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Joe Slade White, 71, longtime adviser to President Biden, award-winning Democratic political consultant

Joe Slade White, 71, longtime adviser to President Biden, award-winning Democratic political consultant

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March 8, 1950 – May 5, 2021

Joe Slade White, an award-winning Democratic political consultant and a longtime strategist for President Joe Biden, first set out on the campaign trail as part of Sen. George McGovern’s presidential run in 1972.

“He volunteered and they set him up with a tape recorder,” his son Noah said. As a traveling press aide with McGovern, his job was to record all of his speeches, edit them down quickly and send them out to the media.

He went on to work on more than 400 campaigns for Democratic candidates at all levels of government. He claimed a success rate of more than 75%.

“He was a creative genius,” said former Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, whose campaigns Mr. White advised. “He had great instincts on how to present his clients in the most favorable way.”

Madison Avenue took over America a half-century ago. So why don’t Democrats running for president grasp the power of a slogan? Maybe they lack the pit bull, go-for-the-jugular gene. Maybe they think bland is better. Or maybe they just get masochistic pleasure having Republicans label their candidates. Jimmy Carter never got out from under Ronald Reagan’s “There you go

A resident of East Aurora for more than two decades, he died Wednesday after a battle with cancer. He was 71.

Born in Carroll, Iowa, he was the youngest of three children. His father was a trial attorney and his mother was a homemaker who was active in politics.

As a student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Mr. White took part in the Vietnam War protests in the National Mall. He told Buffalo News political reporter Robert McCarthy in 1996 that he “majored in English and minored in tear gas.”

He was a senior at Georgetown when he volunteered to work for McGovern. He traveled with the press corps, which included Hunter S. Thompson.

After the election, Mr. White continued with McGovern on Capitol Hill, where he was the youngest press secretary in the Senate. It wasn’t long, however, before he started his own office, Joe Slade White Communications, at the age of 23.

“No one told me how truly crazy that was, leaving a safe U.S. Senate staff job,” he wrote in a biographical note. “I was too young to know. I just went out and did it. Starved for a couple of years.”

Mr. White said that his inspiration was fabled political consultant Tony Schwartz, who created the famous Daisy television ad for President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Paying tribute to Schwartz in 2000 when Schwartz was inducted into the Political Consultants Hall of Fame, Mr. White said:

“I’ll never forget the words he spoke to me when I was a young man that unlocked my future: ‘Now Joe, I’m going to teach you a whole new way of thinking.’ That new way of thinking, of course, was the Responsive Chord – the communications theory that I still use today.”

Working first from Washington, D.C., then from New York City, Mr. White helped elect the first woman governor of Michigan and the first women to win statewide offices in Massachusetts, Missouri and Pennsylvania. His work for Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm was cited as one of the nation’s best-run campaigns by the Washington Post.

The late Republican national chairman Lee Atwater once described Mr. White as “the most dangerous secret weapon the Democrats have. He wins races they have no business winning.”

He served as an adviser and consultant to President Joe Biden for 25 years and directed media for Biden’s late son Beau’s political campaigns.

His list of clients also included U.S. Sens. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, Howard Metzenbaum and John Glenn of Ohio and Frank Church of Idaho. He created TV advertisements that helped elect the first Native American U.S. senator, Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado.

In 2014, he was named National Democratic Strategist of the Year by the American Association of Political Consultants. He received more of the AAPC’s Pollie Awards than any other Democratic political consultant.

He also did corporate and public affairs work. For 18 years, his firm was national agency for AT&T’s public affairs advertising. He ran an award-winning campaign for oilman T. Boone Pickens’ national movement for renewable energy. He helped the Seattle Mariners win public support for their new baseball stadium.

He was a visiting fellow and lecturer at the Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard University, lectured at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications and appeared as commentator on politics and media for CBS, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post and on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”

He created a much-read handbook, “9 Principles of Winning Campaigns,” and was working on a memoir at the time of his death.

He first came to Buffalo in 1989 to assist Assemblyman William Hoyt in his challenge to Mayor James D. Griffin. Hoyt was defeated, but Mr. White fell in love with the city and met Sharon Cosimano, who was working on Hoyt’s campaign. Their marriage in 1992 was his third.

He moved to Buffalo in 1993 and set up offices in his home in an apartment tower on Delaware Avenue, working via phone and computer.

“We used to brag about putting ads on planes and being on the air somewhere in 48 hours,” he told McCarthy in 1996. “Now, via satellite technology, we can write an ad in the morning and have it on the air in Alaska in the afternoon.”

He added Masiello’s winning campaigns to his list of successes and continued with Mayor Byron W. Brown. At the time of his death, he was preparing to help in the mayor’s upcoming reelection bid.

“Joe Slade White was a nationally known creative genius who poured his heart and soul into his work,” Brown said in a statement. “He crafted messages that were clear and convincing. He worked as the media consultant on my last campaign for Mayor. Joe helped me communicate my passion and vision for the City of Buffalo, but more than that, he shared it.”

McCarthy wrote in The News in 2017 that Mr. White’s commercials for Brown were “some of the slickest mayoral spots ever on Buffalo television.”

Masiello noted that Mr. White always emphasized the positive aspects of his clients in his ads.

“He was not vicious,” Masiello said. “He didn’t denigrate the opponent. They were always above board.”

When Mr. White moved his home and office to East Aurora, he was delighted to find an atmosphere much like his hometown in Iowa.

“I’ve come full circle,” he wrote in a biographical note. “I’m back to a life I knew as a boy. I like the idea that it’s 21st century technology that allows me to work all over the world from a 19th century village.”

Survivors include three daughters, Sarah White, Kate White and Eliza Kiplinger; two sons, Michelangelo Cosimano White and Noah Cosimano White; and four grandchildren.

Arrangements for a celebration of his life were incomplete.

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Reporter

Dale Anderson has been a Buffalo News staff reporter since 1968. He was the chief rock and pop writer for 20 years and helped establish the weekend entertainment magazine Gusto.

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