- Co-founder and unofficial director of the Democrat Shadow Party
- Sought chairmanship of the Democratic Party in February 2005
- Ran Hillary Clinton's successful Senate campaign in 1999-2000
- Former Deputy Chief of Staff for the Clinton White House
- In his law practice, he represented Mob-run labor unions with ties to the Lucchese, Colombo, Genovese, Gambino and other major crime families.
Born September 4, 1939 in Washington, DC, Harold McEwan Ickes is a longtime Democrat operative widely recognized as the chief organizer of the so-called Shadow Party, a nationwide network of more than five-dozen unions, non-profit activist groups, and think tanks whose agendas are ideologically to the left, and which are engaged in campaigning for the Democrats. During the 2004 presidential race, Democrat strategist Howard Wolfson told New York magazine that -- outside of the John Kerry campaign -- Ickes was "the most important person in the Democratic Party today."
Ickes hails from a prominent political family. His father Harold LeClair Ickes served as Secretary of the Interior from 1933 to 1946, under Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. The elder Ickes lost his first wife in an automobile accident in 1935. At age 64, he married 25-year-old Jane Dahlman, who gave birth to Harold on September 4, 1939.
Harold Ickes attended the prestigious Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. After high school, he eschewed college, choosing instead to fulfill a boyhood dream of working as a cowboy on ranches, which he did from 1959 to 1961.
In 1961 Ickes enrolled at Stanford University, where he fell under the influence of Professor Allard Kenneth Lowenstein, known as the "Pied Piper" for his ability to seduce idealistic young students into the New Left.
At Lowenstein's urging, Ickes spent the summers of 1964 and 1965 registering black voters in Mississippi and Louisiana respectively, for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Vicksburg, Mississippi and for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in Tallulah, Louisiana. White vigilantes in Louisiana beat Ickes so badly in 1965 that he lost a kidney.
Undaunted, Ickes went that same year to the Dominican Republic, where — according to the Boston Globe — he sought to “help deposed leftist president Juan Bosch return to office.” After spending two years in Communist Cuba, the socialist Bosch had returned to the Dominican Republic and won the support of a group of leftwing colonels, who sought to place Bosch in power through an armed coup. Only the arrival of 22,000 U.S. Marines stopped the Bosch coup. According to the Boston Globe, Ickes was present on the island when the Marines landed, on April 29, 1965.
Ickes subsequently left the country and began “touring Latin America,” until his mentor Lowenstein summoned him back to New York to begin work on the anti-Vietnam War movement. Returning to the USA in 1966, Ickes joined Lowenstein in New York. Lowenstein, who was then running for Congress, introduced Ickes to New York politics.
Ickes quickly became a political operative for the Democrats, working on various campaigns, including the 1968 and 1972 presidential runs of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern.
Ickes met Bill Clinton while both were working on Operation Pursestrings, a grassroots lobbying effort aimed at pushing through the 1970 Hatfield-McGovern Amendment to cut off all military aid to South Vietnam. (Hatfield-McGovern was defeated, but subsequent measures promoted by Senator Ted Kennedy succeeded in slashing U.S. aid to South Vietnam by 80 percent in the next three years. By 1975, South Vietnam and Cambodia could no longer afford to defend themselves. They fell to the Communists, who promptly slaughtered 2-3 million people in Indochina.)
In 1977 Ickes joined the Mineola, New York law firm Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, taking charge of its labor practice. Among the crooked unions Ickes represented for the firm were Local 100 of HERE -- the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union -- which was jointly controlled by the Colombo and Gambino crime families; the New York City District Council of Carpenters, then controlled by the Genovese crime family; and Teamsters Local 851, which ran the air freight rackets at JFK airport for the Lucchese crime family.
Ickes has always denied complicity in any of the criminal activities of his Mob clients. Faced with an avalanche of bad press in 1993, Ickes argued, "It is very important that law firms such as mine, which are known for their integrity, provide honest and competent legal representation to unions and their memberships. If we abandoned our clients in the face of allegations of corruption, it would leave union members at the mercy of only corrupt lawyers."
Ickes joined the Clinton White House on January 4, 1994, and would serve for three years as Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Political Affairs and Policy.
Ickes would later surface at the center of the so-called "Teamstergate" scandal -- a complex money-laundering scheme in which several high-level Democrat leaders and union bosses who were directly implicated in the case mysteriously escaped prosecution. Among those major players were Service Employees International Union (SEIU) head Andrew Stern; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) chief Gerald McEntee; Terry McAuliffe, who then headed the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign; and Harold Ickes himself.
Insiders have long noted Ickes’ special loyalty toward Hillary Clinton. The Boston Globe called him "a special favorite of the president's wife." In the Clinton White House, Ickes quickly gravitated to Hillary's end of the operation. He served initially as "health care czar," charged with rescuing the First Lady’s floundering Health Security Act. Mrs. Clinton later placed Ickes in charge of a special unit within the White House Counsel's office, dedicated to suppressing Clinton scandals. It operated, in effect, as a Counsel's office within the Counsel's office. In his book The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, David Brock refers to Ickes' special unit as the "Shadow Counsel's Office." Its operatives included Mark Fabiani, Chris Lehane and Jane Sherburne. Ickes reported directly to Hillary Clinton on all matters related to the work of this special unit.
Because so many of his duties involved damage control during Clinton scandals, Ickes wryly referred to his role as "Director of Sanitation." "Whenever there was something that [Bill Clinton] thought required ruthlessness or vengeance or sharp elbows and sharp knees or, frankly, skulduggery, he would give it to Harold," former Clinton advisor Dick Morris told Vanity Fair in September 1997.
Ickes also headed the Clintons’ fundraising apparatus, collecting record-breaking quantities of soft money -- much of it through such means as labor racketeering; soliciting payoffs from U.S. businessmen seeking inside access to overseas trade missions; and -- as Edward Timperlake and William C. Triplett II document in their book Year of the Rat: How Bill Clinton and Al Gore Compromised U.S. Security for Chinese Cash -- cutting deals with Chinese intelligence agents eager to loosen up U.S. export controls on military technology.
By 1996, federal investigators had begun zeroing in on Ickes' involvement in numerous Clinton scandals, including Filegate (the illegal commandeering of more than a thousand secret FBI background files on potential Clinton foes) and Chinagate (the selling of military secrets to Red China in exchange for campaign contributions). Thus Ickes was becoming a liability to the Clinton White House; two months after Bill Clinton's November 1996 reelection, the President fired him.
After leaving the White House in January 1997, Ickes rejoined his old law firm Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein.
In 1999, Ickes was appointed Hillary Clinton’s chief campaign advisor in her 2000 run for the U.S. Senate. According to Ickes, he accepted the job after a four-hour meeting with Mrs. Clinton on February 12, 1999 -- the same day that the U.S. Senate voted on Bill Clinton's impeachment. "I'm really doing this out of my friendship for Hillary, pure and simple," Ickes told the Associated Press on June 17, 1999. "She called and there was no way I was going to say no to Hillary."
Following Mrs. Clinton's successful election, Ickes played a central role in creating the Democrat Shadow Party. After passage of the McCain-Feingold Act of March 27, 2002, Ickes helped put Shadow Party architect George Soros together with activists Andrew Stern, Ellen R. Malcolm, Steven Rosenthal, Gina Glantz, Cecile Richards, and other leftwing Democrats who were seeking ways to circumvent McCain-Feingold's soft-money ban. Working closely with Soros, Ickes personally helped launch six of the seven organizations that formed the Shadow Party’s core during the 2004 election, including America Coming Together, America Votes, the Center for American Progress, Joint Victory Campaign 2004, the Media Fund, and the Thunder Road Group.
Ickes was a serious contender to succeed Terry McAuliffe as Chairman of the Democratic Party in February 2005, though Howard Dean eventually got the position.
In April 2006, Ickes established the organization Catalist.
Harold Ickes earned a BA in Economics from Stanford University in 1964, and a JD from Columbia University Law School in 1967. Today he runs the Washington office of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein. He is married (since December 5, 1983) to attorney Laura Rose Handman, a media law attorney based in New York. Ickes and Handman have a daughter named Charlotte.