Kennedy Staffers Find Ways to Start Over

Posted April 21, 2010 at 6:35pm

Correction Appended

When Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) died last year, he left behind a close-knit staff — some who had spent decades under his tutelage.

All were shaken by his death. But for months, they soldiered on, first answering an inundation of sympathetic calls from around the country and then filing away the last legislative work of the Senate’s “liberal lion.”

Eight months later, Kennedy’s aides have scattered. They now work throughout the government and private sector, with just a few remaining in the Senate. They work at the Pentagon, the Department of Labor and the Democratic National Committee. Some have entered consulting, while others exited the political world altogether.

But all remember their time with Kennedy as a turning point in their career.

“There was no better place for me to start a career than in Kennedy’s office,” said Kaelan Richards, who was Kennedy’s deputy press secretary. “The caliber of people I had the privilege to work with was just incredible.”

Richards’ start in Kennedy’s office was more luck than connections: She visited Kennedy’s Boston office, asked about an internship and ended up spending nine months doing public relations.

“I knew I wanted to get into politics, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t have any connections,” said Richards, who is now Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s (D-Conn.) press secretary. “I was told interning was the best way to start, and Sen. Kennedy’s office was the best place I could think of to do so.”

When Kennedy died of brain cancer on Aug. 25, Richards was one of about 20 staffers in Kennedy’s personal office. Almost immediately, the Senate community swooped in and offered condolences and help. At one point, Vice President Joseph Biden visited the office and told staffers to give him a call anytime.

“People really did bend over backward to help us out,” said Anthony Coley, who was Kennedy’s communications director and is now a director at the Brunswick Group. “Sen. Kennedy was so loved and beloved, I think people just wanted to help whatever way they could. For many, helping his staff find jobs, especially those staffers who stayed until the end, was the most tangible thing they could do.”

At least three staffers in Kennedy’s personal office stayed in Congress: Richards, Senior Counsel Jay Maroney and Correspondence Manager Larry Bageant, who stayed on with Republican Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. The rest moved on to other branches of government or to the private sector.

“I think after working for Kennedy, it was kind of hard to find a job in the Senate that was a step up,” said Maroney, who is now counsel on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “He definitely was the best boss I ever had.”

Working for Kennedy meant long hours doing stressful work on the most high-profile issues of the day. But Kennedy, staffers say, created a welcome atmosphere, celebrating every birthday and recognizing his employees’ work on the Senate floor.

“It all starts with Sen. Kennedy, who was a wonderful human being in addition to being the great Senator,” said Eric Mogilnicki, who was Kennedy’s chief of staff. “He was warm, he was funny, he made people feel like they were important to him personally.”

When Paul Kirk — a former Kennedy aide and close friend — was sworn in as a temporary replacement, Mogilnicki and most of Kennedy’s personal office staffers stayed. Kirk, Mogilnicki said, welcomed the grieving aides and handled well the “heavy mantle thrust upon him.”

But after Kirk’s short term came to an end, Kennedy’s staff began to accept job offers throughout Washington, D.C., and the country. Their experience in Kennedy’s office made them sought-after candidates for a wide range of jobs. A handful went into the executive branch, a couple took up consulting and some left politics completely.

Melissa Wagoner worked for Kennedy for nine years, starting as a college intern and ending up as his press secretary. She stayed on to close Kennedy’s office and then, in October, moved across the country, recently becoming the director of media relations at the University of San Diego.

Many of Kennedy’s staffers began as interns, she said, learning everything about their field from the varied work that came across their desk in Kennedy’s office. Upon his death, many left the Senate to further develop the interests and skills that Kennedy had helped foster.

For some of Kennedy’s staffers, “it’s probably difficult to work for another [office] after working for the best,” she said. “The Senator was an amazing person to work for — he was very kind and supportive to his staff.”

Kathy Kruse, who worked for Kennedy for 30 years, also felt “it was time to try something else.” When Kennedy died, she was a senior counselor and cultural policy adviser. Now she is the vice president of institutional affairs at the Kennedy Center.

All of Kennedy’s staffers “carry with them the great affection and respect for the man they worked for,” she said. “If it was 50 years or 40 years or one year, people came to have great respect and admiration for him.”

Edward “Henry” Sanford was perhaps one of the most junior aides in Kennedy’s offices, starting as an intern in the middle of 2008 and becoming staff assistant in December of that year. Working in Kennedy’s office, he said, never ceased to be exciting.

“I’m from Massachusetts and the Kennedy name is something you grow up with,” said Sanford, who is now running a real estate company in Nantucket, Mass. “When you’re driving to work every day — even when you’ve have had a bit too much to drink the night before — you really can’t believe you’re doing something like this.”

Correction: April 22, 2010

The article incorrectly stated that Melissa Wagoner worked for former Sen. Paul Kirk (D-Mass.) after Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) death. Wagoner, who was Kennedy’s press secretary, moved to San Diego in October after helping close Kennedy’s office.