Obama campaign director in Nevada dies

November 3, 2008 6:01:45 PM PST
A longtime political operative from New York who directed Barack Obama's presidential campaign in the swing state of Nevada died of a heart attack just two days before the election at the age of 44. Terence Tolbert was stricken at about 8 p.m. Sunday while driving alone near the campaign offices in North Las Vegas. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died. No one else was injured, campaign spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said.

Tolbert lived in Harlem and had built a sparkling resume in his many years in New York politics, but the Obama campaign meant more to him than any other job, said Basil Smikle, a political consultant and longtime friend of Tolbert.

"He took his role there very seriously," Smikle said. "He may have given all that he had for it."

The death was one of two tragedies to strike the Obama campaign on the eve of the election. Obama's grandmother died in Hawaii on Monday at the age of 86.

Tolbert had left his job as the chief lobbyist for New York City's public schools at the state capital in Albany to work for Obama. He had previously worked for Mayor Michael Bloomberg and as chief of staff to Democratic state Assemblyman Keith Wright and in other government and campaign posts.

"He was so gifted in the art of politics," Wright said in a telephone interview. "He died with his boots on, doing what he loved."

Obama said in a statement Monday: "I was shocked and saddened to learn about the passing of our Nevada state director, Terence Tolbert. Terence was a strong force in this campaign, with a positive outlook that brought people together. ... His enthusiasm, talent, and warm heart will truly be missed."

Obama spoke with Tolbert's widow, Freida Foster-Tolbert, to offer his condolences.

Tolbert became Obama's Nevada state director in July, running the campaign in a state that has long been Republican territory. But Democrats and Obama have made inroads there there year to the point that it could tilt Democratic on Tuesday.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tolbert was a personal friend.

"Terence was not only somebody who was one of the most likable people in the world, he was one of the most hardworking people in the world," Bloomberg said. "He had great judgment and a great feel for people, and this really is a great tragedy."

Tolbert worked on the 2005 re-election campaign of Bloomberg, and on the campaigns of Democratic politicians including Sen. Charles Schumer, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and former presidential hopeful John Edwards.

He also worked at the New York State Senate Minority Program Office in Albany and as a staff member to former New York State Sen. Joseph Galiber, New York State Sen. Martin Connor and Rep. Charles Rangel.

Tolbert is survived by his wife and mother.


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