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Two low-profile power brokers

Jul 15, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Paula Ford and Al Mottur keep a low profile on Capitol Hill, but don’t let that fool you. Their responsibilities, power and political connections run deep. Very deep.
As senior counsels for the Senate communications subcommittee, which takes its cues from Commerce Committee head Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., they write many of the media-related bills their legendary boss introduces and help set his legislative agenda.
They also meet with high-powered television executives and keep the senator up to date on the ever-changing communications sector.
If there were any doubt whether Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, would promptly returns their phone calls-and frankly, there wasn’t any-it was eliminated by these facts: Paula is a cousin to Michael and his dad, Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Al joined a moot court team headed by Michael while they were students at Georgetown University Law School. Michael was a year ahead. The squad competed with other college teams at mock appellate trials.
“Little did I know that he’d be FCC chairman and that I’d be communications counsel years later,” Al said with a smile.
To gauge someone’s importance in Washington, one need look only at how much they’re in demand.
Lobbyists sometimes show up unannounced at the offices of Al and Paula, both 35, hoping to spend a few moments with them.
“Sometimes it’s good that they do and sometimes it puts a wrinkle in your day,” Paula said, emphasizing that most lobbyists are respectful and avoid trying to contact her at home.
Al said matter-of-factly that the latest he has ever worked on the Hill was 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. “on a couple of occasions,” because there was action on the Senate floor and his services were needed.
Politics is in the blood of the Mottur family. Al’s father, Ellis, was a political aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy in the early 1970s, and Al distributed campaign literature for Ted Kennedy’s 1980 presidential run.
In 1988, while a student at Williams College in Massachusetts, Al landed a job through a personal connection as a low-level aide on the Democratic convention staff of then-Senator Al Gore. He also did advance work for Mr. Gore leading up to the 1996 election.
Paula was born in Jamaica, moved with her family to the United States when she was 12 and has been on a fast-track ever since, receiving her undergraduate degree from Harvard-Radcliffe and a legal degree from Harvard Law.
Before arriving on the Hill, she worked for three years as an attorney-advisor adviser on global satellite issues at the FCC.
There are other African American woman women with high-level staff positions in Congress, but not many, Paula said. To help increase the numbers, she provides informal mentoring to young professionals hoping to follow in her footsteps.
Though she and Al share the same title, she has worked with Sen. Hollings longer and has more seniority.
How do they spend their free time?
Al has plenty of family obligations to juggle with his wife, Elizabeth, and two young children, Tommy, 4, and Caroline, 3. He’s an avid fan of golf and the Maryland Terps basketball team and enjoys reading and following politics.
Paula plays in a local soccer league and participates in a book club. One of her favorite titles, appropriately, was Colin Powell’s autobiography, “My American Journey.”
Of their boss they have only the highest praise.
Paula said she’s grateful for the many opportunities she’ has had to learn from Sen. Hollings because of his vast experience and knowledge.
“He’s forgotten more than we’ll ever learn. He sees around corners,” Al said. “He’s the best mentor I imagine either of us will ever have.”