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2001 protest spoiler gets key Bush role

Organizer and family favorite Brett Doster will head the president's Florida re-election effort.

Published October 1, 2003

TAMPA - Brett Doster was not about to let protesters disrupt a presidential visit.

So when three sign-toting demonstrators showed up at the New York Yankees' Legends Field two years ago, Doster asked police to remove them, team officials said.

Police complied. The charges were later dropped, and the protesters are suing the city for violating their First Amendment rights.

Doster, who was part of a "rally response team" at President Bush's rally, is about to get a much bigger job.

The 32-year-old lobbyist and real estate agent will be appointed director of the president's re-election campaign in Florida. White House political director Ken Mehlman will announce the appointment today at the Tampa Airport Marriott.

"Brett is like family to me," Gov. Jeb Bush said in an e-mail Tuesday. "He will do a fine job coordinating the president's victorious re-election campaign. He is hardworking, experienced, talented and loyal."

Reed Dickens, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, said: "Brett has great organizational skills. He's a proven leader with incredible political instincts in a state where we need it the most."

Doster's new job comes with huge potential and enormous risk. The last thing the White House wants is a repeat of 2000. He'll need a diplomat's skills to balance the egos from Washington to Miami. But friends and colleagues say Doster is up to the job.

"He's the perfect person to run this campaign," said Cory Tilley, a public relations consultant who like Doster is a veteran of all three Jeb Bush campaigns. "He knows the Bush organization in Florida as well as anybody and he has the confidence of the governor and the people in the leadership of the campaign. He's earned this chance."

Doster declined to be interviewed.

A graduate of the Citadel in Charleston, S.C., and son of a prominent Tallahassee real estate broker, Doster has been making the Bush family look good for a long time.

When Jeb Bush first ran for governor, in 1994, Doster was so efficient he would practice the campaign route the night before. Bush lost but the two forged a bond and Doster became a trusted member of the extended Bush family.

Doster was political director of the president's 2000 Florida campaign and worked for 16 months as deputy director of the Florida Office of Trade, Tourism and Economic Development.

Last fall, Doster took a leave from his state job to work as a paid consultant for the Coalition to Protect Florida, a group that tried unsuccessfully to prevent passage of the class size amendment.

In February he joined the law firm of Uhlfelder & Associates, where he and Bush supporter Steve Uhlfelder represented a variety of business clients, from American Express to United Parcel Service.

At Legends Field in 2001, three protesters carried signs that said, "Investigate Florida Votergate" and "June is Gay Pride Month." They were arrested.

The lawsuit alleges that police violated the protesters' First Amendment rights, and it challenges the constitutionality of free speech zones, which are areas demonstrators must occupy during rallies. Their lawsuit names Doster as a potential witness.

According to an internal memo prepared by the Yankees, Doster asked the Yankees' marketing director, Howard Grosswirth, to remove the three protesters because they were "causing a disturbance." When Yankees security declined to intervene, the memo says, Doster spoke to Tampa police.

"After talking with me, Brett walked to a bicycle rack (used as a barrier) located behind the speaker's platform at home plate and spoke with two Tampa police officers. I later saw some individuals being escorted from the field by Tampa police officers," wrote Yankee executive Philip McNiff, quoting Grosswirth.

Mauricio Rosas, one of the three protesters arrested in 2001, said naming Doster as Bush's Florida campaign manager shows that Florida "will not have a fair and clean election once again."

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