WASHINGTON, D. C.— A fierce and seasoned progressive, Faiz Shakir, 39, has been named Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I.-Vt.) campaign manager for his second attempt at the presidency. Shakir made his name as a nemesis of right-wing conservatives — particularly cable news hosts, talk radio and Republican commentators — during his time as editor-in-chief of the website ThinkProgress, an appendage of the Center for American Progress (CAP) — a progressive Washington, D.C., think tank.
The Florida-born and raised Shakir, son of Pakistani immigrants, and an alumnus of Harvard University and Georgetown University Law Center, creates history by becoming the first South Asian American and first Muslim American to manage a major presidential campaign.
The Daily Beast, which first reported Shakir’s appointment, said by hiring Shakir, “Sanders brings into the fold one of the Democratic Party’s better-traveled operatives—an official with limited campaign experience but with ties to the party’s think tank infrastructure, its Hill operations, and the larger progressive universe.”
Shakir, joins Sanders’ campaign, which launched on Feb. 19 when the 77-year-old Jewish-American lawmaker who made a surprisingly strong run for the Democratic nomination in 2016 made his announcement in a radio interview in his home state of Vermont and within the first 24 hours raised over $6 million, which bettered the record thus far held by Sen. Kamala Harris (D.-Calif.), who raised $1.5 million in the first 24 hours of her presidential launch on Jan. 21.
Before he joined the Sanders campaign, Shakir was national political director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) since Jan. 2017.
At the ACLU, Shakir oversaw the organization’s National Political Advocacy Department, which houses its Washington Legislative Office and State Advocacy and Policy departments. In this role, Shakir was responsible for developing and implementing strategies to advance the organization’s priorities at the federal and state levels.
At the ACLU, he also launched the “People Power” program, which engaged more than 210,000 activists across all 50 states, and while the program doesn’t endorse candidates in political races, its aim was to pressure lawmakers on progressive priorities such as blocking deportations of undocumented immigrants.
Before his stint with the ACLU, he was a senior Congressional staffer both in the U.S. Senate and House as a senior adviser to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-NV) and earlier to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.-CA), as her digital director.
Shakir was also a junior staff campaign researcher for then Sen. John F. Kerry’s (D.-Mass.) run for president in 2014.
But it was as the point person of ThinkProgress, founded by John Podesta -- former President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager of her 2016 presidential run — and now headed by Neera Tanden, where Shakir made his mark. He was a bane of the far-right conservatives, with his stinging blogs and quick-fire responses to attacks against progressives. He was known to challenge Republicans slip-ups, particularly on race, minority rights and other left-of-center progressive priorities, including on foreign policy and national security.
During his tenure at ThinkProgress, Tanden, the first Indian American to helm a major D.C. think tank, in interviews with India Abroad would speak admiringly about Shakir every time one would mention his quickfire comebacks or point by point rebuttals in the battles between conservatives and progressives, and describe him as “a rising star.”
But apparently Tanden—a close adviser and confidante to Hillary Clinton -- and Podesta were peeved and even felt betrayed when their protégé decided to go work for Sanders during the bitter 2016 Democratic primary. According to an exchange of e-mails between Podesta and Tanden leaked by WikiLeaks, Podesta wrote of how he chided Shakir for advising Sanders. “Gave him a very hard time. I have to say this does not go down easy with me,” Podesta reportedly wrote to Tanden.
At CAP, where he served for over seven years and was also its vice president for communications, Shakir also advised the think tank’s senior leadership on policy matters, and was at the forefront of CAP’s campaign to take on Islamophobia. He was the editor and main author of CAP’s report in 2010, titled "Fear, Inc."
The Daily Beast said that Shakir held a meeting with his team at the ACLU on Feb.19, to announce that he was leaving to join the Sanders campaign. The report pointed out, Shakir is “almost certainly the first campaign manager of a major presidential campaign who identifies as a Muslim. His candidate, Sanders, is Jewish.”
According to The Daily Beast, “A team of Sanders advisers had been in the hunt for a new campaign manager at least since late January, at which time the inner circle was dealing with the fallout of allegations of harassment and misconduct from former 2016 staffers. In part due to that fallout, the team was seeking more diversity among their top ranks.”
“A number of names were floated as potential candidates, though Shakir was not among the individuals named by Sanders,” it said sources had noted.
Meanwhile, Jeff Weaver, the 2016 campaign manager and a longtime personal friend and ally of Sanders, is expected to take on a different role this time around. As a senior adviser he would be Sanders’ Man Friday.
A fellow alum at ThinkProgress and a close friend of Shakir’s, Matt Duss, who was Sanders’ chief Senate foreign-policy adviser, is also expected to join the campaign and work closely with Shakir.
The Daily Beast quoted Anthony Romero, the ACLU's executive director, showering kudos on Shakir as a “transformational leader” whose work had helped catalyze the ACLU as a bastion of legal resistance to the Trump administration on everything from the Muslim-focused travel ban to migrant family separation, and consequently seen its membership quadruple off its uncompromising opposition to Trump.
“While the ACLU does not endorse or oppose candidates for elected or appointed office, Faiz has picked his candidate for president," Romero told The Daily Beast. "Senator Sanders is fortunate to have someone of Faiz Shakir’s talent, creativity and vision running his campaign for president.”
In a major profile of Shakir two years ago, Ozy.com, declared “if Rep. Keith Ellison (D.-Minn.), who ran for chairman of the DNC (Democratic National Committee), is the most visible Muslim in American politics, Shakir could be the most powerful, considering the funds at his disposal.”
It noted, “Juiced in part by the ACLU’s fight against Trump’s travel ban, celebrities are helping raise money for the group, which brought in $80 million online in the first eight months following the election (a typical pre-Trump yearly online haul was $4 million).”
But in its profile, Ozy also spoke of how Shakir who had once described ThinkProgress as CAP’s “tip of the spear,” was a marked man of the conservative right and constantly trolled on social media, particularly after his Islamophobia report, which had named FrontPage magazine, hit back at him as helping to raise money for terrorists.
The genesis for the accusations stemmed from his college days at Harvard, where Shakir was co-chair of Islam Awareness Week and its final event, which Shakir says he did not plan or attend, was in coalition with other local colleges and had raised funds to the Holy Land Foundation, a charity supporting Palestinians.
HLF was later shut down by the feds, and its leaders were found guilty of sending money to Hamas, which has been designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Department of States.
At the time, some of his foes also labeled Shakir an anti-Semite, based mostly on personal tweets by people who worked under him at ThinkProgress and Shakir told Ozy that the accusations had “no merit,” but they stung.
“It cut pretty deeply,” he said, particularly as “it’s the type of thing I’ve been working my life against. I was always deeply involved in forging relationships across ethnic and religious differences.”
With Shakir on board and with his writing skills, sources predicted that the Sanders campaign could be expected to respond strongly and quickly to Trump’s tweets, particularly those poking fun and trying to humiliate Sanders’ brand of democratic socialism.
On Feb. 19, Sanders in launching his campaign, said, "We began the political revolution in the 2016 campaign, and now it's time to move that revolution forward.”
He pledged to enact many of the ideas he championed during his bid for the presidency in 2016, including universal healthcare access and the minimum hourly wage of $15, which had now gone “mainstream” and were being propounded by the Democratic presidential candidates.
Sanders also described Trump as "an embarrassment” and called the president “a pathological liar...” and added, “I also think he is a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a xenophobe, somebody who is gaining cheap political points by trying to pick on minorities, often undocumented immigrants."
"Our campaign is about transforming our country and creating a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice," he said.