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Argentine Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers Marcos Peña
Argentine Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers Marcos Peña addresses GSPM Seminar Students

The Graduate School of Political Management’s Latin American program hosted the Argentine Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers Marcos Peña at its 2017 fall semester Seminar on “Electoral Campaigns “ on Friday, December 1st. Peña is a core member of President Mauricio Macri’s campaign and political teams, providing key communications strategies and guidance. He runs the Jefatura de Gabinete de Ministros, which is responsible for coordinating the work of the cabinet of ministers, public communications and strategic affairs.

As a founding collaborator of the “Propuesta Republicana” party, also known as “PRO”, under which Mauricio Macri started his rise in South American politics, Peña has seen how nascent political organizations can grow quickly. The PRO party found its greatest success in the historic defeat of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in the country’s first runoff ballotage race. That success has continued for the party, and Peña shared some of those lessons with students.

One of Peña's points was about the importance of analyzing defeats as well as successes. He was asked about Mauricio Macri’s losing campaign for Mayor of Buenos Aires in 2003. Peña stated “This was absolutely shocking, but did learn a great deal about this loss. A big part of being living in a democracy is to be able to look back and find the reasons behind this loss, therefore, they we do not make the same mistakes again”

That lesson informed the Macri campaign's assessment of later races. In reference to the presidential election of 2015, Peña said, “Mauricio Macri expressed that this was not a victory coming from him, but rather from the whole party. This clearly reflects a contemporaneous leadership.

Now as president, Macri is dealing with a different set of priorities during his presidency, Peña stated “Macri is enjoying his presidency and is confident about Argentina’s future. There is a high level of hope in the country. The dynamics of this country are changing for the better.”

The Argentine government has assumed the presidency of the G20 for 2018 effective December 1. Peña said that the government’s focus would be to “build consensus for fair and sustainable development” and to advance three central priorities addressing the future of work, infrastructure for development, and food security. The administration also seeks to amplify the voice of the entire region on the global stage, not just Argentina.

 

The following post is from GSPM Research Director Prof. Michael Cornfield

In the space of three weeks Senator Al Franken (DFL-MN) plummeted in public standing from a presidential mentionable to a disgraced official on the verge of departure. Some blame his Democratic colleagues for abandoning him in the interest of political expediency. A review of Franken’s remarks indicates that the bulk of the responsibility belongs with him.

Al Franken was the first in the post-Harvey Weinstein sleaze parade to give a speech about his scandalous predicament. Previous celebrities exited in silence or under cover of brief released statements expressing combinations of apology, self-defense, and promises to rehabilitate, with the notably defiant exceptions of Roy Moore and Donald Trump.

The Leeann Tweeden accusation hit on November 16, fortified by an incriminating photo. Franken questioned her interpretation of their encounters but apologized, in public and in personal communications (as he told the public). She accepted his apology. So far, so good.

Senators McConnell and Schumer initiated a Senate Ethics Committee review of the incident. Franken embraced the move and went silent under the pretext that the review would afford him “due process.” This damage control strategy was terribly flawed. More accusations surfaced, turning a one-off incident into a pattern that a fuller statement by Franken about his behavior in his pre-Senate days could have mitigated.

It’s also hard to see how a Congressional panel could rule fairly on he-said she-said conduct that occurred before the accused was a member of the body to whose rules he would be accountable. A more cynical perspective would interpret the referral as a stall. Given the performance of Congress in recent years, earning the institution job approval ratings in the same number range as the age of Roy Moore’s victims, cynicism is justified.

Twitter data show the stonewall held for a short while. Here are the number of times Franken’s name was mentioned between November 16 and December 5. The public eye went elsewhere, even on November 23 when Franken surfaced to issue what now sounded like excuses: "I've met tens of thousands of people and taken thousands of photographs, often in crowded and chaotic situations. I'm a warm person; I hug people. I've learned from recent stories that in some of those encounters, I crossed a line for some women — and I know that any number is too many.” In other words, only under public scrutiny did Franken become aware that there are certain places his hands and tongue should not go when he was in close proximity to women.

On December 6, the wall collapsed. A seventh accusation appeared in Politico, and it came from a Congressional staffer. Time valorized the “silence breakers” as “Persons of the Year.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand declared that “enough is enough” and called for Franken to resign. A cascade of more than thirty Senatorial dittos fell within hours.

Senator Franken now had a huge audience for his goodbye and, if he chose, a farewell address that would put his troubles in a larger context.

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He opened well, harkening back to the post-Weinstein pre-Tweeden weeks:

We were finally beginning to listen to women about the ways in which men's actions affect them. The moment was long overdue. I was excited for that conversation and hopeful that it would result in real change that made life better for women all across the country and in every part of our society.

Then the conversation turned to me, Franken continued, and I was shocked. In being a respectful listener “I think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that in fact I haven't done.”

Franken was walking back his culpability as a misunderstanding on the part of “some people,” as the hellacious price paid by a well-intentioned “respectful listener.”

He then widened his attention from himself to include two other accused sexual harassers:

I of all people am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.

The bitter comparison was easy to see as a self-exculpating “whataboutist” diversionary tactic, but hard to accept as helpful to the conversation, given Franken’s refusal to clarify the differences between what he had done, as he saw it, and what Trump and Moore are accused of doing. Instead of setting forth categories, he asked people to take his innocence on faith in his character.

“I know who I really am,” Franken asserted. I knew I was joking around or just being warm, he implied, and so did the women. Or so they should have. After all, he’s famous.

He was resigning, he said, because he could not remain effective for the people of Minnesota while defending himself before the Ethics Committee. Then why did he approve of the committee referral in the first place? Because exoneration was no longer a foregone conclusion?

This speech was Senator Franken’s last best chance to frame the sexual harassment issue moving forward. But he talked about himself instead of his accusers and others in similar situations. In all likelihood, his conduct WAS different from that of Trump and Moore in many respects. But on the crucial matter of refusing to apologize to all he had offended, intimidated, confused, and disappointed, he was, ultimately, the same.

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Sometimes in life we fixate on what we are about to lose and fail to see what we could gain. A different speech would have imbued Franken with the moral authority to go on this Sunday’s (December 10) news programs and blast Roy Moore, Donald Trump, and all the Republicans who are enabling their aberrant behavior toward women. From there, he could have rebuilt his political career by adopting the role of the reformed man who gets it. (For different reasons, Senator Jeff Flake is in this very position. He is departing the Senate with long-term potential. He was the only Republican who attended Franken’s speech.)

“I'm going to be just fine,” Franken said at one point.

It’s not you I’m worried about, Senator Franken.

Trailblazers in Politics
The inaugural winners of Trailblazers in Politics awards on front row starting third from left: Samantha Joy Fay, DeJuana Thompson, Jeanine Henderson Arnett and Keysha Brooks-Coley.

The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) and the Virginia Leadership Institute (VLI) launched the inaugural Trailblazers in Politics award Wednesday, honoring diverse GSPM students and alumni who have made significant contributions to the field of politics.

This year’s winners are DeJuana Thompson, M.P.S. ’17; Samantha Joy Fay, M.P.S. ’17; Keysha Brooks-Coley, M.A. ’00; and Jeanine Henderson Arnett, M.A. ’04. The four women have led drives for change inside and outside of local and federal government.

The Trailblazers in Politics award was born from the desire of GSPM and VLI to recognize and amplify the message that governments that reflect the diversity of their communities better serve society.

“Leadership is a collection of character traits, and it comes in all packages. If we’re going to have a country that represents all people, we need to recognize leadership in everyone that steps up to the plate,” said GSPM Director Lara Brown.

VLI founder Krysta Jones said the idea for her institute was born from a GSPM project. During a thesis discussion with a professor, Ms. Jones noted that Northern Virginia’s political culture was much more homogeneous than surrounding areas such as the District and Prince George’s County, Md. “My professor said instead of making a thesis why don’t you do something to solve the problem. VLI comes directly as a result of my GSPM education,” said Ms. Jones.

The organization currently has a goal to help elect 500 black officials in Virginia by 2026 by providing training and resources for candidates.

This year’s honorees were introduced during a ceremony at GW's City View Room by colleagues and mentors from the highest levels of government and advocacy.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) was on hand to present the award to Ms. Fay, who serves as a legislative aide in his office. He said that in politics “it is easy to lose faith, but when I see young people and the people in this program…I am optimistic.”

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall presented the Trailblazers award to Ms. Arnett, her former chief of staff who is now the executive director of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Ms. Randall said that the essence of politics is “working hard for the many people who need us the most. The ones who don’t know we’re even doing it.” She said that Ms. Henderson Arnett embodied that ethos through her work for the county and her role as a mentor.

A leadership and mentorship role was key in the success of honoree Ms. Brooks-Coley, director of Federal Relations at the American Cancer Society Action Network. “I have never seen her turn down a request for an informational interview. She leans in. She’s a connector,” said Dick Woodruff, the society’s vice president of Federal Relations.

Ms. Thompson gave back to her community through politics and public service, serving as a senior adviser for Public Engagement at the U.S. Small Business Administration and the national deputy director for Community Engagement at the Democratic National Committee. “She is one of the most tireless workers in the field to push for change to ensure that communities of color have a space, access, and opportunities,” said Stephanie Gidigbi, a former colleague and director at the National Resources Defense Council.

GSPM and the VLI have committed to working together to train and advocate for the next generation of political and advocacy leaders, and the first generation of Trailblazers in Politics award will be there to help lead the charge.

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