Chaotic campaign tests presidential debate director Janet Brown, who has massive roots


In the early 1980s, British author Jeffrey Archer set out to write a novel imagine the first female president of the United States. He enlisted a young woman who worked at the Reagan White House to help make every detail authentic and ultimately “realized that in many ways she was a role model to be president herself.”

The assistant who so deeply impressed Archer was Janet Brown, who has roots in Massachusetts and is now the Executive Director of the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Brown has headed the commission since his creation, in 1987, and this year might be his toughest test yet. First, there was the challenge of hosting live events in the midst of a pandemic. Then came public pressure to restore order, after the first forum was plagued by disruption. Finally, President Trump forced the cancellation of the town hall scheduled for last week when he refused to participate in a new virtual format.

That means the stakes are high for this week’s debate, not just for Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. This is the commission’s last chance to save a season of chaotic debates.

People who have known Brown for decades think she is up to the task.

“You couldn’t have had anyone better than Janet Brown to do what I call logistics, management,” Archer said. “She’s so demanding, so careful.”

Brown grew up spending the summer in the community of Buzzards Bay in Not resigned, where his family has vacationed for generations. She was co-captain of the Williams College field hockey team, and it wasn’t even her best sport. According to her Yearbook 1973, Brown hoped to play professional tennis in Europe after graduation.

“She was a great tennis player,” said Carmany Thorp, a former teammate. “Fast, athletic, powerful. All the stuff when she was on the court.”

Thorp was in first grade when Brown was in senior year, and she admired the upper class woman’s forehand more than just. Brown had transferred from Wellesley and was among the first women to co-ed Williams.

“It would have taken a lot of courage for a woman, at the time, to leave the comfort of a Smith or a Wellesley or a Vassar,” Thorp said.

After Brown helped integrate the previously all-male Williams campus, she pursued a career in Washington’s male-dominated political world, adding a graduate degree from Harvard along the way.

She has worked for Republicans but doesn’t express political views publicly these days and rarely gives interviews. She did not respond to an interview request for this story.

Brown delivered a start address at Center College of Kentucky in 2012 and proudly explained how the debates she hosts have gained an international reputation for impartiality.

“People in other countries, especially emerging democracies, see our debates as a model,” she said. “They believe that the tradition of having political opponents to discuss major issues in a fair and neutral forum is at the heart of democracy.”

Such debates were not always guaranteed; There were none in the presidential elections of 1964, ’68 or ’72.

Since its inception, the Presidential Debates Committee has brought many years of stability, but 2020 has been anything but stable.

And to think: at 69, Brown could be retired in the oceanfront house she bought at her mother’s estate last year.

Patricia Deneroff, a friend and classmate of Williams, said Nonquitt was “a very important part of his life” and had a special attraction to Brown and his family.

“It was the kind of family that only bought from local farmers and made their own preserves in the summer,” Deneroff said. “It remains incredibly dear to Janet.”

But, apparently, the debates are still dear to him, so the homemade jams and jellies may have to wait.

The last meeting between Trump and Biden is scheduled for Thursday in Nashville. For the moment.


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