Joyce Abusive

Nobody's ever voted for Joyce Aboussie, but the congressman, the governor, the mayor and the county executive don't do anything political without her.

In maintaining that relationship through the years, old friend Daly is there for Gephardt's national political director.

"One of these days she's going to call, and she's going to say, 'Gregg, listen, brother, I've got somebody who's got a situation.' And I'll say, 'Joyce, sure, I'm right here. I'm right here,'" says Daly. "She works hard."

So Joyce Aboussie is a throwback, a relic of the backroom politics of the past and at the same time an evolution, a descendant of that stereotype. Instead of patronage jobs and kickbacks fueling the machine, there are frequent-voter lists, access to a powerful congressman and a hookup to big-bucks donors. It's still money and power; the only thing that has changed is the mechanism of how it corrupts and the props that surround the process.

One politician -- again, talking on background, more out of fear than loathing -- describes the downside of Joyce Aboussie's grip on power this way: "The concern people should have about a monolithic political structure is the limited number of ideas and voices that become part of the public discussion. It's just not healthy in a democracy for there to be a dearth of points of view. A lack of debate is not healthy. Developing consensus is healthy."

When it comes down to a power broker such as Joyce Aboussie making the call, good public policy too often comes in a weak fourth -- behind the political, personal and financial interests of her clients.

Or herself.

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