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The gathering, they say, was less an opportunity to wallow and more of a chance for friends to reconnect, share battle stories from the campaign trail and look to the future — whatever it might hold.
And last week, the chiefs of staff for three Democratic Members of Congress from Connecticut who survived their re-elections hosted an event for fellow chiefs searching for jobs. About 20 chiefs of staff for defeated Democrats gathered for networking and a panel discussion on job-searching tips.
Jason Gross from Rep. Joe Courtney’s office, Jason Cole from Rep. Jim Himes’ office and Francis Creighton from Rep. Christopher Murphy’s office planned the program after watching colleagues lose jobs and realizing it could have happened to any of them.
“The difference was a thin line between those who lost and those who won, so there’s a sense of connection and a responsibility to help,” Gross says.
Many top staffers weren’t prepared for their bosses’ losses, he says. Staffers work so hard for campaigns, even those that appear doomed, because they think miracles are always possible. To be a chief of staff is to be a believer, Gross says.
“You’re denied that reality,” he says. “Intellectually, it’s not a shock, but emotionally it is.”
David Thomas, a former Hill staffer who is now a lobbyist with Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, has taken his share of meetings in Longworth recently, trying to connect staffers with opportunities that he has heard of on and off the Hill. Mostly, though, his role is part cheerleader, part sounding board.
“We’ve all been there, and it’s not fun,” he says. “Democrats downtown or who still have jobs just want to help. There’s a sense that we’re all in this together. ... A lot of this was a result of things beyond their control.”
Ivan Adler, who specializes in filling public affairs jobs for the executive search firm McCormick Group, notes that staffers’ job hunts happily coincide with the holiday season, which, in Washington, means there’s an open bar every night.
“People are networking like crazy,” he says. “But the timing actually works out quite well. We are coming up on the season of parties, and there’s no better way to solidify a relationship than through face-to-face interaction.”
But the party season won’t last forever — and neither will staffers’ benefits. Many are facing a new year with no paycheck. Federal child-care eligibility expires 60 days after a parent leaves the government.
Despite the grim situation, many staffers facing unemployment are optimistic about their prospects. Stories of happy landings are passed around like talismans.
Because Democrats still control the White House and the Senate, Gross says, “there is a market for their expertise.”
And Jurinka thinks a good attitude is the key to surviving. “You have to believe that good staffers will land good jobs,” she says.