Bowles gets new manager

Staff WriterDecember 17, 2003 

Gene Conti, who spent much of his career in transportation, has been hired to get Erskine Bowles' U.S. Senate campaign moving.

Conti will start work in January as campaign manager for Bowles, the Charlotte investment banker and former White House Chief of staff, who is making his second run for the Senate.

"I've been in political stuff for 20 some years," Conti said. "I've admired Erskine for as long as I've known him."

Until June, Conti was the No. 2 official in the N.C. Department of Transportation. He was asked to leave the post by Gov. Mike Easley because he was moonlighting in the Raleigh office of U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, where he oversaw the district staff.

Conti, a former top federal highway administrator and former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. David Price, took the congressional gig because he was eight months short of becoming eligible for a federal pension.

He will continue to work part time for Miller for the next several months until he completes his 20 years with the federal government. He also is taking a leave of absence from his job as a senior consultant with PBS&J, a national engineering consulting firm.

Conti, 56, of Raleigh said he will devote 80 percent of his time to the Bowles campaign.

Bowles' campaign was managed last year by Craig Schirmer. Bowles lost to Republican Elizabeth Dole and is running for the seat being vacated by Democrat John Edwards, who is running for president rather than seeking re-election.

Besides getting a new campaign manager, Bowles has also hired a new media consultant.

Producing the TV ads for Bowles next year will be Frank Greer, a veteran Democratic consultant who has worked for dozens of candidates across the country, including former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles and New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey.

His past North Carolina clients include Gov. Jim Hunt in 1992 and U.S. Senate candidate D.G. Martin in 1998. Last year, Greer worked for U.S. Senate candidate Dan Blue, whom Bowles defeated in the Democratic primary and who is deciding whether to enter next year's Senate race.

During his contest last year, Bowles' TV ad man was Saul Shorr. But Shorr had already committed to producing the advertising next year for Easley's re-election campaign.

To pay for the consultants, Bowles held a fund-raiser last week in Charlotte that the campaign said brought in more than $750,000. The event was held in the home of longtime business associate Nelson Schwab. Among the sponsors of the event were former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, a two-time Senate candidate, and former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl.

Bowles is not just raising money for his Senate campaign. He recently sent out an e-mail message to 6,000 supporters asking them to consider donating money to the Grace Medical Clinic in Kannapolis.

Dr. Kenny Tokunboh and his staff are providing free medical care to former employees of Pillowtex, the textile giant that closed last summer, costing 5,000 North Carolinians their jobs.

After visiting the clinic, Bowles pledged to help.

"I was so moved that I told Dr. Tokunboh I would do everything I can to help him help these people," Bowles wrote. "I told him I would try to find some money so his clinic can continue providing this vital care to families who otherwise have NO access to medical care."

By staff writer Rob Christensen, who can be reached at 829-4532 or robc@newsobserver.com.

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