Al Eisele, founding editor of The Hill, dies at 85
Albert Eisele, a founding editor of The Hill who had a long and storied career in Washington and mentored many young journalists along the way, has died at the age of 85.
Patrick Seitz, his son-in-law, announced his death on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon, noting that Eisele had passed away “last night.”
Al, as he was known by his colleagues, was one of the most popular editors in the history of The Hill, which he helped found along with longtime New York Times congressional correspondent Martin Tolchin in September 1994, shortly before the Republican Revolution of that year’s midterm elections.
For years, he penned The Hill’s “Under the Dome” gossip column, for which he collected funny and in-the-know anecdotes from walking the halls of Congress and sidling up to the bars and tables of D.C.’s clubbiest steakhouses.
One of his favorite haunts was the Capital Grille, where he made it a tradition to pop into before every State of the Union Address to catch up on the latest gossip from lawmakers and lobbyists. Often Eisele didn’t have a reservation but somehow the maitre d’ would always find him an open table, as if conjuring one out of thin air.
Eisele also wrote restaurant reviews for The Hill and his uncanny ability to rack up big tabs without the upper management batting an eye was a testament to how liked and respected he was at the paper as well as to the fact that he remained an old school-style journalist well into the 21st century, when it was becoming a rare breed in a profession increasingly dominated by the fast pace of the internet.
Eisele’s colleagues all knew him to be incredibly generous, whether he was buying an editorial assistant on a tight budget a drink or sharing the latest tip or news nugget he heard on Capitol Hill.
They also knew him as a reporter who could score big, groundbreaking scoops, such as when he reported during a 2005 trip to Iraq that U.S. military police had thwarted an escape attempt by suspected insurgents from Camp Bucca who dug a 600-foot tunnel under the military compound.
The story was picked up by national news outlets and former Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) entered it into the Congressional Record.
Dayton praised Eisele, a native Minnesotan, on the Senate floor as “instrumental in the success of The Hill” and noted that year he had written his 500th column for the paper.
“In addition, he has acted as a mentor for more than 50 young journalists whom he helped train and who now work for many major newspapers, magazines and broadcast organizations,” Dayton said.
Eisele graduated from St. John’s University in 1958 and served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army and pursued a career in professional baseball, pitching for farm teams in the Cleveland Indians organization for four seasons before embarking on his career in journalism.
Eisele later said of his baseball career that he had an excellent fastball and would have made the big leagues if he only perfected his curve.
He remained an avid baseball fan all his life and used to attend annually the famous MLB All-Star Game viewing party hosted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz, which was always a hot event among House GOP lawmakers.
He worked for the St. Paul Pioneer Press-Dispatch before he was sent to the Washington bureau of Ridder newspapers in 1965.
During his stint in Washington, he covered and got to know well two of Minnesota’s most prominent politicians, Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.).
In 1972, he published a dual biography of Humphrey and McCarthy titled “Almost to the Presidency.”
He also got to know then-Sen. Walter Mondale (D-Minn.), who started his Senate career in 1964, shortly before Eisele joined Ridder’s Washington bureau.
Mondale hired Eisele in 1976 to be his vice presidential press secretary, a position Eisele held until 1981, when President Carter left office after losing his reelection bid to Ronald Reagan.
In 1981, Eisele helped found the nonpartisan Center for National Policy, according to his daughter.
From 1983 to 1989, he served as an assistant to the CEO of Control Data Corp., according to a biography posted of Eisele posted by St. John’s University’s McCarthy Center. He then founded Cornerstone Associates in 1989, an international consulting firm that helped bring former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to Minnesota in 1990.
But journalism was Eisele’s first love, and he later told colleagues that his career working for a data company and a consulting company was motivated by the higher pay.
“Al was an institution at The Hill,” Bob Cusack, The Hill’s editor in chief, said. “I can’t tell you how many lawmakers asked about him over the years. He was a mentor to so many journalists and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. We will all miss Al.”
During his years at The Hill, he worked simultaneously on a biography of the late Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston.
Eisele passed away Tuesday night at The Kensington, an assisted living facility in Falls Church, Va., his hometown for 55 years.
He is survived by his daughters Kitty Eisele and Anne Eisele Seitz, son-in-law Patrick Seitz, and two grandchildren, Christopher and Aerin Seitz.