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Top Staff Exodus Leads to Brain Drain

Veteran Democratic Aides Tire of 24-7 Grind

File Photo
Jim Manley, senior communications adviser to Majority Leader Harry Reid, is among several top Senate Democratic staff members who have called it quits since the midterm elections

For many top Democratic communicators this year, it was time to pursue other career options — ones that don’t revolve around a 24-hour news cycle. 

The past few months have seen a steady stream of high-level staffers who announced they were leaving the Hill for the private sector, where the daily stresses of campaigning and legislating are at arm’s length. 

Those who have headed to the exits since the November elections include veteran Hill aide Jim Manley, who most recently served as senior communications adviser to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.); Rodell Mollineau, staff director of Reid’s communications “war room”; Regan Lachapelle, deputy communications director for the war room; Joe Shoemaker, communications director for Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.); and Brendan Daly, communications director for former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). 

Reid’s office also has made some changes higher up. Gary Myrick, former chief of staff for the leader, was moved to the position of secretary for the majority — a floor operations job in which he will essentially act as the party’s personal parliamentarian. The job is an important one, but it does not put him at the center of the decision-making process like new Chief of Staff David Krone.

Manley acknowledged that the mass exodus could be tough on the caucus initially, but he expressed complete confidence in the new team to rise to the challenge and bring new approaches to the party’s public relations campaign. 

“There’s no denying that there may be a serious brain drain,” Manley said in an interview last week. “But the folks that are coming in are very good at what they do, and they can be expected to bring a lot of fresh ideas to the table.”

Penny Lee, president of Venn Strategies and a former top Reid adviser, said there is a “natural evolution of Hill staff” that usually follows any campaign season. But she said the past several years were particularly brutal for press staff due to the “unprecedented” amount of legislative work that went through the Senate.

“In the press shop, it’s been a very long four years with some very tough, grueling hours,” she said. 

Lee said while those who have left are “skilled individuals,” seasoned veterans, such as Reid’s new spokesman, Jon Summers, and a host of imports from the staff of Democratic Policy and Communications Center Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) will make sure the caucus does not miss a beat. 

Still, many current aides predicted a rocky transition period for the new DPCC as veteran press aides like Summers and new Democratic caucus spokesman Brian Fallon become accustomed to a higher-intensity playing field.

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