Political practitioners are mourning the loss of Ann Marie Habershaw, an industry leader who began as a volunteer on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.
Habershaw died unexpectedly Sunday, according to a statement from Bully Pulpit Interactive, the Democratic digital firm where she was a partner and COO. She had been battling cancer.
Habershaw made her reputation as a leadership professional who brought the structure and discipline of corporate management to the campaign industry.
Before joining BPI, she served as the chief operating officer of Obama for America during the 2012 cycle.
She explained the novel role to C&E during a 2015 interview. “You have to create an environment which allows your team, whether at a committee, campaign or a firm, to be creative and innovative and deliver quality work,” she said. “You have to set up a system where you can manage the flow of a billion dollars and the activities of thousands of people in offices across the country.
“That allows you to make sure you are on budget, makes sure you are following federal election law and also prevent [scams] from happening. What you want to do is put in a structure that can do what you need it to do but not inhibit the ability of your team to do their jobs.”
Habershaw’s career included stints at EMILY’s List, the DNC and DCCC. She built on her start in Rhode Island as a volunteer for Bill Clinton through networking.
“I had a few jobs — call manager for a candidate, fundraiser. Every single time I would just take on more and more, and learn more and more,” she said. “It went from managing the money to managing people to managing contracts to assessing what systems or databases we we're going to put in. I've been there every step of the way. I love never sitting still.”
Vendor contracting was an area she sought to improve at the large organizations where she worked.
“What I brought into places like the committees when I first got there is [the attitude that] we have to negotiate contracts as strong and as hard as the private sector does,” said Habershaw, who earned an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2001.
“We have to think about knowledge management the same way. I looked at everything from how the phones are negotiated to how the network is built out to how we were keeping track of the information the political folks are bringing in from a business perspective.”
Habershaw was known for encouraging those from non-campaign backgrounds to enter the industry.
“Campaigns today need engineers, they need coders and accountants,” she said. “They need specialists in communication across the spectrum. There’s a whole backend that needs to be operated by people with skill and strategic understanding.”
BPI, where she helped lead the integration with The Incite Agency in 2016, noted her contribution to the Democratic side of the industry.
“Much is said these days about the wellbeing of campaign staff — the need to ensure campaigns operate professionally and respectfully such that their teams can resemble the communities they wish to serve,” BPI said in its statement. “Over the last two decades, no one has done more to advance this cause than Ann Marie. She is an unsung hero of the progressive movement, having helped modernize the core organizations of the Democratic Party such as Emily’s List, the DCCC, DNC, and the Obama campaign. She was the first to always assume the hardest task, rolling up her sleeves to get the job done.”
Beyond her reputation as a professional business manager, Habershaw was a mentor and coach to countless practitioners at various stages in their careers. Using #AMHsays, many in the industry shared stories and Habershaw’s words of wisdom on Twitter after news of her passing broke on Monday.
Carol Davidsen, who worked with Habershaw on the Obama reelect, tweeted: “Trying to have a child was a serious choice for me. A conversation I had with @Habershaw over breakfast one morning in DC, will forever be stored in my heart. I’m so sorry for everyone’s loss. #AMHsays”
Amanda Litman, co-founder and executive director of the training group Run for Something, tweeted: “Ann Marie @Habershaw was one of the most important people you've never heard of in the Democratic Party. She was tough-as-nails, scary (in the best possible way) and most importantly, incredibly kind, even to the most junior people around her.”
Litman followed up with a link to a Forbes interview Habershaw did in 2013 where she described how Obama’s email fundraising team captured her voice. “I have a reputation of being straight to the point and the emails I sent were exactly that,” she told Forbes.
Habershaw added this advice: “Return to others the mentoring you received, share what you have learned with others, take the time to give honest and thoughtful advice to others along the way.
“I get a lot of satisfaction mentoring people and building great organizations.”