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Skill, timing help rise of young Democratic official

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- By early November 1996, Harvard student Andrei Cherny had only written for the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper of Harvard University. Three months later, he had written part of President Clinton's second inaugural address. Three years later he had become Al Gore's senior speechwriter, and this week, he watched as the Democratic Party adopted the document he oversaw as platform director.

Like many political professionals, Cherny has benefited from a combination of skill and good timing. Just before the 1996 presidential election, the government major wrote an article for the Harvard Crimson taking issue with those who were saying that the '96 election was a relatively unimportant one, one in which the issues were small and the implications even smaller.

Clinton's communications director, Don Baer, who was visiting Harvard the day the article was printed and just happened to pick up a copy of the Crimson, decided it was worthy of presidential eyes. The president liked it too. The following January, Clinton decided to use part of it in his second inaugural address. Ten days after graduation, 21-year-old Cherny went to work in the White House.

"It was incredible," Cherny said. "I was very lucky. I was just in the right place at the right time."

For the next three years, Cherny worked as Al Gore's senior speechwriter, working alone or closely with the vice president on most of his public addresses. In the summer of 1998, Cherny took a brief hiatus from speechwriting to start the Democratic policy journal "Blueprint," serving as editor until he returned full time to official Democratic Party work in June.

At the 2000 Democratic National Convention, which comes just three weeks after his 25th birthday, Cherny is officially the Democratic Party platform director, although much of the work was done before Los Angeles.

In the months leading up to the convention, Cherny met with various entities within the Democratic Party and reviewed the thoughts of over 30,000 on-line platform participants, putting their ideas into a coherent party platform.

Once in Los Angeles, Cherny revised his work with the help and guidance of the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee and the much larger Platform Committee before submitting it to the delegation for final approval. It was approved unanimously Monday night.

"It was a moment of great happiness," Cherny said. "I was just so glad to have played a role in such an historic moment." Cherny won't, however, be helping with Gore's acceptance speech. Of Gore's willingness to go it alone, Cherny says, "I think it's great, Al Gore knows Al Gore the best."

After the convention, Cherny will spend time at home in Los Angeles where he will finish his book "The Next Deal," which focuses on how government and perceptions of it must change to adapt to the information age. In his spare time, he will continue his work with the speaker of the California State Assembly. Yet while Cherny admits he wants to stay involved in public life, he's not sure if he wants to stay involved in politics.

"There are other ways to make a difference," he says. "It (politics) will always be something to keep going back to, but it doesn't define me."


Thursday, August 17, 2000

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