Democratic organizer Joan Joseph, 1945-2009by George Bennett | September 23rd, 2009
Joan Joseph, a Jupiter resident who was a key political operative for candidates from Barack Obama to West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, died early today of cancer.
Mrs. Joseph, 64, was a go-to figure for Democratic candidates seeking to build a grass-roots organization in Florida. She was a paid staffer in Palm Beach County for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, then was the statewide coordinator of volunteers for John Kerry’s 2004 campaign.
When Barack Obama launched his presidential bid in early 2007 as a decided underdog, Mrs. Joseph was a key early organizer in Florida.
“She was one of the first people that we went to for Obama” in Florida, said Kirk Wagar, who was the Obama campaign’s Florida finance chairman. Obama’s first major Florida event, a March 2007 “low-dollar” fund-raiser that drew about 1,000 people to the Palm Beach County Convention Center, was largely put together by Mrs. Joseph, Wagar said.
“I don’t know that there were many people more important than her…in the whole state,” Wagar said.
Mrs. Joseph was rewarded for her efforts by being tapped by the Obama campaign as one of Florida’s 27 Electoral College members.
“When we named those people, we wanted people who really made a meaningful difference,” said Steve Schale, who was the Obama campaign’s Florida director. Schale described Mrs. Joseph as an “indispensable” figure in Florida.
Aside from presidential campaigns, Mrs. Joseph also played a key statewide role in Rod Smith’s 2006 bid for governor and was a top adviser for Frankel’s 2003 and 2007 mayoral campaigns.
“She was really one of the dearest people I’ve ever known. She was certainly a big part of my life,” Frankel said this morning.
“Grass-roots organizing is what she was known for. She was also one of the smartest political minds in Florida,” said Eric Jotkoff, who worked with Mrs. Joseph on three campaigns and is now spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party.
Jotkoff attributed Mrs. Joseph’s success to “her true understanding of politics and her incredible network of people, just how warm and great a person she was — that’s why so many people were loyal to her.”
Mrs. Joseph grew up in New York and earned a Master’s degree in social work from Rutgers University. She held jobs working the mentally disabled and elderly and with the North Shore Animal League in New York. She also worked on political campaigns in the Empire State, including two of Mario Cuomo’s gubernatorial runs and former President Jimmy Carter’s 1980 reelection bid.
“Jimmy Carter actually called our house and asked her to work on the campaign,” recalled Stu Joseph, her husband of 39 years.
In addition to her husband, Mrs. Joseph is survived by twin daughters and three grandchildren. A funeral is planned for Friday at 10 a.m. at the Aycock Funeral Home in Jupiter.