UMD Premieres the First Doctoral Program North of the Twin Cities
Remembrance of Campaigns Past:
Berman Donates Political Collection to UMD Library
On September 14, the UMD Library will unveil the Michael Berman Collection, a compilation of over 900 (?) artifacts including photographs, political convention publications, bumper stickers, campaign buttons, posters, jewelry, and other ephemera. This important collection, donated by UMD alumnus Michael Berman (’61 Political Science), is a rich resource providing an insight into American political history, as well as its social and cultural past. The political memorabilia, spanning the last 40 years, has added interest because of its personal connection to Berman.
“I’m honored that UMD is providing such a substantial display,” said Berman. “I didn’t expect the presentation to be so impressive.”
Berman served as counselor 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 is president and one of the founders of The Duberstein Group, a government affairs consulting group. The Berman Collection reflects his extensive involvement in the U.S. political arena.
After graduating from UMD, Berman went on to law school at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. While in law school he became active in Minnesota politics. He worked on the University of Minnesota Law Review, Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 Presidential Campaign, and he had a strong desire to get 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 a driver in the Attorney General’s office.” Berman stayed with the office after graduation, working his way up to the Special Assistant Attorney General of the State of Minnesota. In that position, 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 1967. He 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 New York Times article from 1981. When reflecting on his years with Walter Mondale he 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 counselor and deputy chief of staff, he also served as Mondale’s transition director in 1976 and 1977 and again in1981.
Berman was behind the scenes in every Democratic presidential election campaign from 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 several 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 rooms 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.” Many 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 when Bill got nominated. After the convention 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 was always much closer to Hillary than to Bill, she was very smart and very strong. During the nominations fights that arose I was able to see a different side of her. 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 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 Berman with Hillary, Bill and Chelsea.
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.
“My greatest achievement was to serve as co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign, (HRC) America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality,” Berman said. “In 2002 I was elected as the first straight board leader in HRC's history. I served for eight years and it was actually the single accomplishment in my life that I feel best about. I was able to bring to that cause political experience from the straight viewpoint.”
Berman is a longtime ally. He got involved back in 1972 at the Minnesota Democratic convention in Rochester when he served as Mondale’s campaign manager. “In the early years, in the ’60s and ’70s, the centers of gay and lesbian activity were San Francisco, New York, and Minneapolis,” he said. Steve Endean, long-time GLBT activist and founder of Human Rights Campaign, and a group of men attended the convention. “They were dressed completely in lavender and they had on lavender headbands,” he said. The group was part of the National Gay Task Force, raising money and lobbying for gay-supportive congressional candidates. “They were having trouble because people couldn’t get past the Gay Task Force name. I gave Steve some advice. I told him to change the name, and they created the Human Rights Campaign. I stayed in touch with the group after that, offering them help from time to time.”
Berman became more active in 1993. “I was invited to meet with Hilary Rosen,” he said. Rosen was executive director of the HRC and former chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America. “She wanted my advice about the Clinton administration. Since, then I served as an informal political advisor for the HRC.
Berman and his spouse Carol, have been married for 41 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.
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 short stint as member of the Young Republican Club. He was student welfare chair and president of the student council but what most of his classmates remember is his work as the UMD booster.
“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 laid 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.
“We built school spirit. I did my job. I had help from some great people like Hal Segal who was Rooter King for Homecoming and Snow Week. And as everyone knows, we got the stadium.”
Berman threw himself into his activities at UMD like he has done with the rest of his life. He 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. Berman faces his challenges with courage and a good heart.
UMD is proud to present the Michael S. Berman Political Collection.
The opening exhibition of the Michael S. Berman Political Collection
will be held at 4 p.m. on Friday, September 14, 2007 on the Fourth Floor
of the UMD Library. Earlier that day, Berman will give the first chancellor’s
Sieur du Luth lecture, “National Conventions and Their Role in Presidential
Campaign Civility,” at 1 p.m. in UMD’s Kirby Ballroom..
— Cheryl Reitan
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