at what he perceived as flaws in the nominating process. After the election, Mr. Segal was involved with commissions that began to de-emphasize the role played by party bosses and allowed the voters, through caucuses and primaries, to have a greater say in the nomination.

Other election work followed, notably on the 1972 presidential campaign of McGovern (D-S.D.). As deputy campaign chairman, he hired a young Bill Clinton to lead the campaign in Texas. The results were disastrous, but the friendship lasted.

When Mr. Segal's boss on the McGovern campaign, Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), sought the presidency in 1984, he made Mr. Segal chief of staff. Hart lost the nomination to former vice president Walter Mondale.

After he left the Clinton White House, Mr. Segal sat on many boards and was a senior director of Stonebridge International LLC, a strategic advisory firm led by Samuel Berger, former national security adviser.

He returned to presidential campaign work in 2004, managing Gen. Wesley K. Clark's unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination.

He enjoyed skiing in Vail, Colo.

Survivors include his wife of 39 years, Phyllis Nichamoff Segal of Boston; two children, Jonathan Segal of Needham, Mass., and Mora Lemberg of Washington; a brother, Alan Segal of Brookline, Mass.; and two grandchildren.

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