The man who literally wrote the book on political consulting is being mourned by the industry he helped mold.
Joseph Napolitan, who went by Joe, was one of the founders of the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) and its worldly sibling, the International Association of Political Consultants (IAPC). He died Dec. 2 of complications stemming from prostate cancer. His daughter Martha was by his side.
Napolitan, who is credited within the industry for coining the term “political consultant,” was 84.
Napolitan’s firm, Napolitan & Associates, was based in Springfield, Mass. but his influence extended far beyond the Bay State. In fact, it was in Hawaii where Democratic consultant Richard Schlackman got to know Napolitan during a gay marriage campaign in the 1990s.
“There would not be a political consulting industry without Joe Napolitan. Period,” says Schlackman. “He was a heavyweight. Joe worked with [John F.] Kennedy, with [Lyndon] Johnson. He was there when Tony [Schwartz] made the bomb ad. He had to approve it.”
Throughout a career that spanned decades and took him abroad to consult on races in some 20 countries, Napolitan was always learning. Friends and colleagues remember his deep curiosity for new techniques that were introduced as his career progressed. Still, his book “The Election Game and How to Win It,” published in the early 1970s, remains a must read for consultants.
Napolitan was one of the first two recipients of the AAPC’s Hall of Fame Award along with F. Clifton White. Tom Edmonds, who helped organize that inaugural event at Washington, D.C.’s Mayflower Hotel, says Napolitan’s hallmark was that he was “always prepared.”
“That was actually supposed to be a surprise,” recalls Edmonds, a former chairman of the AAPC and current chairman of the IAPC. “But when we gave him the award, he pulled his notes right out of his pocket, already prepared. And he had a cigar ready to be lit, too.”
As head of the AAPC, Napolitan exuded a larger-than-life quality. The association “held its meetings in cities Joe wanted to go to and we stayed in hotels Joe wanted to stay in,” recalls Edmonds. “We always laughed about that.”
A conference held at the Hotel Cipriani, in Venice Italy, is one that comes to friends’ minds.
“He took a gas and made it a solid,” says Edmonds. “Joe took an industry before it was an industry and he gave it form.”
Veteran strategist Ray Strother, a colleague and friend of Napolitan, called him “the rock on which we built modern political consulting.”
“He reached out to help your upstarts like me and he quietly gave advice to scores of young consultants,” Strother says. “Joe was truly the diamond standard of wise men in the business and I (we) will miss him desperately. He was the flickering lighthouse that gave us direction.”
Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal (D) was one of the many politicians who credited Napolitan with taking his career from local to national.
“From his modest office on Apremont Triangle, he single handedly invented the profession of modern political consulting. And unlike many current practitioners of the business, he was never cynical, negative or mean,” Neal said in a statement Monday.
Funeral services are scheduled for Saturday at 9:15 a.m. at Sampson’s Chapel of the Acres in Springfield and at 11 a.m. at Holy Name Church in Springfield, his hometown.