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Then there's her personal style, which has been described as brusque.
Several people who say they either like or admire Aboussie also say they would never want to work for her because of the blunt way she bosses people around.
In getting her way, she doesn't mince words. She can cuss like a taxi driver in a traffic jam. One of her nicknames is "Joyce Abusive." She'll go off on someone if she thinks it will be effective. That someone could be anyone.
In the dozens of interviews conducted for this article, all but a few interviewees spoke on the condition their quotes would not be attributed to them. One public official described a phone call from Aboussie this way:
"When she calls you up out of the blue and you say, 'Hello, Joyce,' and she starts to scream at you and curse at you for something that is a marginal affront -- that really is more of a miscommunication than it is anything else -- that can scare the shit out of somebody that has to depend on elected officials for a living. Any number of people have been subjected to the treatment. It's one of those things where she probably forgets about it ten minutes after the conversation. That's just the way she does business, but it's pretty intimidating to people."
With that kind of treatment in response to minor slights, no one who has to do business with her wants to risk irritating her. And because most of her work is done in the dark, her reprisals are seldom revealed. That she is feared is a testament to her power.
But whether people fear or loathe her and dislike her style or tactics, Brotherton, the Democratic political consultant, says that should not affect their judgment of her work.
"You don't have to like Barry Bonds," he says, "to understand he's a great baseball player."
Much of Joyce Aboussie's power flows from the status, money and power of Dick Gephardt, but that wasn't always so. She managed Gephardt's second campaign for Congress in '78, but the first campaign success that turned heads came in 1980, when Aboussie was in charge of promoting a change in the city charter that would allow city employees to make more than $25,000.
In that drive, she used telephone polling, phone banks and frequent-voter lists to push through a measure that previously had failed to pass. Her political stock rose, and from then on she ran all of Gephardt's campaigns. A few years later, she was hired full-time by Gephardt, while she still ran Telephone Contact Inc., her polling and political-consulting firm, on the side.
That was the beginning of what some still see as a conflict of interest. Others see it as Aboussie cleverly playing both sides of the street. They say that if she wants to take on a client or an issue, she says she's completely independent of Gephardt; if she doesn't want to take somebody aboard, she'll say can't do it because it would be against Gephardt's interests. Similarly, Gephardt can distance himself from a candidate or a cause that Telephone Contact Inc. is backing by saying it's Aboussie's separate business and has nothing to do with him.
Not everyone buys this line of reasoning. Again, Alderwoman Sharon Tyus makes a comparison to Bill Clay and Pearlie Evans. Tyus doesn't see how Aboussie would do anything without Gephardt's approval.
"You don't think Joyce Aboussie and Dick Gephardt talk? C'mon, OK?" Tyus asks. "Just like with Pearlie, there'd be things she would do where Bill Clay would claim ignorance. Pearlie talked to Bill Clay every day, two or three times a day. He doesn't have to do that. That's what you have if you're a powerful person -- you keep your hands clean like that, but that doesn't mean you're not touching every button."
The political hopefuls who seek to hire Aboussie are looking for more than the usual political consultant. It's an impression that Aboussie doesn't discourage.
"You buy the whole package when you buy Joyce," says a local political observer. "You pay a premium for Telephone Contact Inc., and you're supposed to get all these extras with it -- Joyce's contacts, that she'll get you in touch with money, she'll help you do all this stuff behind the scenes. I don't know that that really works."
One person putting his criticisms of Joyce Aboussie on the record is John Hancock, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party. He doesn't buy into the mystique of Aboussie as political powerbroker supreme.
"I actually believe much of her aura is overblown," says Hancock. "Incumbent members of Congress, wherever they may be, are entrenched animals. There is not a more safe thing in the world to be than an incumbent member of the U.S. Congress. They win re-election more than 94 percent of the time. It does not take some kind of shrewd political Svengali to re-elect an incumbent member of Congress time after time after time."
Plus, Hancock points to the recent St. Louis County Council race in which Creve Coeur Mayor Annette Mandel hired Aboussie but still "lost, and lost going away." Mandel not only contributed $20,000 to the Democratic Leadership Victory Fund, she spent $40,000 on Telephone Contact Inc. during the campaign.