If the early knock on presumed presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), that he’s long on style and short on substance, is true, then Seton Hall law professor Mark Alexander is going to have his hands full.
Alexander is signing on to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign as policy director, and he concedes that both he and the senator have a lot of work to do.
Alexander would not deny a report on PoliticsNJ.com that he told his law students to expect a new professor in coming weeks as he departs for his new endeavor, but when talking to The Hill Wednesday, he was careful not to put “the cart before the horse” in anticipation of Obama’s forthcoming announcement.
That said, the Yale graduate and friend of Obama’s for 10 to 12 years said he is “honored” to be joining the senator’s campaign — again, assuming the campaign moves beyond the exploratory phase — and he takes issue with those who might question Obama’s depth of policy knowledge.
“I don’t think he’s short on substance at all,” Alexander said. “I guess I don’t buy into that criticism.”
Alexander acknowledged that, like many past presidential candidates who were relatively new to the national stage (think then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush as opposed to longtime Washingtonians Vice President Al Gore or Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry), Obama will have to go through “an intense period” of deep policy education in order to offer a “firm vision.”
“I think, frankly, every campaign has to do that,” he said.
Alexander wouldn’t comment on recent conversations he and Obama have had on specific policy areas, except to say that much of the exploratory committee’s purpose is “exploring the issues that are confronting the American people.”
Alexander is not new to the intersection of policy and politics, having worked as issues director for then-Sen. Bill Bradley’s (D-N.J.) 2000 presidential campaign. The professor also worked for Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) 1988 reelection campaign, and most recently served as general counsel to new Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s campaign.
His primary areas of study lie in First Amendment free-speech issues, election law and campaign finance reform, the last of which led him to file a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court “defending the right of governments to limit campaign spending,” according to his Seton Hall biography.
Whether or not a deep knowledge of campaign-finance reform will be an asset in a campaign cycle predicted to be the most expensive to date is not an issue, Alexander’s colleagues say.
“He is someone who is just … always on top of the policy issues of the day,” an associate law professor at Seton Hall, Baher Azny, said.
An associate dean at Seton Hall’s law school, Kathleen Boozang, called Alexander a “quick study” and “pragmatic,” two qualities she said will serve Obama well.
“He’s able to take lofty ideas and translate them to solid ideas on the ground,” Boozang said.
Boozang described Alexander as “charming” and “even-tempered” and added that his students and colleagues “adore him.”
Though his academic interests are in the areas of the First Amendment and election law, Boozang said Alexander does care “passionately” about making his community a better place.
“He’s an African-American man raising three kids, raising his family, which to me means he is incredibly attuned to social issues,” she said.
With a crowded field that includes former first lady and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), as well as hefty-r