Beyond Vassar

Alumnae/i Lay Groundwork for Democratic and Republican Conventions

By Larry Hertz

Vassar alums are playing key roles at the Republican and Democratic national conventions this summer. Diane Downing ’77 is chief operating officer of the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, in charge of rolling out the red carpet for those attending the GOP gathering July 18–21. Fritz Friedman ’74 is serving on the Credentials Committee at the Democratic convention a week later in Philadelphia.

Diane Downing '77
Diane Downing '77
Fritz Friedman '74
Fritz Friedman '74

While neither Downing nor Friedman has ever run for public office (although Downing served as treasurer and then president of Vassar’s student government), both have been active in politics in one form or another for most of their lives.

Less than two months after she graduated from Vassar, Downing was hired as a legislative assistant to Cuyahoga County (OH) Commissioner Seth Taft, husband of Franny Prindle Taft ’42.

“I grew up in suburban New York City and had never been to Cleveland before I was hired, but I grew to love the city,” Downing says. She met her husband, Tom Corrigan, in Cleveland, and they raised three children—Deidre, Sarah, and Thomas—in the Edgewater section of the city.

Downing held key staff positions for two mayors, Republican George Voinovich from 1980 to 1989 and Democrat Michael White from 1990 to 2002. While serving on White’s staff, she was appointed project manager for the Cleveland Browns’ new football stadium, now known as FirstEnergy Stadium, which opened in 1999. Downing is currently on loan to the Host Committee from her position as senior vice president for corporate affairs at Huntington National Bank.

Downing says she is excited to show off her adopted city to tens of thousands of visiting Republicans and the national and international media. “We plan to highlight the progress the city has made in the past few years as the nation’s—and the world’s—eyes turn to Cleveland,” Downing says.

Under an agreement with the Republican National Committee, the Cleveland Host Committee has raised around $60 million and has been coordinating lodging and logistics for the event. Tasks have included securing 16,000 hotel and motel rooms throughout Northeast Ohio for the delegates and other guests, arranging transportation, and helping to plan and coordinate special events before and during the week of the convention.

Because the GOP presidential race has taken some unexpected twists this year, the spotlight on the city will be a tad brighter than originally expected. “We’re certainly seeing heightened interest in the preparations,” Downing says. “When we held our first walk-through for the media last December, there were about 400 people in attendance. When we held another one in the spring, we had over 500, including quite a few from the international press that we hadn’t seen before.

“When planning started, no one knew how the race would turn out, but our goal has always been to do everything we can to make this a wonderful event,” Downing adds. “I think it will be great for Cleveland.”

Friedman, who recently retired as senior vice president of worldwide publicity for Sony Pictures in Los Angeles, started his work in Philadelphia just before the Democratic convention. He is one of 25 prominent Democrats selected to serve on the Credentials Committee, which rules on disputes over who may be admitted. He’s also serving in various other capacities at the convention.

“The Rules Committee has established criteria for credentials, but at the last minute there are always things that happen and you need a group of people who can resolve disputes,” Friedman says. He received training on the rules before the convention. “If anything comes up, we’ll make those decisions,” he says. “It’s an important job, and I guess depending on our rulings, I’ll be popular with some people; and others, not so much. But I can take it.”

Friedman says he met Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz at a conference in Minneapolis last year, “and she contacted me a couple of months later and asked me if I’d serve on this committee.”

Friedman, whose family is from the Philippines, says he has been active in Asian and Pacific Islander issues for most of his life, currently as a member of the Leaders Forum in California, a splinter group of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He was a founder of the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment 25 years ago. “It’s been part of my history to be involved in civil rights and social issues,” he says.

It was his involvement in civil rights issues that led him to become involved in Democratic politics, Friedman says. “I’ve always been keenly aware of the political context in which we live, and the Democratic Party’s goals and interests are aligned with mine,” he says.

Friedman says he hopes his own credentials will enable him to meet both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton at the convention.

While he supports his party in most ways, Friedman says he does have one bone to pick with the Democratic National Committee. “After I graduated from Vassar, I went to the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania,” he says. “I want to ask someone at the DNC if they know how hot and humid it gets in Philadelphia in July.”