Joe Cerrell, a prominent political consultant and co-founder of Los Angeles public relations firm Cerrell Associates, died Friday morning in Camarillo from complications of pneumonia. He was 75.
Cerrell, who had been in declining health, was a fixture in Democratic Party politics for more than 50 years, running campaigns and advising presidents, governors and party officials. In his later years, he served as a party elder statesman.
Cerrell’s interest in politics first surfaced when he was student at the University of Southern California and helped found the USC Trojan Democratic Club. After running the successful 1956 campaign of Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, he became executive director of the California Democratic Party in 1958, at the age of 24. He later became a political advisor to President John Kennedy and national figures Hubert Humphrey, Lloyd Bentsen, John Glenn and Al Gore.
In 1963, Cerrell and his wife Lee co-founded the company that would become Cerrell Associates. The firm has run hundreds of political campaigns in California for statewide and local officials and ballot measures. Internationally, Cerrell was a political consultant for Italy’s Silvio Berlesconi and the government of Spain after the death of Francisco Franco. The firm is now being run by his longtime protégé Hal Dash, who took over as chairman and chief executive in January.
“Joe was a larger-than-life figure in California politics and public affairs for the past half century,” Dash said in a statement. “His legacy as a counselor, confidant, and close friend to thousands of people in politics, the business community, as well as in the public relations and non-profit arenas … will not be forgotten.”
Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian recalled Cerrell as a valued professor and mentor when he was a USC student.
“When I restarted the first USC Trojan Democratic Club in many years, and served as its president, Joe was my guide, helping to impart the lessons community empowerment that have been the cornerstone of my public service career," Krekorian said in a statement. “Joe was the dean of political consultants and personified honest, ethical and responsible campaigning.”
Born in New York City, Cerrell never lost his New York accent despite living his entire adult life in California. In 2009, he told the Business Journal “I’m still a New Yorker by accent and attitude, but otherwise I’m Los Angeles all the way.”
Cerrell also was a former president of the Italian-American National Foundation, and co-founder of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics & Government at USC.
Cerrell Associates said that firm's annual holiday party, which was scheduled for Saturday evening, will be held as planned.
He is survived by his wife Lee, a son, daughter and stepson. Funeral arrangements are pending, with details to be posted at the company's web site.
• CLICK HERE to read "Joe Cerrell: In the Running", a 2009 Business Journal interview.
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