Joseph R. Cerrell, a prominent Democratic political consultant whose career spanned more than fifty years, passed away at the age of seventy five on December 3, 2010.
Among his many clients, Cerrell advised several presidential candidates, including John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert H. Humphrey, Lloyd Bentsen, John Glenn and Al Gore.
A New York City native, Cerrell moved with his family to California in the early 1950s. Cerrell began his political career in college, when he started the Trojan Democratic Club on the campus of the University of Southern California in 1958. That same year, he went to work on the first campaign of the future governor, Edmund “Pat” Brown (father of the current Governor Jerry Brown).
In 1966, Cerrell founded Cerrell Associates, one of California’s first public relations and campaign management firms. Cerrell Associates managed the public affairs of a number of corporate entities as well as candidates and campaigns. Since 2003, Cerrell Associates has won three PRSA PRism Awards and five Pollie Awards for its work in advertising and advocacy. Cerrell served as the chairman emeritus and CEO of the firm until his death.
Cerrell was also chairman emeritus and a former president of the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) and a former chairman of the International Association of Political Consultants (IAPC). He was recently enshrined in the AAPC’s Hall of Fame, which recognized him as a “pioneer and an innovator in our industry.”
At Cerrell’s memorial service on December 6, 2010, at the Christ the King Roman Catholic Church in the Larchmont district of Los Angeles, overflow crowds totaling more than 600 came out to pay respects to the passing of a giant in the field of political management. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa delayed a scheduled trip to Sacramento to attend swearing-in ceremonies in order to deliver the opening eulogy. “Joe loved politics,” Villaraigosa recalled. “He didn’t care if you were Democratic or Republican. He cared about people.”
Cerrell was a co-founder of and adjunct professor at the University of Southern California’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. He also served as a distinguished visiting professor of political science at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.
“Joe Cerrell helped to create modern political consulting,” said Professor Ann N. Crigler, chair of the political science department at USC. “He was an early full-service political consultant who successfully navigated the transition to today’s more specialized consulting practices. He shared his expertise and enthusiasm with hundreds of students over the years and inspired them to get involved in politics at many levels. This gift was institutionalized with his instrumental role in bringing the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics to USC.”
Cerrell is survived by his wife of forty-seven years, Lee, their three children and seven grandchildren.
Noah Rothman is the online editor of C&E.