Home Rule and Democratic Activist Richard Rausch

Richard Rausch, second from left with unidentified campaigners, worked for the election of Adrian M. Fenty as D.C. mayor and two D.C. Council members.
Richard Rausch, second from left with unidentified campaigners, worked for the election of Adrian M. Fenty as D.C. mayor and two D.C. Council members. (Family Photos)
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 3, 2007

Richard Rausch, 71, a longtime D.C. Democratic activist who was the former executive director of the national Young Democrats organization, died May 29 at Virginia Hospital Center of complications from pneumonia and infections after surgery. He had broken his hip last fall and previously had liver cancer.

Mr. Rausch had attended every Democratic National Convention for the past 50 years and helped rally support for the D.C. home rule effort in the early 1970s. In 1976, he was a founding member of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the District's oldest gay and lesbian political organization.

Mr. Rausch never held elective office and spent most of his career working behind the scenes, but he was widely known to local and national political leaders. For nearly 30 years until his retirement in 1995, he worked as a Capitol Hill legislative assistant for Democratic lawmakers, including Iowa Rep. Neal Smith and Calif. Rep. Phillip Burton, who was a close friend.

In 2006, Mr. Rausch campaigned for the election of Adrian M. Fenty (D) as D.C. mayor and for D.C. Council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). Mr. Rausch also traveled to his native Iowa to work for Chet Culver, who was elected governor in 2006. From his hospital bed, Mr. Rausch worked the phones for presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) until the day before Mr. Rausch's death.

Mr. Rausch began his political activism in his home town of Carroll, Iowa, where he campaigned for Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956. He joined the national group Teen Democrats in high school and remained politically active as an undergraduate at the University of Iowa.

In 1960, when he was named executive director of the national Young Democrats, Mr. Rausch moved to Washington. Still in his 20s, he was a regular visitor to the Kennedy White House and became friends with other young leaders of the party, including current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.).

Mr. Rausch served on the local and national boards of Americans for Democratic Action and was elected to the D.C. Democratic State Committee in 1975. He served as vice chairman, among other leadership positions, before stepping down in 2001. He was also a member of the D.C. Statehood Commission and a D.C. commission on disabilities, and he lobbied legislators on behalf of environmental causes.

"He was a man of tremendous principle," said Jan Eichhorn, a friend and longtime Democratic activist in the District. "He was a liberal idealist, and he worked very hard for causes and candidates."

Mr. Rausch was known for his quick, deadpan wit and was affectionately known as the "mayor of Capitol Hill" in his neighborhood.

In his 50s, Mr. Rausch was stricken by Guillain-Barre syndrome, a nerve disorder that had a crippling effect on his hands and feet. After hospitalization, he regained his ability to walk, but he was unable to button his shirts or tie his shoelaces.

Nov. 11, 2005, Mr. Rausch's 70th birthday, was proclaimed "Richard Rausch Day" by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

Survivors include a half sister.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company