Gunn's book focuses on leadership

Here's how the story goes, according to the New York Times Magazine:

In Jan. 2008, the day before this state's democratic primary, Anton Gunn, Barack Obama's South Carolina political director, implored the then-presidential candidate to attend the Pink Ice Ball, a gala for the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

An appearance would assure voters of Obama's "blackness," but the candidate was tired and stubborn.

"I told Anton I'm not going to any Pink Ice Ball," Obama sniped, as reported by Robert Draper in the magazine's July profile of Valerie Jarrett, an Obama adviser.

Gunn appealed to Jarrett.

"If you want him to do something," Gunn told Draper, "there are two people he's not going to say no to: Valerie Jarrett and Michelle Obama."

Obama went to the party, "and he had a good time," Gunn said Friday, recalling the exchange and getting yet another laugh from it.

What Obama has faced in the first year of his presidency - a crippling economic outlook spurred by rising unemployment, war and a health care battle - isn't a laughing matter. But Obama exhibits something Gunn believes will steer the country in the right direction: leadership.

Gunn focuses on leadership in his first book, "The Audacity of Leadership: 10 Essentials to Becoming a Transformative Leader in the 21st Century." There's a release party at Rust at 6 tonight.

The title shares words with Obama's memoir, "The Audacity of Hope," but that's where the similarities end.

"Before I helped the president get elected, I was writing the book," said Gunn, a state representative for Kershaw and Richland counties.

The foreword of "Leadership" was written by Chuck D, a hip-hop pioneer and a member of rap group Public Enemy. In hip-hop terms then, this is Gunn's blueprint for leading.

In 2000, Gunn's younger brother, Cherone, was killed in the USS Cole bombing, the suicide terrorist attack in Yemen.

"I had the opportunity to see my family face a crisis," Gunn, 36, recalled.

Two years after the bombing, Gunn met President Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top government officials. He was searching for answers, guidance.

"I expected our leaders to be bold in dealing with that, but I didn't get that," Gunn said. "I said, 'Where's the leadership?'"

A leader, according to the book, needs to be authentic and be able to listen. Gunn, who majored in history at USC where he was also an offensive lineman, said he's seen traits in leaders he's studied, like Napoleon and the Kennedys.

And Obama.

A leader, Gunn said, needs "to be bold enough to say and do something that will leave a mark in your lifetime and after you're gone."

Tough times call for great leaders, and "The Audacity of Leadership," Gunn hopes, will leave a trail for future leaders to follow.

"You want to leave a positive mark that's bigger than you," he said.


WHEN: 6 to 8 tonight

WHERE: Rust, 918 Gervais St.