Kam Kuwata, one of the smartest, most effective and beloved political consultants in California, has died, friends in Los Angeles said this morning. He was 57.
In a business filled with rats, skunks and rattlesnakes, Kuwata was a gentle bear of a man. Politically, he was relentlessly determined, intense and fierce on behalf of his clients and causes, but always did his work with a civility and kindness that reflected the compassionate and humanistic perspective he brought to the business.
Among his many clients in California and Hawaii were Senators Dianne Feinstein and Daniel Akaka, and the late Senator Alan Cranston. He also worked as a consultant for Gray Davis, Jane Harman, Bob Matsui, Jim Hahn and Leo McCarthy, among others. In 2008, he served as the program director for the Obama campaign at the Democratic National Convention.
Kam was a valued and trusted source for political reporters throughout California and the nation, an extraordinarily plugged-in guy, an insightful analyst and a world-class communications operative who never insulted journalists’ intelligence with his spin.
Details of his passing are still unclear, as are plans for a service. We’ll update as we can.
Update 12:26 PDT: Mark Barabak just posted and has more reporting on the circumstances and Kam’s background.
Update: 20:11 PDT: Formal statements are coming in from all over now, from Kam’s clients, colleagues and friends. Here’s Dianne’s:
I am deeply saddened at the passing of Kam Kuwata. California has lost a sharp political mind, and I’ve lost a loyal and dear friend of more than 20 years.
Kam managed my first Senate campaign in 1992. We went through a lot together in those days, and no matter the circumstances, I could always rely on Kam’s great sense of humor, his good advice and his compassion for the people of California. He was respected by people in politics and journalism, something I always thought spoke volumes about the kind of person he was.
I am shocked by Kam’s death and reminded at how short life is. There will never be another like Kam, and I will miss him.
And here’s the statement from President Obama:
I was saddened to learn of the passing of my friend Kam Kuwata. Kam’s brilliance as a political strategist was matched by his passion for our country and the process by which we govern ourselves.
I’ll never forget the critical contribution Kam made to our efforts in 2008, planning an open, vibrant convention that really captured the spirit of our campaign. Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to Kam’s extended family of friends and to so many in California who mourn his passing.
Update 4/12, 2:45 pm: Over at the Facebook page that’s been created “Remembering Kam Kuwata” there’s a comment from Peter Sears that’s so poignant, we had to add it here:
So you walk into the bar and Kam’s face lights up and he grabs your hand solidly, yanks you to him and affectionately squeezes your arm, unabashedly making sure you know how happy he is to see you. Now you can’t stop smiling. Then, although he’s only asking you questions, he makes you feel like you’re the most interesting person he’s talked to that day even though, given the circles he travels in, there’s almost no chance that’s true. Now you’re thinking you’re warm and kind and witty and whip smart when really, it’s him. And now that he’s gone you think to yourself, “Boy, that’s how to be a human.”