Sarah Palin's New Right-Hand Man: Meet Michael Glassner

Could a veteran Bob Dole aide help Sarah Palin to a presidential bid?

February 17, 2011, 7:04 PM

Feb. 18, 2011 -- The veteran Republican operative who could help guide Sarah Palin into the 2012 presidential race has a close friendship with Todd Palin to thank for his new role. He is now at the top of the former Alaska governor's political hierarchy.

Friends and associates of Michael Glassner, whom Palin recently hired to be her chief of staff, say it was Todd who reached out to him in recent weeks and urged him to come aboard. His task: to bring some order to Palin's far-flung and highly-insular circle of advisers.

At a speaking appearance in Long Island, New York on Thursday Palin said she "hired a chief of staff because, to tell you the truth, Todd's getting kind of tired of doing it all for me." And her comment likely rings true for just about anyone who has seen the ad hoc nature of her political operation.

It now falls on the shoulders of Glassner, a veteran of Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and a long-time aide to former Sen. Bob Dole, to professionalize Team Palin.

"Governor Palin's done incredibly well flying by the seat of her pants," said Glassner's friend Scott Reed, a former presidential campaign manager for Sen. Bob Dole. "But Michael will be trying to get a semblance of a structure in place so they can operate better and service her better."

At least initially, sources close to Glassner expect him to do the job from New Jersey where he lives with his wife and two young daughters. Former colleagues describe him as a detail-oriented, fiercely loyal person who "takes great pride in flying under the radar." They also say he is a "fitness nut" and, along with his wife, a dedicated vegetarian. (It's unclear how that might clash with Palin's love of hunting big game animals and her ability to field dress a moose.)

Palin's handful of aides seemed to welcome his arrival. With individuals working for her in California, Texas and Washington, coordination has been difficult.

During the 2010 election cycle Glassner was a supporter of Alaska's GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller, whom Palin endorsed. Campaign aides said he offered advice and helped make important contacts throughout the campaign in an unpaid role.

Glassner first met the Palins when he joined the McCain campaign as the director of vice presidential operations in 2008. He was responsible for scheduling and logistics, and perhaps most importantly, keeping Sarah and Todd Palin happy. And by all accounts, he did, authorizing a group of junior staff members who traveled with Palin to spend as much as $28,000 on clothes and other incidentals for the vice presidential nominee as she crisscrossed the country.

Sarah Palin's New Chief of Staff

Originally brought aboard as Palin's traveling chief of staff, Glassner was quickly relieved of his duties and, instead, spent the months between the Republican National Convention in August 2008 and Election Day behind a desk at McCain campaign headquarters in Arlington, Va. From there he handled Palin's schedule, her advance work and the mechanics of getting her from event to event.

One former McCain aide described Glassner as a "low-key" behind-the-scenes type who was not involved in strategy decisions, while another referred to him as "one of a circle of enablers" surrounding Palin who reinforced her worst behavior. The source said he bypassed the campaign's chain of command in approving the hefty credit card charges.

Glassner entered Palin's orbit on the heels of other former Dole associates like Rick Davis, McCain's 2008 national campaign manager, who previously served as deputy campaign manager for Dole's 1996 presidential bid.

Dole became a friend and mentor to Glassner, 47, who grew up in rural Marion County, Kansas. By his own account, Glassner developed an interest in politics from an early age. In 1974 -- when he was 11 years old -- he joined what he called the "bumper sticker squad" for Dole's Senate race in Peabody, Kan.

Later, as a student at the University of Kansas in the early 1980s, Glassner interned at Dole's Topeka field office. After graduating with a degree in political science in 1985, he moved to Washington to work full-time on the senator's staff.

He spent the next 15 years playing various roles for Dole, including a long stint as the Republican senator's executive assistant or "body man," and, in the late 1980s, running Dole's Kansas field offices. In 1992 Glassner managed Dole's final Senate campaign and then saw him through the 1996 presidential contest.

Sheila Burke, who served as Dole's chief of staff from 1986 to 1996, said that Glassner has a deep "knowledge of the Republican Party system and a knowledge of campaigns."

"He's remarkably detail-oriented, unbelievably well-organized, even-tempered, and able to manage lots of balls in the air at the same time," Burke said in an interview. "Mike was always discrete; he was never a person you would worry about repeating something he had seen or heard that undermined the person with whom he was working."

Sarah Palin's New Chief of Staff

Over the years Glassner forged a close bond with Sen. Dole and his family and came to admire his political style.

"Unlike a lot of powerful politicians," Glassner said at a panel last year at the University of Kansas, Dole "didn't really differentiate between the billionaires and the bottle washers."

When Dole decided to resign from the Senate and relinquish his post as Majority Leader in order to campaign for president, Glassner said he felt a "palpable sense of loss for our state."

But, at the same Feb. 2010 speaking appearance, Glassner criticized Senator McCain and Sen. John Kerry for taking a different path after their presidential bids.

"I think their decisions to go back in the Senate are frankly less than graceful and have represented a whole host of sort of awkward -- awkwardness -- having reached that pinnacle and then sort of being back down in the legislative process that I think Senator Dole gracefully avoided, much to his credit," Glassner said.

After the senator's defeat by Bill Clinton in 1996, he followed Dole to the Washington law firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, consulting on international business issues before taking a job as chief of staff to the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

His loyalty to former bosses is clear. Glassner still keeps in touch with Dole, and he spends every July 30 with Ron Shiftan, the former executive director of the Port Authority with whom he shares a birthday.

"Michael is not an ideologue; he does not come at a problem from the far left or from the far right or even from the far middle," Shiftan said, "Michael is someone who gets things done."

Shiftan said that Glassner "got to know the Palins well personally" during the 2008 campaign, adding that the bond runs deep enough that "he can, in fact, have an influence" over her political future.

Glassner declined ABC News' request for comment. He is spending his time settling into his new role.

Lewis M. Eisenberg, former chairman of the Port Authority, said that Glassner was his liaison to state and local politicians on a variety of transportation projects.

"His job was very political," Eisenberg said. "He was my go-to guy who always made sure things ran smoothly and you never saw him. The waters would be smooth after he left but you'd never know his boat was on those waters."

Michael Glassner, Sarah Palin's New Aide

A quiet efficiency appears to be the trademark of his own management style, but at least one former colleague said Glassner can be tough.

"He has a very soft approach on the front end," said Meg Collin, who worked with Glassner during his seven-year stint at the IDT Corporation, a global telecommunications firm. "Michael's the king of guy who'll ask you nicely and dangle a carrot, but if you don't do what he needs to have done, he can be quite forceful."

At IDT, Glassner was chief of staff to the company's CEO, handling external communications as well as government and investor relations. He left the job in 2008 to join the McCain-Palin team, and after the campaign, started his own strategic marketing and public affairs firm, C&M Transcontinental.

"I got the sense that he kind of missed that," Collin said. "There was always a certain sparkle in his eyes when he talked about politics."

At least a few of Glassner's confidantes acknowledged they were surprised by his decision to sign on with Palin, but predicated he would be an effective chief of staff in her often unpredictable world. Palin said on Thursday that she is "still thinking about" running for president, but that she has yet to make up her mind.

"Mike understands finance, understands compliance, understands scheduling and advance," said Burke, Dole's former top aide, "All the nuts and bolts of an infrastructure -- that is where his skills are so strong. He's the guy that's always three steps ahead."

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