Managing to Win
Chief Says Top Goal Is Re-Election
Chief of Staff Chris McCannell says his staff’s biggest responsibility isn’t health care or the economic stimulus. Instead, his office has their eyes on an even bigger prize: the re-election of their boss, Rep. Michael McMahon (D-N.Y.).
“The No. 1 thing is we all have the job to get the boss re-elected,— he says.
McCannell says he plans to ensure that the freshman Member gets re-elected by running a strong, smart office. With eight staffers in D.C. and 12 more in the district, he says the key to this success is “a lot of conference calls and a lot of e-mail— to make sure everyone is on the same page.
“With a fresh office and with a different party, we were really able to start from ground zero,— he says, referring to the new staff that comes with a freshman Member. “It brings a really fresh perspective.—
McCannell describes his management style as “open and inclusive and very team-orientated.— He says he wants to see his staff succeed at all that they do. He encourages those who work for him to focus on issues that interest them and learn them inside and out. He also advises them to become wise to the ways of Capitol Hill.
If you get a specialty issue, “ultimately you can serve the boss,— he says.
For example, one of the office’s legislative assistant’s mother is an ultrasound technician. McCannell encouraged her to learn as much about the health care worker shortage as she could.
“I encouraged her to learn about it and common-sense ways we can help encourage people to go into the career,— he says. “She developed a bill which will expand opportunities for Peace Corps volunteers who want to transition into health care workers.—
While re-election is the top priority, McCannell says the most rewarding part of his job is when legislation and issues that he and his staff have been working on finally come together. He says the economic stimulus that passed earlier this year is one example.
“The greatest part of the job is seeing things get accomplished,— he says. “In D.C., things tend to be conversations and coalitions and discussions that drag on forever.—
[IMGCAP(1)]Another example is a bill that McMahon got passed that required mental health screening for all veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. McCannell recommended that his boss make it a bipartisan bill, and he soon enlisted Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.). After reading that Defense Secretary Robert Gates was requesting $300 million for mental health screening, McCannell helped organize a press conference touting McMahon’s bill.
“We got terrific press, were able to brand an issue and the legislative assistant learned how to push forward on an issue and keep it on the front burner,— he says.
McCannell is no stranger to the issues and has more than a decade of Hill experience under his belt. After graduating from Fordham University, he made the trek from the Bronx to Washington and began working as a staffer. He has since done stints in the offices of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.).
In 2007, McCannell left the Hill to work at Quinn Gillespie & Associates, where he specialized in lobbying on trade and tax. He didn’t last long on K Street and returned to the Hill last January.
“I wanted to come back to the Hill because I felt like there was still work to be done,— McCannell says, adding that he wanted to know what life was like in the majority.
He says McMahon appealed to him as a boss because the seat had gone Republican for 28 years prior to his election. Former Rep. Vito Fossella held the seat until he was embroiled in scandal surrounding drunken-driving charges and an extramarital affair. While Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won the district’s vote for president, McMahon won his seat with 61 percent of the vote.
I knew that “if I came back, I wanted to see it through the eyes of a competitive seat,— McCannell says. “This was a big priority seat for Democrats.—
McCannell says that one of the perks of working for the 13th district of New York is its small-town feel. He particularly enjoys accompanying the Congressman to the Empire State, where he says people are generally excited to see them.
“In this district, you’re kind of a big deal,— he says with a chuckle.