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The Short List: Who Will Lead HRC?

The Short List: Who Will Lead HRC?


Next month, Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese is set to end his tenure at the LGBT organization he's led since 2005. Politically, the transition in leadership comes at an interesting time, with the White House up for grabs in a few months and growing calls for President Obama to not only sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees, but also to complete his evolution on the marriage equality front. Multiple states are grappling over marriage, while LGBT-related bills both recent (the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, for example) and long-in-the-tooth (ENDA) are pending in Congress.

Since news broke of Solmonese's departure in August, the organization has been mum on the executive search process. Reached by phone, HRC spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz declined to give details on when a successor to Solmonese may be announced or who may be among the finalists for the job. Multiple outside sources, meanwhile, speculated that the following LGBT leaders could fit the job description to run the 1-million-member-plus organization.

Patrick Guerriero

A former president of the Log Cabin Republicans and founding executive director of the Gill Action Fund, Patrick Guerriero brings a record of accomplishments and reputation for working across the aisle. Now a founding partner of the bipartisan Civitas Public Affairs Group, he made history in 2002 when he became the nation's first openly gay candidate for lieutenant governor in Massachusetts, where he also served in the state House of Representatives. At Gill from 2006 to 2011, he presided over a no-holds-barred strategy to unseat antigay lawmakers and elect pro-equality candidates in gubernatorial offices and state legislatures, paving the way for more inclusive laws and policies. Given his background, Guerriero may be more willing than past HRC leadership to stand publicly at odds with the White House. However, he possesses the political skills and finesse to push the limit without breaking ties, in order to extract the most for the gay community. One insider calls him "the best doer, thinker, and actor in our movement today."

Brian Ellner

A Harvard Law School graduate who has worked as a litigation counsel at the megafirm O'Melveny & Myers, Ellner served as a senior strategist for the Human Rights Campaign during the multi-coalitional, bipartisan effort New Yorkers for Marriage Equality. (Last year, the Empire State became the sixth to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples; Washington state followed suit Monday.) "He ran a very successful campaign, and it's the biggest thing [HRC] has been involved in in awhile," a source said. Soon after the bill's passage, Ellner was profiled by the New York Times, which led its story with descriptions of Ellner's expansive rolodex. "I find connections, and I don't let go until someone moves their position," Ellner told the Times' Jan Hoffman. Ellner's pro bono legal work has included the LGBT community center in New York and Freedom to Marry.

Elizabeth Birch

Elizabeth Birch could offer stability and familiarity to an organization in transition. The former counsel to Apple and board chair of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force served as executive director of HRC from 1995 to 2004, when she presided over historic expansions in the organization's budget and membership while welcoming a number of firsts. During her tenure, HRC opened its $30 million headquarters building in Washington, D.C., Bill Clinton appeared at the group's fundraiser and became the first sitting president to address an LGBT organization, and Birch was the first leader of an LGBT organization to speak at a national political convention, the DNC in 2000. On the flip side, her tenure was not without controversy, where some critics charged that under her leadership the organization became more driven by fund-raising than policy initiatives. In one memorable episode, HRC endorsed the gay-friendly Republican senator Al D'Amato from New York over Democratic challenger Charles Schumer in 1998 to the consternation of some activists. She is raising two children with her ex-partner, Hilary Rosen, the Democratic strategist.

Chad Griffin

Running the nation's largest LGBT organization requires strategic chops as well as fundraising prowess. Chad Griffin has both, as cofounder for the American Foundation for Equal Rights--the backer of the lawsuit against Proposition 8, which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unconstitutional earlier this week. And Griffin is a major fundraiser for the Obama campaign. Plus, AFER has raised millions of dollars to pay legal expenses in the Prop. 8 case. Cutting his teeth in politics at a young age under Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers, Griffin has manifold Obama White House connections. To boot, his former consulting business partner in Los Angeles, Kristina Schake, is Mrs. Obama's communications chief, a position she took one year ago.

Sean Eldridge

Sean Eldridge is a prominent LGBT activist and investor who would bring youth and close ties to the Obama administration to the Human Rights Campaign. He helped organize the national Students for Barack Obama campaign during the last presidential election, when his fiance Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, coordinated online organizing for the campaign. Eldridge left Columbia Law School to work as communications director for Freedom to Marry, where he served as political director during the successful effort to pass the marriage equality bill last year. He serves on the board of Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, and is president of Hudson River Ventures, a small-business investment fund based in the Hudson Valley where he and Hughes live. A delegate for Obama to the 2012 Democratic National Convention, his own political future looks bright, at only 25 years old.

Chuck Wolfe

As executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which supports LGBT candidates for political office, Wolfe possesses the requisite Washington connections while leading an organization with an impressive record of improving LGBT representation in American politics. And, as one source puts it, "Chuck has managed to stay away from the controversy and negative Washington gossip that usually ensnarls our leaders." Prior to his Victory Fund tenure, Wolfe served as executive vice president and COO of the American Legacy Foundation, an anti-tobacco organization. The Victory Fund is an active supporter of many 2012 gay political candidates, including Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who is running for Wisconsin senator Herb Kohl's seat.

Kevin Jennings

With a resume that spans political and advocacy work, Jennings is the founder of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network and served as assistant deputy secretary for the Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools from 2009 until last summer. While working for the administration, Jennings was a target of the antigay Family Research Council, though he said in an interview last year that he "wasn't going to be derailed from that work by a bunch of bullies and liars." Jennings is currently CEO of Be the Change, Inc., which according to its website, "creates national issue-based campaigns ... driven by broad cross-partisan coalitions that inspire culture change and accelerate public policy development to bring about positive changes in our society."

Randi Weingarten

As president of the 1.5-million-member American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten is the first openly gay person elected to lead a national union. The New York Times notes that "friends and foes" describe Weingarten as "a superb tactician who cares deeply about being seen as a reformer." The Times also noted that in 2009, Weingarten, a Democratic superdelegate for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 race, was seen as a potential candidate for Clinton's Senate seat, which ultimately went to then-New York representative Kirsten Gillibrand.

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