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Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this obituary incorrectly credited Rep. Millender-McDonald with being the first African American to chair the Committee on House Administration. She was the first African American woman to chair the committee. This version has been corrected.
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California Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald

Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.), the first African American to chair the Committee on House Administration, spoke out against genocide in Cambodia and Darfur and worked on human trafficking and women's rights issues.
Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.), the first African American to chair the Committee on House Administration, spoke out against genocide in Cambodia and Darfur and worked on human trafficking and women's rights issues. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 23, 2007; 1:32 PM

U.S. Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, 68, a seven-term California Democrat who chaired the Committee on House Administration, died of cancer April 22 at her home in Carson, Calif.

She announced April18 that the illness had been diagnosed and that she would take a leave of absence from her House duties. Rep. Robert A. Brady (D-Pa.) assumed interim leadership of the administration committee.

Rep. Millender-McDonald, whose heavily Democratic 37th Congressional District includes Long Beach, the industrial suburbs of Carson and Compton and parts of South Central Los Angeles, was a former teacher in the Los Angeles public schools.

She served on the Carson City Council and in the California State Assembly before running for Congress in December 1995 in a special election to replace Rep. Walter Tucker III (D). The two-term congressman had been convicted of extortion and tax fraud as mayor of Compton and sentenced to 27 months in prison.

Rep. Millender-McDonald won the special election and in March 1996 defeated Tucker's wife in a nine-candidate primary. She won her first full House term that November and subsequently was reelected by wide margins. Despite speculation about her health -- she had major surgery in 2005 -- she won in 2006 with more than 82 percent of the vote. Her staff invariably refused to divulge details about her illness, even after her leave of absence.

After her election to the House, she was appointed to a seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where she dealt with issues of importance to the Long Beach port, including international trade and security. Women's health and workplace issues also were a priority.

Shortly before the 1996 election, she sponsored an inquiry into rumors that the CIA had led a conspiracy to flood Los Angeles with crack cocaine to bankroll Nicaraguan Contra rebels in the 1980s. A town hall-style meeting she arranged turned raucous when CIA Director John M. Deutch tried to address a hostile audience in the Watts district of Los Angeles.

In January 2005, then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appointed her to the House Administration Committee. When Democrats gained control of the House in November, Rep. Millender-McDonald became the first African American woman to chair the committee, which has jurisdiction over salaries and expenses for committees and staff, benefit and retirement matters and federal elections. After the 2004 election, she investigated allegations of voting irregularities and voter disenfranchisement in Ohio.

Rep. Millender-McDonald was born in Birmingham, Ala., and received an undergraduate degree in business from the University of Redlands, a master's degree in educational administration from California State University at Los Angeles and worked toward a doctorate in public administration from the University of Southern California.

Before running for office, she worked as a teacher and editor-writer for the Los Angeles Unified School District and was manuscript editor for Images, a textbook designed to enhance the self-esteem of young women. She later became director of gender-equity programs for the school district and was appointed to the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. She was elected to the Carson City Council in 1990 and the State Assembly in 1992.

In the House, she compiled a liberal voting record. She spoke out against genocide in Cambodia and Darfur and worked with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Ambassador John Miller on human trafficking and women's rights issues.

In October 2004, her son Keith McDonald, a Los Angeles water district official, was convicted of extortion in a case involving municipal contracts. In 2006, he cited her illness as a reason for a furlough, and a district court judge granted him a six-month early release. Rep. Millender-McDonald was not implicated in the matter.

After the Democrats took over the House in November, Rep. Millender-McDonald lobbied to ban smoking in the speaker's lobby off the House floor, the last bastion for smokers in Congress.

Rep. Millender-McDonald is the second member of Congress to die of cancer this year. Rep. Charles Norwood (R-Ga.) died in February.

Survivors include her husband, James McDonald Jr. of Carson; five adult children; and five grandchildren.

Under California election procedure, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has 14 days to set a date for a special election.


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