The Netflix political drama House of Cards is notable in at least one respect: The top lobbyist for the natural-gas industry is African-American. This casting belies an uncomfortable truth about the lobbying profession in Washington.
“It’s frightening,” says Angela Rye, who has formed a new lobby shop, Impact Strategies. “All you have to do is go to the lobbying-disclosure reports to see that black lobbyists are rarely hired.”
Impact Strategies, which grew out of a nonprofit organization Rye cofounded in 2006, is “not just trying to represent people of color or initiatives surrounding … people of color,” she says. But given the firm’s makeup—all nine of its employees are black—the venture nonetheless has a clear aim.
Most recently the executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rye is a congenital risk-taker. “If there’s an opportunity for me to open a door or walk through a door, I’m going to do it.” The daughter of an activist and a teacher, she was raised in Seattle and attended the Seattle University School of Law. During that time, Rye interned for Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., which later led to a staff position on the Homeland Security Committee under then-Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.
The effulgent 33-year-old—a fixture on cable television—is prone to self-deprecation. “I’m not exactly a spring chicken,” she says. “Then again, I’m not an old hen, either.”
Christopher Snow Hopkins
As a political-science major at Ohio University in the early 1980s, Domingo Herraiz interned with the mayor of Athens, Ohio, in hopes of finding a career in local government. “The mayor wrote in my assessment, ‘Domingo did a great job. However, I think he’s more geared toward state or federal government than local government,’ ” Herraiz says.
The mayor turned out to be prophetic. After earning a master’s in public administration, Herraiz heard about an opening at the Ohio Crime Prevention Association and ended up as the organization’s executive director for 15 years.
His work in securing grants and devising plans for public-safety programs helped him please all sides in his Canton, Ohio, family—Herraiz’s father was a fire captain and his uncle was a police sergeant. “It was kind of the middle of the road between police and fire work, I told my family,” he says. “I was a criminal-justice bureaucrat.”
Herraiz, now 52, was just getting started. In 2000, then-Gov. Bob Taft tapped him to direct the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services, making him the first Hispanic Cabinet member in state history.
Three years later, an aide to President George W. Bush called Herraiz to ask if he would come to the White House to discuss an unspecified job opportunity. “My wife said, ‘You’re going to Washington to interview for a position and you don’t know what it is?’ I said, ‘It’s the White House…. I don’t care if it’s groundskeeper.’ ”
The interview was actually with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who wanted Herraiz to lead the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Senate confirmed him for the Justice Department post in 2004, and he stayed until the end of the administration in January 2009.
During his tenure, the bureau issued some 11,000 grants totaling $7 billion to fund criminal-justice programs across the country, he said.
Motorola hired Herraiz soon after he left Justice to oversee its government-funding program, mainly helping customers obtain public-safety grants. Last month, he was promoted to vice president of North American government affairs for Motorola, heading the communications giant’s Washington office.
“I advocate for public-safety causes and initiatives,” Herraiz says. “If it benefits public safety, it benefits Motorola.”
At the Bar
A new managing director at McKenna Long & Aldridge’s government-affairs practice, Tharon Johnson comes to the firm after a remarkable undefeated streak in politics.
In just 13 years as a political adviser, Johnson, who turned 35 this week, played key roles in seven winning campaigns, including last year as Southern regional director for President Obama’s reelection.
“Politics was always a passion of mine,” says Johnson, who will split his time between Atlanta and Washington in his role of helping McKenna Long clients build relationships with government agencies.
Born in Atlanta and raised in Athens, Ga., Johnson was inspired to get into public service by his mother, “a true community organizer. Education has always been her big concern, [along with] social and economic justice,” he says.
During his third year at Clark Atlanta University on a football scholarship, Johnson said to himself, “I’m not going to the NFL, so what can I do to be productive?” The answer was helping then-23-year-old Alisha Thomas (now Alisha Thomas Morgan) win a seat representing Cobb County in the Georgia Legislature in 2002.
“No African-American had ever been elected to the seat,” Johnson says. “We won, and it really had a trampoline effect on my career.”
Over the next seven years, he helped Michael Thurmond win election as Georgia’s labor commissioner; worked on Georgia Democrat John Barrow’s first campaign for Congress in 2004 and his reelection campaign two years later; guided Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., to a 12th House term in 2008; and was a top adviser to Georgia state Sen. Kasim Reed during his successful run for mayor of Atlanta in 2009. Between campaigns, Johnson did stints as Barrow’s deputy chief of staff in Washington and Lewis’s district director in Atlanta.
Reed’s 714-vote victory in a tough runoff election caught the attention of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, who asked Johnson to join Obama’s reelection campaign. McKenna Long was also in pursuit of Johnson at the time, but he decided to help the president with his uphill effort to win back some red states in the South.
“There was a strategy of not conceding the South to the Republicans, but to try to expand the electorate,” Johnson says. In the end, Obama won Florida and Virginia and came within 2 percentage points of besting Mitt Romney in North Carolina.
Around the Agencies
When Karen Mills took over as head of the Small Business Administration in spring 2009, she confronted a “crisis of huge proportions,” she says.
Glutted by subprime mortgages and other noxious assets, Wall Street was in free fall, dragging down the U.S. economy. “We were in the midst of a horrible time for small businesses,” Mills says. “There was a credit crisis, the banks were frozen, and small businesses that were doing well couldn’t even get their line of credit renewed.”
Whatever may be said about SBA’s performance over the last four years, the agency succeeded in stabilizing a patient in critical condition. Under the terms of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, SBA dramatically amped up its loan guarantees, reduced or eliminated fees, and pumped $100 billion into the small-business sector.
In a statement, President Obama saluted Mills’s penchant for expediting bureaucratic processes. “Over the last four years, Karen has made it easier for small businesses to interact with the federal government by reducing paperwork and cutting through red tape,” he said.
Earlier this month, Mills announced she will step down as administrator as soon as the Senate confirms her successor.
The 59-year-old, who is married to Bowdoin College President Barry Mills, will return to the boreal climate of Brunswick, Maine. “You just have to know how to dress for it,” she says. “You have to have a hat and good boots.” Since turning 50, Mills has competed in “sprint-level” triathlons, which entail a dip in the icy waters of Casco Bay.
The daughter of Melvin Gordon, CEO of Tootsie Roll Industries, Mills holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard University. Early in her career, she managed a string of manufacturing firms, including producers of hardwood flooring, refrigerator motors, and plastic injection molding, according to the White House website. Mills was also president of MMP Group, a Maine private-equity firm. In 2007, then-Gov. John Baldacci appointed her to chair Maine’s Council on Competitiveness and the Economy.
In the Tanks
Hours before President Obama’s State of the Union address, North Korea confirmed it had conducted its third nuclear test, this time half a mile underground in North Hamgyong province. The detonation of a nuclear device—in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions—rattled the international community and triggered widespread condemnation. Obama warned of “swift and credible action” by the United States and its allies.
“This needs to be stopped,” says Joseph DeTrani, a former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea. The disregard for international accords by the country’s despotic leader, Kim Jong Un, is “not only a threat to the region and the international community,” he says, “but it could lend itself to proliferation issues in the future and [fuel] a nuclear-arms race in the region. The trend lines are all very negative.”
DeTrani, who this month was named president of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, traces the regime’s erratic behavior to Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, who was “supreme leader” of North Korea from 1994 until his death in 2011. But the dough-faced Kim Jong Un—known to his subjects as “a great person born of heaven”—is no less prone to self-aggrandizement, DeTrani adds. “He’s moving ahead rather quickly with his [nuclear program]. I’m far less optimistic than I was just a few weeks ago.”
At INSA, an Arlington, Va.-based think tank with ties to the intelligence community, DeTrani will bring together three constituencies: public servants, corporate leaders, and academics. “Reaching out to these groups protects us from groupthink,” he says. “It ensures that we’re not all looking at things the same way.
“Occasionally, the private sector is not aware of some of the gaps, some of the issues in the public sector, and they may have the technology to address these. They may say, ‘Wait a minute—we have this widget that you need.’ ”
DeTrani, 72, is the second elder statesman to join INSA in recent weeks. Last month, John Negroponte, the former director of national intelligence, was named chairman of the board.
One of four children, DeTrani was raised in Greenwich Village, two blocks from New York University, where he received bachelor’s, master’s, and law degrees. After his Air Force service, he joined the Central Intelligence Agency. Over the course of his 30-year career there, he directed no fewer than five offices: East Asia Operations; European Operations; Technical Services; Public Affairs; and the Crime and Narcotics Center.
DeTrani then migrated to the State Department, where much of his work centered on the dysfunctional state north of the 38th parallel. A former director of the National Counterproliferation Center, he was most recently a senior adviser to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
At the Bar
In 2008, the Republican staff director for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Frank Macchiarola, was on his way down Capitol Hill, headed toward the private sector when Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., lured him back.
“I was really thinking of doing something else,” Macchiarola said. “Maybe law practice or teaching—there were a lot of options.” But Enzi, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, had just lost his staff director and was looking ahead to a year in which health care reform was likely to top the agenda.
So Macchiarola stayed on the Hill as Republican staff director for the committee, and he ended up with an experience in public service he’ll not soon forget. “2009 was probably my busiest year on the Hill,” he says. “We also worked later on implementing the health care law, and did a couple of [Food and Drug Administration] reform bills. Plus we had a lot of issues with the [National Labor Relations Board].”
Now 36, Macchiarola has finally left the Capitol maelstrom behind. Last month, he joined the policy-resolution group at Bracewell & Giuliani, where he will contribute to the firm’s environmental, energy, health care, and education practices.
Born and raised in New York City, where his father was a renowned chancellor of the city’s public schools from 1978 to 1983, Macchiarola graduated from the New York University School of Law and practiced for a time in the city before following his heart to work on public policy in Washington.
Former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., then-chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, hired Macchiarola as a committee counsel in 2004, a job that put him in the middle of work on the Energy Policy Act that was signed into law the following year. In 2006, he became Republican staff director, but when Domenici announced plans to leave the Senate in 2008, Macchiarola started thinking about a new career path—until Enzi reached out to ask him for another four years on the Hill.
Macchiarola said he was proud of the bipartisan successes he helped achieve in both Senate committees, but he acknowledged that the partisanship of recent years played a role in his desire for something new. “There is more gridlock than agreement on both sides,” he says.
This article appears in the Feb. 23, 2013, edition of National Journal as People.