Hill Climbers: New Press Men in the House

Posted August 8, 2008 at 2:53pm

It was June 7, 2006, and Kurt Bardella was still riding the high of having been part of Rep. Brian Bilbray’s (R-Calif.) successful special election campaign. Bardella hadn’t necessarily seen himself in politics, but he’s a believer in being open to new experiences. And his life was about to take another unexpected turn.

[IMGCAP(1)]“The Congressman called me and said, ‘Well, kid, you got me this far, wanna come to Washington with me?” Bardella recalled.

He did, and he has been in D.C. ever since. Bardella left Bilbray’s office in December 2007 to work as press secretary for Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), but he decided to rejoin his old team as press secretary when his former boss called him this summer.

For Bardella, 24, returning to Bilbray’s office was a “quality-of-life decision.” He’s working for his hometown Member and has a chance to visit his family in San Diego more often.

Bardella’s unorthodox path to the Hill — he did not attend college and does not hold a law degree — has been a theme throughout his life. He was born in Seoul, South Korea, and was adopted into an Italian-German family. His interests range from “The Godfather” movies and the Los Angeles Lakers to playing sports and smoking cigars at Shelly’s Backroom Tavern.

“What I love about life is its unpredictable nature,” he said. “Through some stroke of luck, I’ve fallen into a profession that I love.”

Brock McCleary goes way back with his boss as well. He and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) met through the College Republicans more than 10 years ago and have been friends ever since.

McHenry offered McCleary a job as his communications director early this summer, and his old friend couldn’t turn him down.

“I was looking for the right opportunity to come to the Hill, and working for Congressman McHenry was exactly the right opportunity at the right time,” he said.

McCleary, 34, first discovered a love of politics in 1988, when he attended an event for then-Rep. Dick Gephardt’s (D-Mo.) presidential campaign. His stepfather was a state organizer in Pennsylvania for the campaign.

“I went to my first political event when I was 13 years old, and said, ‘This is for me,’” he recalled. “I didn’t know I was a Republican yet, but I liked politics.”

The first campaign he worked for as a professional was former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge’s (R) 1998 re-election campaign. “I got to see what it takes to be successful in this business and how hard you have to work,” he said.

McCleary graduated from Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa., in 1998 with a political science degree. He’s been in Washington about three years, and he was working as a political consultant for Revolution Media Group until taking a job with McHenry.

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