Less than a year after her affair with Gen. David Petraeus became public, Charlotte’s Paula Broadwell is following the lead of other fallen celebrities, including Petraeus, who have orchestrated comebacks.
She publicly apologized for the damage done to her family and others. She has used her fame and connections to promote worthy causes – including helping wounded veterans. And she has tried to stay local and on-message.
That message is: Broadwell, 40, is eager to move forward and not look back. You hear it from her Dilworth neighbors, from her fellow military veterans, and from her Washington-based spokeswoman, Dee Dee Myers, former press secretary to President Bill Clinton.
But unresolved issues could threaten this controlled reentry and bring more unflattering headlines.
The FBI is still investigating ex-CIA director Petraeus – including whether Broadwell received classified information – Attorney General Eric Holder has told Congress.
Then there’s Jill Kelley of Tampa, who recently sued the U.S. government for invasion of privacy. Broadwell isn’t a defendant. But last week, Fox News, citing an unnamed source, said Broadwell had stalked Kelley, who was once portrayed as a rival for Petraeus’ affections.
Still, Broadwell may have an easier time in her rehabilitation campaign because of where she lives.
“Charlotte is a place that is very forgiving … and a good place to start over,” said historian Dan Morrill. “Part of that comes from its diversity and part of it comes from its pragmatic nature. Charlotte is not too interested in who your grandparents were. It’s primarily interested in what you can do.”
The Observer asked for an interview with Broadwell, but Myers said she is not granting such requests and has no plans to comment on past controversies or current investigations and lawsuits.
Broadwell is “getting on with her life,” Myers said. “The rest of it will sort itself out.”
A West Point graduate who grew up in North Dakota, Broadwell moved to Charlotte in 2009 with her husband Dr. Scott Broadwell, a radiologist.
In 2006, she met Petraeus, who became the subject of “All In,” her 2012 biography of the general.
Just before Memorial Day, she talked briefly with a local news outlet about the fallout from her affair with Petraeus. Her comments were widely distributed by national news outfits.
“I have remorse for the harm, sadness that this has caused in my family and other families and for causes that we belong to,” Broadwell said. “I’m blessed with family, community. That’s been a great part of my rehabilitation and wonderful organizations that realize that even if you’ve made mistakes, you can pick up, dust off and move on.”
Later in the interview, she stressed that “I’m not focused on the past. … It was a devastating thing for our family and we still have some healing to do, but we’ve very focused now on how we can continue to contribute and use this for the greater good, too.”
That’s echoed by Myers and Broadwell’s friends in Charlotte and Washington.
She is “focused on where she can make contributions … and bring good things to Charlotte,” Myers said. “And she has been gratified by the support she’s received from the Charlotte community. She feels like it’s … a terrific place to live and do the things she’s interested in.”
Things like promoting charities – Charlotte Bridge Home and others – that ease the transition to civilian life for soldiers wounded in battle.
Broadwell was supporting such efforts long before the scandal. Now armed with much higher name recognition, she is hoping to sharpen her identity as an advocate for improving the lot of veterans.
Among her Charlotte fans: Debbie Williams, co-director of The Patriot Charities, at whose Old Bags fundraiser Broadwell posed for a photo that appeared in the August edition of Charlotte Magazine.
For Williams, the scandal “is not a concern at all. …We’re about getting the work done, and she is boots on the ground. … She’s very instrumental and we’re very appreciative.”
Charlotte developer Tommy Norman cast Broadwell as a high-energy asset in attracting more veterans – and activities geared to veterans – to Charlotte.
“She’s got connections, and these aren’t BS connections,” said Norman, a veteran who started Charlotte Bridge Home nearly three years ago to connect veterans to jobs and helpful programs.
Norman said Broadwell has joined him and others to form public-private coalitions to recruit, for example, The Warrior Games, a version of the Olympics for athletes disabled in combat. It’s based in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“I’m sure … there are some people who squint their eyes at her,” Norman said. “But most people walk up and want to meet her. She’s got a little bit of that celebrity profile.”
Articles and speeches
Like Petraeus, who resigned his CIA post after the extramarital affair was revealed, Broadwell is marketing herself as an expert on the military.
She has turned to writing again. In articles for The Daily Beast, Myers Park Life magazine and Politico, the website favored by political junkies, Broadwell has extolled veterans and programs to help them.
Her articles are silent about the scandal. The one on Politico’s site identifies Broadwell only as “an author and former military officer” – the Army says she’s still a major in the Reserves – and there is no mention of even her biography of the general.
Also like Petraeus, who ended his post-scandal silence with a speech to veterans and R.O.T.C. members at the University of Southern California, Broadwell has been accepting Charlotte speech invitations.
Myers said Broadwell will be speaking at a Rotary event next month. And in an email to many of Charlotte’s corporate leaders, the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club announced that Broadwell would speak this month at a luncheon about the state of the miliary and efforts in Charlotte to help veterans.
Ground rules for the luncheon at Zebra restaurant at SouthPark called for limiting questions after her speech to military and veteran’s issues – or Broadwell’s talking points, said breakfast club executive director Jenn Snyder.
The Observer agreed to those rules during the Aug. 14 luncheon, but continued to make calls and do interviews for this update story.
That caused Broadwell to cancel her speech, Snyder said.
“Paula agreed to speak at a private Hood Hargett Breakfast Club luncheon with the understanding that there would be no press coverage of anything over than her speech topic,” Snyder wrote in an email to the Observer.
Is the past past?
Like Petraeus yet again, Broadwell has been reminded that a scandal on the resume is a hard thing to shake.
Take the continuing Jill Kelley saga.
Broadwell’s affair with Petraeus was uncovered after Kelley, a Petraeus friend, complained to the FBI about receiving harassing emails. Though signed “Tampa Angel,” according to her lawsuit, they turned out to be from Broadwell.
Broadwell’s lawyers were informed in December 2012 that she would not be prosecuted for cyber-stalking. But the Kelley suit, filed in June, makes for lurid reading.
Kelley and her husband, it says on page 12, “were extremely frightened by the email, which showed the sender had been tracking Mrs. Kelley and senior U.S. and foreign officials, and in which the sender claimed to have taken pictures of Mrs. Kelley.”
When Petraeus agreed this year to a six-figure salary to teach a class and give a few lectures at City University of New York, some professors and politicians were in an uproar. The retired general, it was later announced, will do it for $1.
In July, Broadwell – at work again on a Ph.D. from Kings College in London – had an article on new U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power published in Prospect, a British magazine.
“Outstanding … Solid journalism,” opined one reader of the online version. But another compared Broadwell to a disgraced former New York Times reporter who caused a scandal by making up his stories: “Was Jayson Blair unavailable to write this profile? When the author has no credibility, the article is not worth reading.”
A different, much more sympathetic portrait of Broadwell emerged in Observer interviews with her neighbors and with those running programs to help veterans.
This group is all for giving Broadwell a second chance.
“They’re great neighbors and great people,” said Sarah Curme, who lives across the street. “Everybody’s human.”
Her assessment is shared by Ed Williams, a former Observer editorial page editor who lives nearby.
“They live in a neighborhood where they have an identity as parents (of two young sons) and as neighbors,” he said of Broadwell and her husband. “We like them and enjoy seeing them.”
Among Broadwell’s “military family,” as one of her Washington friends put it, there’s similar support. There’s also an appreciation of the celebrity wattage she can bring to the promotion and fundraising efforts for veterans.
The All Veteran Parachute Team, for example, put a video on YouTube this year that features footage of Broadwell talking up the group and parachuting out of an airplane above Raeford.
The team, based in Fayetteville, offers “Therapy in the Air” for combat-injured troops by jumping with them.
“A jump for them allows them to relax and enjoy themselves, to have a little bit of freedom in the air,” said Dave Herwig, spokesman for the team.
In 2012, Herwig said, Broadwell gave up her tandem jump so that a combat-injured soldier could take her slot.
But in April of this year, after Broadwell became a board member for Combat Injured Troops, a nonprofit in Fayetteville, she got her jump – and the team got its video.
Said Herwig: “With her connections, she can help us as we try to get companies to sponsor the jumps.”
‘Goals are close to home’
Broadwell’s profile had been rising nationally before the scandal. She appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” besting the faux newscaster in a push-up competition designed to raise money for Team Red White & Blue, with its fitness program for wounded veterans.
Those close to Broadwell said her focus is now mostly local and her new ambition is to promote Charlotte as a model city for veterans.
“She’s smart enough and wise enough to know that her goals are a little closer to home right now, with family, with wounded warriors and just being a helpful member of the broader community,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington who is friends with both Broadwell and Petraeus.
Norman said Broadwell produced a 20-page pitch for Charlotte to be the new home of The Warrior Games. He said she consulted with former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl, Carolinas HealthCare, Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation and others to build support and gather details that could sell Charlotte.
A fitness buff who runs daily in her neighborhood, Broadwell participated Saturday at the Lake Norman YMCA Triathlon.
In late April, she came to the YMCA’s annual prayer breakfast, an appearance that did not go unnoticed in churchy Charlotte. Broadwell and her family attend, but aren’t members, of Myers Park Baptist, Myers said.
“I grew up in a strong faith-based family,” Broadwell told News 14 at the breakfast. “I think I have sought to return to those roots for strength, for my family and for myself, and to protect our children; to forgive others, and to move on and stay forward.”
Charlotte will give you a chance
Will all this spell redemption for Broadwell in Charlotte?
There may have been the hint of an answer this summer, when a musical sendup of the Broadwell-Petraeus romance didn’t get big laughs at “Charlotte Squawks,” a well-attended revue that annually skewers newsmakers.
Based on a song about teen dating from “Bye Bye Birdie,” “All in Our Neighborhood” went on and on about Paula and Dave.
“Squawks” producer Mike Collins chalked up the underwhelming reaction partly to the audience’s unfamiliarity with “Bye Bye Birdie,” a 1960s Broadway musical. But he also admitted that, like many in his audience, he sympathized with Broadwell.
As the host of “Charlotte Talks’ on WFAE (90.7 FM), he interviewed Broadwell twice before the scandal. “I really like her,” he said. “I was loath to do the piece (in ‘Squawks’), but she’s a public figure and she’s game.”
Keith Larson, who also talks to a lot of Charlotte on WBT (1110 AM), sounds like he still needs convincing when it comes to Broadwell.
“My experience is that if you really open your heart up to Charlotte, Charlotte will give you a chance,” he said.
Larson said he can’t second-guess Broadwell’s charity work. But, he said, “Paula looks more like she’s being managed by a publicity agent.”
Judi Wax, executive vice president at Luquire George Andrews public relations and advertising firm in Charlotte, wouldn’t comment on Broadwell per se.
“Generally speaking,” she said, “we advise people who have received negative publicity that is justified to take responsibility for their actions, tell the truth and get on with their lives. The American public is usually forgiving when people demonstrate that they sincerely regret what they’ve done, are committed to doing better, and then show by their actions that they mean it.”