Surviving The Free Fall

Chicago native Patti Solis Doyle will be chief of staff to whoever becomes Barack Obama's running mate.
Chicago native Patti Solis Doyle will be chief of staff to whoever becomes Barack Obama's running mate. (By Charles Rex Arbogast -- Associated Press)
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By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 30, 2008

CHICAGO

Patti Solis Doyle has come home to get her house in order and her reputation back. It has not been a good year.

After a dramatic failure at the helm of Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign, and five months after Clinton sacked her via e-mail, she moved back to the comfort of her home town to work for Barack Obama.

Here, she is in the protective cocoon of her close Mexican American family, and enveloped by the familiar faces of the tight Democratic machine that helped shape her.

And here, in a small glass office on the 11th floor, at Obama's campaign headquarters on Michigan Avenue, she keeps her head down and tries to unravel the mysteries of 2008: why Clinton lost, why so many of her old friends have turned on her, why she is largely blamed for the campaign's dysfunction, and, most unsettling to her, why Clinton has distanced herself from her onetime closest confidant.

In Washington, proximity to power is power, and on the February day Solis Doyle was replaced, she experienced one of the more rapid -- and extraordinary -- free falls in American politics. She was immediately shut out of the inner circle and cut loose. She was accused of squandering millions of campaign dollars, of being holed up in her corner office watching soap operas as the campaign collapsed, of being an imperious leader who perpetuated a tense and joyless atmosphere -- all of which she denies.

"It's really sad and discouraging and revolting at times," Solis Doyle, 42, says over lunch one recent day. "I have to tell you, I was surprised by the vitriol towards me. I think I'm a good person."

It is generally an unremarkable event when staffers for a defeated presidential candidate join the rival's campaign. At a certain moment, there is a clarion call for all hands on deck. But Clinton loyalists were enraged when Solis Doyle was named chief of staff for Obama's future vice presidential pick.

She had worked for Clinton for 17 years, through Whitewater and Monica, two Senate races and the relentless GOP attack machine. It was Solis Doyle who coined the phrase "Hillaryland" to describe the coterie of women who have been with Clinton since her years as first lady. In time, she became the ultimate gatekeeper and custodian of all secrets. She was as close as any aide could be to a politician. Clinton read at her wedding.

"When I speak, Hillary is speaking," she would tell people.

Now, she and Hillary do not speak. She and Hillary have not spoken since Feb. 10, the day she was ousted. The senator from New York declined to be interviewed for this article but, through a spokesman, says she wishes Solis Doyle well.


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