As con­trol of the House turns over, young aides per­form a fa­mil­iar shuf­fle

Repub­li­can staffers find a seller’s mar­ket

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY LISA REIN

Jes­sica Ker­shaw says the low­est point of her last days as a Capi­tol Hill press sec­re­tary came when she turned the key — her key — to Room 1516 in the Long­worth House Of­fice Build­ing. “You’re not go­ing to like it,” a cus­to­dian said as she opened the door.

The drapes had been pulled down. The chairs and couches where she and her fel­low staffers bonded over pizza dur­ing latenight floor votes were up­turned and in the hall­way. Even the Ohio seal was missing.

The 25-year-old aide from Welling­ton, Ohio, sucked in her breath, put on her best Mid­west­ern game face and gath­ered the pile of mail on the floor ad­dressed to her boss, Rep. John Boccieri, who in Novem­ber be­came a oneterm Demo­crat.

“I couldn’t let my­self cry,” Ker­shaw re­called. In­stead she opened her lap­top com­puter and sent out an­other round of re­sumes.

On Mon­day, as part of a bi­en­nial rite for Capi­tol Hill’s win­ners and losers, Boccieri’s Washington staff of eight will be swept out as he re­lin­quishes his fifth-floor of­fice (seven aides in his north­east Ohio district of­fice will also lose their jobs). A new crew will move in to work for Rep.-elect James Renacci, a tea-party-backed busi­ness­man whose vic­tory over Boccieri helped Repub­li­cans gain 63 House seats in Novem­ber and notch one of the GOP’s biggest wins in gen­er­a­tions.

Job in­se­cu­rity is a fact of life for the 10,000 or so at-will Hill work­ers who form the back­bone of Congress. But the change this year will be es­pe­cially dra­matic: Repub­li­cans, as the new House ma­jor­ity, will con­trol not just many more seats but also lead­er­ship jobs and two-thirds of the com­mit­tee staff po­si­tions.

An es­ti­mated 2,000 jobs will shift from Demo­cratic to Repub­li­can hands, from $40,000 sched­ulers to six-fig­ure com­mit­tee aides. As a re­sult, Repub­li­cans al­ready on the Hill are bask­ing in a seller’s mar­ket, while Democrats clam­ber for a dwin­dling num­ber of jobs and, in a still-reel­ing econ­omy, limited op­tions in the pri­vate sec­tor.

Lob­by­ing and pub­lic re­la­tions firms are hir­ing, but slowly. Non­prof­its have downsized. The White House re­mains in Demo­cratic hands, but with fed­eral spend­ing un­der scru­tiny, an ad­min­is­tra­tion job isn’t a fail-safe op­tion.

The staff of the House Se­lect Com­mit­tee for En­ergy In­de­pen­dence and Global Warm­ing, slated for erad­i­ca­tion by the new GOP lead­er­ship, packed boxes be­fore Christ­mas with an un­cer­tain fu­ture. “Ev­ery­thing’s up in the air right now,” said Sarah But­ler, an aide.

Ker­shaw networked in the Long­worth cafe­te­ria. She and her co-work­ers com­mis­er­ated at hol­i­day happy hours, while mak­ing sure some­one staffed Cu­bi­cle No. 8 in the base­ment space to which out­go­ing con­gress­men were rel­e­gated dur­ing the lame­duck ses­sion. They shared job leads and sup­port on a Google in­stant-mes­sag­ing group they cre­ated called Team Boccieri. “Ev­ery one of us that gets a job is pos­i­tive for the next per­son,” Ker­shaw said.

So far, three of Boccieri’s 15 aides have found other po­si­tions, two as fundrais­ers off in­Wash­ing­ton and one back in Ohio.

Luck­ier on the other side

The turn­about has been kinder to James Slepian, who was col­lect­ing un­em­ploy­ment less than a year ago af­ter run­ning an un­suc­cess­ful Se­nate re­elec­tion cam­paign in Ore­gon. Slepian, 30, went home to New York to do le­gal work for his fa­ther and then was hired last spring to run Renacci’s cam­paign.

Slepian is now Renacci’s chief of staff and the nerve cen­ter of his hir­ing op­er­a­tion. He makes $120,000 a year and just signed a lease on a one-bed­room apart­ment in the Jef­fer­son at Capi­tol Yards, a swanky new build­ing near Na­tion­als Park.

“Con­sid­er­ing where I was two years ago, I never thought I would be in this po­si­tion,” he said. “I’ve got 1,000 re­sumes com­ing in from all over the place. I have peo­ple friend­ing me on Face­book be­cause they want a job. I’m just slammed.”

Be­fore Christ­mas, Slepian was des­per­ate to hire a sched­uler. Af­ter five can­di­dates failed to wow him, he pinned his hopes on a 2008 Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land grad­u­ate. Michelle Runk, who had been a sched­uler for John McCain’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. She ar­rived for her in­ter­view poised in black high-heeled boots and pearls.

Runk said af­ter her in­ter­view with Slepian that she hoped the job would help launch her into a more po­lit­i­cal role. “It’s the kind of a job that’s a foot-in-the-door sit­u­a­tion,” she said.

By that evening, Runk was hired. Four aides down, four to go.

Op­tions for Democrats

Some Democrats will also get lucky. A good word from his now for­mer boss helped Gar­rett Dono­van, who was chief of staff for Rep. Ron Klein, a two-term Florida Demo­crat who lost his re­elec­tion bid. At an ori­en­ta­tion for new House mem­bers, Klein met Bill Keat­ing, an in­com­ing Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat who was ea­ger to hire a chief of staff.

“I got wind he was look­ing, and I ap­proached him,” Klein re­called. “I took the chance to tell him what Gar­rett’s skills were: ef­fi­ciency, no drama, loyal, long hours, big com­mit­ment to the cause.” Dono­van got the job. It looks good, too, for the dozen Democrats on the global warm­ing panel, who are hop­ing to be ab­sorbed into the Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee.

For those look­ing off the Hill, there are jobs, just not a lot of them— and it­may take months to land one. This was the wis­dom im­parted to about 200 men and women at a re­cent job fair in down­town Washington for peo­ple seek­ing jobs with trade groups.

The ex­perts urged full dis­clo­sure of their po­lit­i­cal lean­ings. “If I say I worked for Carolyn Maloney, that gives me street cred in the women’s com­mu­nity,” said Lisa Maatz, a lob­by­ist for the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Uni­ver­sity Women, re­fer­ring to the New York Demo­crat.

A hope­ful ques­tion came from Rox­anne Yaghoubi, a 27-year-old Hill aide for a de­part­ing New York Demo­crat. “Once you’re in the as­so­ci­a­tion world, is it easy to go back to the Hill?” Yaghoubi asked. Ab­so­lutely, she was told. Ker­shaw has a sec­ond in­ter­view on Mon­day for a po­si­tion as press sec­re­tary for an in­com­ing House Demo­crat. If she doesn’t get the job, re­turn­ing to Ohio isn’t an op­tion: the Rust Belt is hem­or­rhag­ing jobs.

She hasn’t run into Slepian since the cam­paign. When it hap­pens, if it does, she’ll be cor­dial.

“ They won the race,” Ker­shaw said.

PHO­TOS BY MELINA MARA/THE WASHINGTON POST

Above, James Slepian, right, chat­ted with his new boss, Rep.-elect James Renacci (R-Ohio), last month. As Renacci’s new chief of staff, Slepian had a busy De­cem­ber, in­ter­view­ing can­di­dates to fill other jobs in the of­fice.

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