- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002

RICHMOND A Texas insurance executive with experience consulting Republican campaigns takes over next week as executive director of Virginia's troubled Republican Party, officials announced yesterday.

Aaron Leibowitz, 35, of Temple, Texas, takes over the job Edmund A. Matricardi III left in April after being accused in four felony indictments of illegally monitoring confidential conference calls among Democratic lawmakers.

State prosecutors dropped all charges last month after federal investigators entered the case. No charges have been filed since.

Mr. Leibowitz officially takes charge of the day-to-day Republican Party of Virginia staff operations June 27. Richmond Republican consultant Dave Johnson has served as interim director since Mr. Matricardi's resignation.

Mr. Leibowitz, senior vice president of Extraco Insurance Services Inc., said in a telephone interview he lived in Fredericksburg and aided several campaigns in the early 1990s while working for Carlyle Gregory & Associates. He returned to Texas and the insurance business in 1994.

He also worked briefly for the Virginia Republican Party, for several state and federal election campaigns and for Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser.

Among the Republican congressional campaigns in his portfolio are those of New York's Rick Lazio, E. Clay Shaw and Dan Miller in Florida, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Jim Chapman of Virginia.

Mr. Leibowitz arrives with the party reeling from the resignation of House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins, who became Virginia's first Republican speaker by engineering the GOP's unprecedented House takeover in the 1999 election. Mr. Wilkins was forced out Thursday amid reports that he sexually harassed a woman, then paid her $100,000 to keep quiet.

"There's nothing wonderful about that component of it," Mr. Leibowitz said of the back-to-back scandals that have left Virginia Republicans weary, dismayed and distracted.

The eavesdropping scandal disrupted party-building activities in a year with no contested statewide elections in Virginia, he said.

"With me coming in and these situations concluding themselves, we can focus on the directions the party needs to go," Mr. Leibowitz said.

Mr. Leibowitz said he has the benefit of Virginia experience but not the burdens of being tied to any faction within the state party. He also suggested he would operate differently from Mr. Matricardi, who was often the party's outspoken and combative point man.

"During my time in Virginia, I was very low-profile, and I will probably continue to be. I'm not the kind of political operative who believes it's good for political operatives to be the story," he said.

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