J.T. Jezierski (left), who is presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romneys top staffer for legislative affairs, worked for Rep. David McKinley (right) in 2011.
If Mitt Romney wins the presidency, J.T. Jezierski will be the most connected man in the 16 blocks between the White House and Capitol Hill.
As Romney’s top staffer for legislative affairs, Jezierski is charged with the delicate task of serving as the chief conduit between hundreds of GOP Members and a presidential campaign hundreds of miles away.
“My job is to coordinate, communicate and inform Members of Congress and the campaign about what each other is doing,” Jezierski, 38, said in a phone interview. “Part of it is not just conveying our message to the Hill, but vice versa.”
It’s a vital venture for the presumptive GOP nominee’s campaign. Not only must Romney unify Members after a long and divided primary, but he must also lay the groundwork for a productive relationship if he wins the race for the White House this November.
“Members of Congress may not be the key constituency to attain the nation’s highest office, but those 535 people will play a large role in determining the success of a president,” said Matt Schlapp, the White House political director during President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign.
But Jezierski faces considerable challenges in Congress.
First, he must convince Capitol Hill’s most ardent conservatives — including many in the outspoken freshman class — to get fully onboard with Romney’s campaign. Second, Jezierski must introduce GOP Members to a presidential nominee who, as a former governor of Massachusetts, has never spent any significant time in Washington, D.C.
In other words, Jezierski must avoid these dreaded words from any Congressional office: Why didn’t the Romney campaign give us a heads up?
Often this translates to the most unglamorous logistical tasks.
Romney needs an articulate anti-abortion surrogate to boost his numbers in southwestern Pennsylvania? Are all the local House Members invited to Romney events in four different states tomorrow? Campaign headquarters needs to notify Members that Romney backs the student loan bill? It’s all Jezierski.
To accomplish this, Jezierski must know the quirks of each office, as well as navigate some of the most sensitive and prickly situations — an acquired skill for the West Virginia native.
Jezierski worked at a funeral home to pay for his undergraduate degree at Wheeling Jesuit University. He paid his rent by driving the hearse during the night shift, picking up corpses and greeting grieving families during the darkest hours.
“I did everything but the actual embalmment,” he recalled last week. He learned then “just to be nice to people and to always work to understand where people are coming from, from their perspective, not yours.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.