The Newcomers: Time for Serendipity

Posted June 24, 2009 at 3:20pm

They say things happen when you least expect them. Anne Warden, chief of staff to Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), can attest to that.

Warden had left Washington, D.C., and a job as Thompson’s communications director, for life with her husband in Chicago. He had been hired as an attorney there, and she was prepared to settle down with him in the Windy City.

Five months after the move, however, Warden got a call from Thompson and was soon making plans to split her time between Capitol Hill and the Midwest. She had been working as a speechwriter to the president of the University of Chicago but couldn’t turn down the chance to return to her old office as chief of staff.

“It’s been a very helpful reminder not to spend too much time planning things in your life because so many times something comes up that is a wonderful opportunity,— she said.

Warden now spends five days a week in Washington and weekends in Chicago. She is in charge of managing Thompson’s staff, balancing the budget and “trying to look at the bigger picture with the odds and ends of the day on my plate as well,— she said.

In addition to fulfilling her standard chief duties, Warden tries to keep her staff informed of larger issues in which their Congressman is involved. For example, she recently organized a brown-bag lunch where her office met with a staffer from the House Intelligence Committee, of which Thompson is a member.

Although Warden is the first to admit that she is relatively new to the job (she started as chief in April), she said that already knowing the staff made the transition very smooth. Her previous professional experience with the office has helped, too.

“Being a communications person, you have to know a little bit about everything,— she said. “I can go an inch deep on every issue.—

Of course, Warden does see her responsibility as chief in a different light.

“I genuinely believe that when you have a Member who works as hard as mine does, and a staff that works as hard as mine does, it’s the chief of staff’s job to make sure they have the resources they need, and the counsel and the support they need,— she said.

Warden first began working in Washington after graduating from the College of William & Mary in 2002. Growing up, she was influenced by her parents’ activism in education and environmental issues and was drawn to the world of nonprofit advocacy. She took a job with the GMMD, a public relations and political consulting firm in Georgetown, where she got her first taste of working on behalf of such organizations.

After GMMD, Warden moved to the public affairs office of the Pew Charitable Trusts. She soon decided, however, that it was important to understand the theory behind legislation, and she earned a master’s in public policy from George Washington University.

While she was studying there, she decided to put what she was learning in the classroom to practical use and applied for the communications position in Thompson’s office.

Having grown up in Lancaster, Pa., Warden was not one of Thompson’s constituents. She quickly found that he was a Member she could get behind, however, and was impressed with his dedication to his job.

“He’s a big believer in public service, and I think he really believes it’s an honor to be here,— Warden said.

Although Warden couldn’t seem to stay away from Washington for too long, she said she is grateful for the time she spent working in Chicago.

“It’s always healthy for us inside-the-Beltway types to get out and see what the rest of the country is dealing with,— she said.