On a cold day in March, with gray skies and a downpour clouding the nation's capital, most of the city is in a funk. But not Elliott Hall, chief lobbyist for the Ford Motor Company. Watching the rain beat against the window pane of his huge 10th floor office, Hall is flying high.
In his first news conference, President Bill Clinton has just criticized Japanese trade policy, saying he would like to see Japan increase its purchases of U.S. auto parts. The remarks represent a big victory for Hall: He has been instrumental in getting the new President to listen to automobile industry concerns about Japanese trade policy. Hall caught the President's ear While Clinton was in Little Rock, weeks before the caravan from Arkansas rolled into Washington, D.C.
The meeting Hall arranged positioned auto leaders among the first to capture the new President's attention. Yet this is not the only time Hall has gotten there first. He is the first and only African-American vice president in Ford's 90-year history. He is the sole Ford officer in North America heading an office outside of Michigan. But he is not the first and only in his family to have worked for Ford. "My dad worked in the foundry carrying lunch buckets," says Hall.
Power and Access
It's no more than five minutes from the front door of Capitol Hill's National Democratic Club to the second floor. But it takes Ford's sought-after lobbyist more than double the time to get there. His long strides are constantly interrupted as congressional staffers and members of Congress stop him to say hello.
Upstairs at a $500-a-head fund-raiser for Congressman Alan Wheat (D-Mo.), Hall gives a hearty handshake to the guest of honor. Scanning the crowd--mostly legislative aides holding court by the pasta bar and veggie trays--Hall spots Congressman Butler Derrick (D-S.C.), Wheat's colleague on the influential House Rules Committee. Hall makes his way over to exchange pleasantries. In about an hour Hall leaves the club, wading through another flurry of handshakes and shoulder pats.
The scene is a far cry from the pleading and cajoling most people imagine Washington lobbying to be. But it suits the confident style of the former Detroit lawyer. Hall has become a popular and widely respected player in Washington political circles during the 6 years since the number two automaker tapped him to be its vice president for Washington affairs.
As his personal driver, Lonnie--a middle-aged white man who respectfully calls him "Mr. Hall" or "Sir"--weaves the green Ford Lincoln Towncar through the streets past the domed Capitol, the 55-year-old executive explains how he's penetrated Washington's political power base. "This town is about credibility," he says. "I've found that having a relaxed, informed demeanor is more effective than the high-pressure 'I gotta have your vote, you've got to do this for me.' I give a...