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Anne Wexler, 79

Anne Wexler, 79; Power Broker Founded 1st Big D.C. Lobbying Firm Led by a Woman

Anne Wexler worked in the Carter White House before starting her firm.
Anne Wexler worked in the Carter White House before starting her firm. (By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 9, 2009

Anne Wexler, a well-connected political power broker who founded the first major Washington lobbying firm to be led by a woman, and who was considered one of the capital's most influential lobbyists, died Aug. 7 of cancer at her home in the District. She was 79.

Ms. Wexler began her unlikely rise to prominence in Democratic Party circles as a Connecticut housewife who joined the PTA and a local zoning board. By 1978, she had carved out an important role in the Carter White House and used her skills at compromise and negotiation to win support on Capitol Hill for the administration's legislative programs.

In 1981, she founded Wexler & Associates with two other two other Carter White House veterans, Gail L. Harrison and Robert Schule.

"Anne's firm became the first really major public affairs lobbying company to have a woman as leader," Harrison said yesterday.

In a statement released Saturday night, former president Jimmy Carter called her an exemplary and "remarkably effective" public servant.

Through "her integrity" she brought "a good image" to lobbying, he said.

At first, Ms. Wexler was openly mocked by some of the men on Washington's lobbying scene. But when she landed the Motion Picture Association of America as a client, the laughing stopped. In short order, Ms. Wexler was doing business with General Motors and American Airlines.

In 1983, she brought former Republican operative and corporate lobbyist Nancy Clark Reynolds to Wexler & Associates to create one of Washington's first avowedly bipartisan lobbying firms.

"I'm a Democrat; you're a Republican," Ms. Wexler recalled telling Reynolds in a 2007 Washingtonian magazine article. "We could join forces. It's never been done."

After Reynolds and the other early partners retired, Ms. Wexler remained affiliated with the firm, now called Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates. (The other principal partner is Robert S. Walker, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania.)

During the Clinton administration, Ms. Wexler was a key lobbyist and strategist for the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Her work on behalf of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement in 2004 won her a top award from the Australian government.

She advised advised Comcast in merger negotiations with AT&T, and her wide-ranging list of clients also included the National Football League, Aetna Insurance, Kellogg, Bendix and Eastman Kodak.

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