20 Questions: Weldon Latham

When did you first meet the Clintons?
I’ve known Hillary for years and have been a supporter. I was co-chair for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate campaign in 2000. Every few months we’d get together. I couldn’t be more supportive.

You were recently named co-chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. What makes you qualified?
That’s easy. I’m a voting citizen of the United States. What makes me want to do it? Passion. I’m passionate about the candidate. The last seven years have been the worst [under] any president in my lifetime. In January I started informally helping her.

What do you mean, “informally”?
In February I started making calls for her.

You were rooting for this position.
I didn’t know the position existed.

Why Hillary?
I believe deep down that the best candidate is Hillary Clinton. She represents change. I don’t think Bill Clinton gets enough credit on how great the country was when he left.

But don’t you have to say things like that?
I’m a private citizen. I’m not on the payroll. No matter who gets elected, I will be well off financially. I grew up as a poor kid in Brooklyn. To come from that … that’s why I’m high on this country. Bush had an opportunity to show leadership. Instead he goes in favor of corporate America. He continues to be a divider. Bush has been wrong on everything.

I’m beginning to think you don’t like Bush.
[Laughs] I don’t dislike Bush the human being, but he’s a horrible president. I don’t ever think he understands the damage he does. Bush represents a series of lost opportunities to be what he said he’d be — a uniter, not a divider.

And a decider, yes?
I think at one point he said he was going to be the education president. He needs to be the educated president.

Do you think there is a chance that Bill Clinton will be a liability for his wife?
I don’t think so. The media has made more of an issue of that than there is truth.

Some men fear Hillary Clinton’s power. From a male perspective, what is your take on that?
I don’t think that makes any sense. It’s not like the first woman president is going to take adverse actions [against] men. When she comes in power, she is going to have a government that, to use her husband’s phrase, looks more like America — more women, more minorities.

Do you think it’s the type of thing where those men don’t like that she doesn’t bake cookies?
I hear that she bakes every once in a while.

I don’t believe that. What does she bake?
She probably does bake cookies.

Some women think she handled Bill’s indiscretions poorly, that she should have left him. MSNBC Host Tucker Carlson recently said Hillary should leave Bill. What do you think?
Most of us would not want to discuss the private on-goings that go on inside households — it’s none of anyone’s business. I am not at home at night with the Clintons, but from all indications they are two people who love each other. I’m not sure what makes Tucker Carlson an expert on anything, much less relationships. Is Tucker Carlson going to tell us what’s going on in his household so the American public can decide what he should do?

This may be stating the obvious, but as a black man, how can you support Clinton over Barack Obama?
This is the question I’m asked most often. For 30 years, I have supported African-American leaders — [Reps.] John Conyers [Jr. (D-Mich.)], Charlie Rangel [D-N.Y.], Sheila Jackson Lee [D-Texas]. I’m not shy about supporting strong African-American leaders, both men and women, but every one of those decisions was individual. It’s never based strictly on race. I met Mr. Obama because Hillary Clinton introduced me to him. She encouraged me to support him for the Senate.

But you won’t support him for president?
I’ll support him in eight years if he wants me to.

You don’t think he’s ready.
No, and that is not said condescendingly at all. He has had an interesting but not exceptional career. There a number of African-American leaders with greatly superior credentials.

Did Obama ever reach out to you?
Not directly. I’m on all his mailing lists, so I get calls, mail and the like from others.

When did you work in the White House?
Under Ford. I was assistant general counsel in the White House Office of Management and Budget.

What was he like to work with?
Gerald Ford was the nicest human being — fair, decent, respected. He didn’t know me from a hole in the wall and was just such a gentleman. I was 29 years old when I briefed the president of the United States.

Some people know Hillary Clinton as cold, distant and impersonal. What is your experience of her?
Hillary Clinton is one of the most decent, honest, gracious people I’ve ever met. I was home sick recently with bronchitis. I got two calls from Hillary Clinton to check how I was doing. I tried to change the subject to politics. She changed it back and said, “Rest your voice, take care of yourself.”

I understand you’re close friends with Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.). What did you think when Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joe Baca (D-Calif.) referred to her as “a whore”?
I think it was outrageous behavior for any elected official to speak about anyone like that, more importantly, a colleague in the CHC.

As an expert in race and gender discrimination, what would you tell someone in her position to do?
My mother would tell me never to lower yourself to the person attacking you. I think Loretta did that. Loretta had to do what she had to do to make herself feel better about the situation.

Finally, if Hillary did not win for some reason, who would you support?
I’d seriously consider supporting whoever the Democratic nominee would be.

But you won’t name someone.
I can’t think of anyone it’s going to be other than Hillary. I’d reassess at that moment.