20Questions: Leah Daughtry, chief executive officer of the Democratic National Convention

This week 20Questions has a candid discussion with Leah Daughtry, chief executive officer of the Democratic National Convention, set for Denver next August. Daughtry is a minister in Washington, D.C.

You lead the Democratic National Convention’s outreach to faith communities. What is your faith?

I’m Pentecostal.

Have you always been?
Yes, I have. My father and his father before him and before that … were Methodist Episcopal. I’m actually the fifth consecutive generation of clergy in my family. My great-great-grandfather, when he was emancipated [from slavery], was a minister in the Episcopal Church. My grandfather left the Methodist Episcopal church and converted the family to Pentecostalism. My father is Pentecostal and that is how we were raised.

So you’ve never known anything else.
 No.

Does that fit with the Democratic Party?

 Of course. Why wouldn’t it fit? The Democratic Party is full of people of faith.

I didn’t know if it would be too demonstrative for Democrats.

Have you been to our conventions? Music and waving and happiness, it’s perfect.

Do you think religion has a part to play in politics?
I think that it’s important for people who are driven by their values to bring their political voices to the discussion.

What do you think of the far right and their religious politics?
It’s unfortunate that we as Democrats have allowed the far right to co-opt and corner the market on religion, that we’ve allowed them to define themselves as the party of faith. It actually makes me angry.

What would your religion say about anger?

It says be angry but sin not. It’s appropriate to be angry. In the Old Testament, it says be angry with the wicked every day. But they should stir your anger to not sit in a corner and complain. When I think about the situation in Darfur I’m angry.

You don’t sound like a person who would sit in a corner and complain.
I’m not. That’s why I work in politics. My family, we’re activists.

Do you think it’s going to take a lot of prayer to deal with the stress of being CEO of the Democratic Convention?
I think it takes a lot of prayer everyday to get through life. Prayer is a necessary component to a person of faith.

What do you think about your position at the convention?
It’s exciting. I’ve worked on a number of conventions. I think I bring the experience [and] knowledge to help make it successful. I’m good at putting together talented teams. Every convention is a challenge.

What happens to your ministry?
I will come home on weekends. That was the condition by which my church would allow me to do this. The only thing I will give up is teaching Bible Study.

Where are you from?

I’m from Brooklyn, N.Y. Anything you could ever want in this life you could find in Brooklyn. It is a borough of neighborhoods. It is a melting pot of all kinds of people.  No matter how long you live there, there’s always more to explore.

How did you get involved in politics?
A little bit by upbringing. We had an activist church in New York so we were always encouraged to be politically aware. We were trained to be aware of the political process. When I went to college, during one of my summers I interned for my hometown congressman, [Rep.] Ed Towns [D-N.Y.].

What kind of duties did you do?
I was a pretty good writer, so he let me write some of his speeches and floor speeches. After college he found me, offered me a job, and I moved to Washington.

Where was college?
Dartmouth.

Did people find it strange that you were Pentecostal?

No, we’re everywhere.  

What kind of personality do you bring to your ministry?  
My congregation would say I am a nurturer. I’m everybody’s mother, everybody’s big sister. Truth teller. Hugger.  Kick in the pants.

Speaking of which, and I don’t want to make you angry, but what do you think of President Bush and how he’s running this country?

He is a complete disaster as a president and I think that we as a country are living beneath our privilege with him as our leader. His leadership has been sorely lacking.

Have you ever met him personally?
No.

Who inspires you?
My mother. She was in college while we were in college and high school, and she got her bachelor’s degree, two masters’ degrees and her doctorate while working a full-time job with kids and a husband. She’s beautiful and graceful and everything I hope I am when I grow up. And I talk to my mommy everyday.

When you were little, what did you think you were going to do when you grew up?
I was going to be a teacher. I loved school and I loved my teachers.

In your role, can you support anyone specific for president?

No, I’m neutral, but any one of them would be a fantastic president and we’re really blessed to have such a talented field.


To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Betsy Rothstein at (202)628-8516 or email at betsyr@thehill.com .