Manley’s prolific use of profanity also ingratiated him with journalists, who are known for salty language and tend to respect those who swear creatively. Manley admits that he might be most mourned once he leaves the Hill by the staffer who keeps a “swear jar” in Reid’s office. Staffers throw money into it after they drop expletives. “My support will be missed,” he says.
For all his collegiality with the press, Manley still sees the media as the opposition. Asked how he defines his job, he answers forcefully in the language of defense. “My job is to protect Sen. Reid and our caucus,” he says.
Working His Way Up
Politics was part of Manley’s life growing up in St. Paul, Minn. His grandfather was a prominent member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, Minnesota’s Democratic organization, and served in the state Legislature for years.
After graduating from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Manley worked for a law and lobbying firm, and then he moved to the center of the political universe, Washington, D.C. Friends who worked for the Minnesota delegation helped him land his first job, as a press assistant to former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine).
Most of Manley’s years on the Hill were spent working for Sen. Edward Kennedy, handling press for the Massachusetts Democrat’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and acting as Kennedy’s personal press secretary. Kennedy was known for hiring top-notch staff, a fellowship of whip-smart overachievers.
Even among this elite group, Manley’s zeal for long hours and hard work impressed. “Sen. Kennedy was hard-charging, and he set the pace for the staff,” says Michael Myers, a longtime senior Kennedy aide who is now with the Rockefeller Foundation in New York. “Jim earned his respect by being a hard worker.”
Adjusting to Kennedy’s style wasn’t easy. The first time Manley’s name appeared in a local Massachusetts paper, Kennedy was irate. “He read me the riot act,” he recalls. “He asked, ‘How many times have you been elected to the U.S. Senate?’ I learned my lesson.”