Michael S. Berman Donates Political Collection to UMD Library
“I’m honored that UMD is providing such a substantial display,” said Berman. “I didn’t expect the presentation to be so impressive.” Library Director Bill Sozansky welcomed the collection, "The artifacts are cultural gems," he said. "They present a unique opportunity for the public to view important moments in U.S. political history. We are grateful to Michael Berman for giving the library this wonderful collection and to Chancellor Kathryn A. Martin for helping us mount the exhibition." College of Liberal Arts Dean Linda Krug agreed. "We are delighted that Michael Berman honored UMD with this gift. It is a rich resource and it enhances our college, our library and UMD."
Berman served as counsel and deputy chief of staff to Vice President Walter Mondale and has played an active role in every presidential campaign since 1964. He is now president and one of the founders of The Duberstein Group, a government affairs consulting group. The Berman Collection reflects Berman's extensive involvement in the U.S. political arena.
After graduating from UMD in 1961 and law school at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 1964, Berman became active in Minnesota politics. He worked on Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 Presidential Campaign and had a strong desire to become more deeply involved.
“The Democratic party was looking for someone to run the Third Congressional District office,” Berman said. “It was a tough district because it wasn’t strongly Democratic and nobody wanted the job. I contacted Walter Mondale and volunteered to take it on. I asked him, ‘If I do a good job, will you give me a position in your office?’ I did a great voter registration drive; we turned out more people then ever before; and the Monday after the election Mondale offered me a job as Special Assistant Attorney General of the State of Minnesota. My primary assignment for the first six weeks was to serve as Mondale's driver.” In his position as Special Assistant Attorney General, Berman represented the State Commission Against Discrimination and brought and tried before a jury the first fair housing case in Minnesota. In July 1966, Berman joined U.S. Senator Mondale’s staff and moved to Washington in December. Berman served as Special Assistant, Executive Assistant, and Administrative Assistant, and ran Mondale’s 1972 reelection campaign.
There is a photograph in the collection showing Berman sewing a sleeve button onto Mondale’s jacket. The photograph, which is signed by Mondale and Jimmy Carter, hung over Berman’s desk and was even mentioned in a 1981 New York Times article. When reflecting on his years with Walter Mondale, Berman said, “Fritz was never frenetic, he was laid back and a genuine nice guy. It was a pleasure to work for him.” In addition to serving as Mondale’s legal counsel and deputy chief of staff, he also served as Mondale’s transition director in 1976 and 1977 and again in 1981.
Berman was behind the scenes in every Democratic presidential election campaign from just after his law school days to the present. He worked on 10 Democratic National Conventions from 1968 to 2004. An entire photo album from the 2000 convention belongs to the collection and pictures from it are in the public display.
When Hubert H. Humphrey was running for president in 1968, Berman worked on his campaign, which allowed him to get to know Humphrey quite well. “Many people don’t know that Humphrey hated to get up early in the morning. He preferred his first appointment after 10 a.m.,” Berman said. “That was difficult on the campaign trail. Most days it was impossible. In order to make the evening news you had to have the story pegged by 11 a.m. The media wasn’t instant in those days.” Berman remembers securing a spot on a network news show and going to Humphrey’s suite one evening. “His son-in-law was with Humphrey and I was ushered in to explain,” he said. “Humphrey looked up at me and told me, ‘I will do this for you, but I hate it.’ He was good natured about it, though,” Berman said.
Many will remember Humphrey’s skill at public speaking. He was articulate but long-winded. “It was something we had to deal with,” said Berman. During U.S. Senator Wendell Anderson’s 1974 reelection campaign, Berman organized a concert with John Denver and other prominent musicians in the St. Paul Arena. He scheduled Humphrey on the program for three minutes but he was afraid Humphrey would go much longer. On the first level of the auditorium, campaign supporters bought $100 tickets, but in the balcony, young people bought seats for $10. Berman said, “Everyone was there for the concert, so I had to make sure Humphrey didn’t go on too long. I had the arena staff let thousands of kids into the balcony seats just before Humphrey spoke. When Humphrey got on stage, he looked up to the balcony and knew he had to wrap it up. Later, back stage, he gave me a look that said, ‘You so and so.’ He knew I planned it that way.” A number of items from Humphrey’s career are included in the collection including a program from 1968 featuring Humphrey at the Washington Hilton.
Berman said, “I met the Clintons in the mid ’70’s. In 1992, when Bill got nominated, I began working closely with them. After the convention in I spent two-thirds of my time in Little Rock working on the campaign."
Campaigns take over the Democratic National Committee. "After the Clinton campaign I went on to work on inaugural celebrations. I ended up being closer to Mrs. Clinton than to the President. During the various issues that arose during his tenure, I was able to see a different side of Mrs. Clinton. I could tell that some of the cruel things people said, hurt her. She is more guarded than she lets on. I also worked with the Clintons in the 1996 reelection campaign. Hillary has true affection for the people that work for her. She has loyalty towards them and that goes both ways.” One photo in the display shows Michael and Carol Berman with Hillary, Chelsea and President Clinton.
In 2006, Rodale Press published Berman’s autobiography, largely focused on his life-long struggle with being overweight. It’s called Living Large: A Big Man's Ideas on Weight, Success, and Acceptance. “The health writer for the Washington Post Style Section did a long interview with me,” Berman said. “After the article was published, Hillary called me because she read the article. We talked for a long time and she was gracious and caring. That’s the kind of person she is.”
Berman’s book has thrown him into the public eye. After a career
working primarily behind the scenes, he is adjusting to newspaper and
television interviews. “I’m not used to the attention,”
he said. The honesty and clear message of his Living Large book
is trademark Berman.
Berman’s strong desire to do the right thing helped him write the book. Doing the right thing was the motivation behind his fair housing discrimination case. Later it took him to a different human rights arena.
HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN
“The accomplishment about which I am most proud was serving as Co-chair of the Board of the Human Rights Campaign, (HRC) America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality,” Berman said. “I was elected to the board in 1998 and was one of two straight people on the board at the time, although there had been a few others before me. I served on the board for eight years and my term as Co-chair ran from December 2004 through November 2006. I was able to bring to that cause political experience from the straight viewpoint.”
Berman was exposed to the movement in 1972 when he was serving as Mondale’s campaign manager and he became active in 1993. “I was invited to meet with Hilary Rosen,” he said. Rosen is former chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America and her partner, Elizabeth Birch, was executive director of the HRC. “She wanted my advice about the Clinton administration. I served as a volunteer political advisor for the HRC for the following five years, until I joined the board."
Berman and his spouse Carol, have been married for 42 years and live in the Washington, D.C., area. “Carol and I have many, many gay and lesbian friends,” Berman said. He believes that straight supporters are a crucial part of the fight for equality. “All people, no matter what party they are in, need to work for equal rights,” he said.
THE BEGINNINGS: UMD
Berman has been back to UMD many times, most recently checking on the progress of the Berman Political Collection. It has been an opportunity to remember the faculty who helped shape his intellect. He recalled Dean Thomas Chamberland, Gerhardt von Glahn, Fred [Julius] Wolff and “of course I remember the theatre director Doc [Harold] Hayes,” said Berman. Berman appeared on the UMD stage a number of times, most memorably in Guys and Dolls. He was the editor of the Statesman, he won a state debate championship, and served a three-month stint as a member of the Young Republican Club. He helped Don McArthur get elected president of the student body and served as the student welfare commissioner. What most of his classmates remember is his work as the UMD Rooter.
“Provost Ray Darland called me to his office one day,” said
Berman. “He wanted a new football stadium because at that time the
UMD team had to play at Denfeld High School. He knew the Duluth community
would support the stadium plan if the student body was behind it. Darland
asked me to build school spirit.” Berman’s first task was
to form a Stadium Rooter Club. “I recruited the seven most attractive
women on campus,” he said. “One woman, from Esko, was the
state cheerleading champion, so she taught the squad the cheers. At the
beginning of every football game I would come out first, wearing a letter
sweater, a raccoon coat, a beanie, and riding my sister’s bicycle.
The cheerleaders would follow. I used a megaphone to lead the cheers.”
Berman didn’t stop with traditional cheers. “During the first
game, we had one cheer where the cheerleaders lay down in front of the
team. The coach decided it was too distracting and made us stop.”
Berman also took his squad down to the Curling Club to cheer on the ice
for the hockey games. A photo of Berman at a UMD football game is included
in the display.
“We built school spirit. I did my job," he said. "I had help from some great people like Hal Segal who was Rooter the following year. He made Homecoming and Snow Week memorable. And as everyone knows, we got the stadium.”
Berman threw himself into his activities at UMD, as he has done with his life after college. Dean Krug said. "It's easy to see from his accomplishments that Mike has never been afraid to do what he feels is right, from baring his soul about weight issues, to fighting for fair housing, to serving as a defender of human rights. He faces his challenges with courage, a good heart and a generous spirit. That generous spirit led him to giving an important gift, the Michael S. Berman Political Collection, to his alma mater. We thank him."
Berman will give the first Sieur du Luth lecture, “National Conventions and Their Role in Presidential Campaign Civility,” on Friday, September 14, 2007 at 1 p.m. in UMD’s Kirby Ballroom.
The Sieur du Luth lecture/conference series was initiated by alumnus Richard Teske, nationally known researcher, consultant, and writer on health care policy.
Teske (’71 BA History) served for eight years in the Reagan administration and was responsible for the Medicaid program during that time. Currently, Teske is a regular contributor to the Heritage Foundation.
— Cheryl Reitan
UMD Homepage 2007
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