Maria Leavey, 52; Political Consultant

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 7, 2007

Maria Leavey, a behind-the-scenes media force for liberal causes who had an uncanny ability to bring opinion makers together with Washington's political elite, died of heart disease Dec. 31 at her apartment in Arlington. On Jan. 1 she would have turned 53.

Ms. Leavey arrived in Washington in 1993 but, unlike other well-placed media figures, she never held a staff position with a major newspaper, television or radio outlet. Nonetheless, while working out of a small apartment in Crystal City with an outmoded computer, she managed to build contacts at the highest ranks of Washington's political circles.

She was a consultant for Howard Dean, now chairman of the Democratic National Committee, during his 2004 campaign for his party's presidential nomination. She worked with senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) long before Democrats regained control of the Congress in the 2006 election.

She launched a monthly breakfast for liberal-leaning journalists, bringing them together with high-level newsmakers, including Dean, Senate Majority Leader Reid, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and even Grover Norquist, a leading Republican strategist.

The petite, dark-haired Ms. Leavey was known to bake cookies for everyone from political leaders to her mail carrier, and people of all political persuasions were charmed by her refreshing absence of guile.

"It was clear that she was putting the larger cause and other people's needs before her needs," said Michael Tomasky, a political writer and former executive editor of American Prospect magazine. "That's not something you run into too often in this town."

It wasn't always clear how Ms. Leavey became so well connected, since she worked independently and had no money to spread around. Lacking a full-time job, she had no health insurance.

"If I needed to talk to somebody in the Senate, she could put me in touch," said Joe Conason, a columnist with the New York Observer. "She actually knew these guys very well."

"I knew Maria Leavey as my friend," Reid said in a statement. "With her total selflessness and her humble commitment to the common good, Maria's life stands as an example for us all."

When Tomasky published a book, he recalled, Ms. Leavey said she would put him in touch with the host of a well-known national radio program. Within days, they were meeting for drinks.

"Her ability to connect people was pretty profound," Tomasky said. "She was just a master at making sure people she thought should know each other did know each other."

Maria Irene Leavey was born in Pisa, Italy, when her father was stationed there with the Army. She grew up in the Queens neighborhood of New York, and was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Washington's Trinity University. (She used her alma mater as a way to connect with Pelosi, who also is a Trinity alumna.)

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