In late 2009, when the White House and Republican lawmakers were at loggerheads over health care legislation, Alethia Jackson arrived on Capitol Hill at 9 every morning and left after 11 p.m.
She was not alone. “There was always the same cast of characters in the room.”… It was like being away at camp, although not a very fun camp.”
At the time, Jackson was vice president of federal affairs at America’s Health Insurance Plans, a consortium of health insurance providers with 1,300 members. While negotiating with the Obama administration, “I experienced a range of emotions,” she recalls. “At the start, when we were bringing ideas to the table, there was so much possibility.”… For anyone who worked on it, you gave a lot of yourself.”
Earlier this month, Jackson was named director of federal government relations at Walgreens, where she will highlight the chain’s “Take Care Clinics,” which administer primary care and “fill a lot of gaps in the existing health care space.”
A native Brooklynite, Jackson studied English literature at New York’s State University at Albany. Later, while pursuing a law degree at Syracuse University, Jackson traveled to London, Geneva, and Maastricht, in the Netherlands, to study comparative health law and policy. After graduating, she moved to Washington, “sight unseen.”
The 37-year-old got her start at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. She is a James Joyce buff, having read his major works during her college days.
Christopher Snow Hopkins
Frank Lowenstein got his start in foreign policy earlier than most. At the age of 10, he accompanied his father on a summer trip to fight apartheid in South Africa. Lowenstein speaks of Allard Lowenstein, a one-term member of Congress from New York and a civil-rights activist whose work has been cited by many public figures.
He credits his dad with inspiring his own dedication to global politics. “I really saw apartheid up close and personal,” Lowenstein says of the trip. “It really gave me a strong interest in foreign policy — to try to do what we can as Americans to try to right some of the wrongs of the world — that stayed with me.” Currently, the younger Lowenstein serves as staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as principal foreign-affairs adviser to Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass.
But after an extensive career in foreign affairs, he will transition to the private sector this month; he joins the Podesta Group on Oct. 24. In his new position as principal, Lowenstein will advise clients around the globe on political, cultural, and policy issues as part of the company’s international expansion.
Lowenstein, 44, got his start as the director of national-security policy for the 2004 Kerry presidential campaign, where he coordinated teams of outside policy experts. He left politics for a brief stint at a law firm in Boston, but in 2005 he returned as a foreign-policy adviser on Kerry’s staff. In January 2009, Lowenstein took over as staff director.
During the past decade, Lowenstein has been at the forefront of some of the most challenging and significant foreign-affairs debates, including most recently the crafting of Senate resolutions on Egypt and Libya. In addition to overseeing the Senate confirmation process for all of the administration’s ambassadors and senior officials and serving as the committee’s principal liaison with foreign embassies and ambassadors in Washington, he has been a leader on U.S. policy for the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.
Lowenstein says he is most proud of his involvement in the ratification of New START, a nuclear arms reduction agreement between the U.S. and the Russian Federation, and his work in Afghanistan after the 2009 elections, which were widely criticized for low voter turnout, ballot stuffing, intimidation, and other electoral fraud. Kerry and his staff were instrumental in urging President Hamid Karzai to fight corruption in his Cabinet.
Lowenstein recalls walking behind Kerry and Karzai around the palace grounds during the senator’s five-day trip to Afghanistan after the election. He says it was an “unbelievable experience” to feel that he had “a front-row seat for history.”
Lowenstein has enormous respect for his longtime boss. “It’s been an incredible experience,” he said of his career on Kerry’s team. “He’s really passionate about foreign policy, and he really works hard to get it right. He’s a very effective diplomat, and he likes to roll up his sleeves and tackle the toughest problems.”
Now, Lowenstein is looking forward to a new challenge and in particular to figuring out how to apply his foreign-policy experience to the private sector. He believes that, with an increasingly globalized economy, he can be instrumental in helping the Podesta Group reach out to a growing circle of multinational clients. “It’s going to be a big challenge, but an exciting one,” Lowenstein said. “I think I have the skills and background to provide those services.”
As the housing industry goes, so goes the commonweal.
“If you jump-start the housing economy, you jump-start the national economy,” says James Tobin, recently installed as chief lobbyist for the National Association of Home Builders.
One way to reinvigorate the economy, he argues, is to “alleviate some of the credit issues ours builders are facing”…. What we’re finding is that community banks across the country “… are getting pressure from their regulators not to take part in good, prudent real-estate projects. We need that to stop.”… There’s demand out there for housing, but we need regulators to get off banks’ backs and let us make those loans.”
Moreover, some of the proposals under consideration by lawmakers have spooked potential homebuyers. “There’s a lot of consternation among homebuyers right now about whether or not this is the time to jump and buy a home. They’re hearing a lot of mixed messages from Washington. There are proposals out there to do away with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, proposals to do away with or shrink the mortgage-interest deduction, and proposals to establish a 20 percent down payment.”
Having spent 13 years at NAHB, Tobin is well positioned to assess the association’s changing priorities. When he arrived in 1998, the most salient issues were “smart growth,” property rights, and preventing “federal intrusions into local land use.”
Since then, a dysfunctional housing-finance system has emerged as the association’s main concern. Even before a rash of mortgage foreclosures crippled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, “there were whiffs of mismanagement” at the government-sponsored enterprises, Tobin says.
The son of a professional photographer, Tobin grew up in Oxford, Conn. An admitted “political junkie,” he spent his freshman year at American University before transferring to the University of Connecticut. When Tobin returned to Washington in 1995, his first paying job was as a peon for the National Republican Congressional Committee, making phone calls in the basement. After that, he waited tables at a pizzeria in the Old Town district of Alexandria, Va.
Tobin’s first “real job” was as a legislative assistant for then-Rep. Gary Franks, R-Conn. When Franks was ousted by state legislator Jim Maloney in 1996, Tobin joined the staff of then-Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Calif., where he remained until Riggs’s retirement in 1998. At that point, Tobin bolted to K Street. “I got tired of looking for a job every two years,” he says.
The 40-year-old has two children, ages 4 and 2. His life outside of work revolves around ice-skating lessons, birthday parties, and baseball in the front yard.
“We try to keep them corralled,” Tobin says.
Gail Leftwich Kitch
As the 2012 presidential election draws nearer, Gail Leftwich Kitch wants to get out the vote — particularly among demographics that have traditionally been underrepresented.
Kitch joined the Voter Participation Center, formerly known as Women’s Voices, Women Vote, as chief operating officer last month. The group was launched in 2003 with the goal of increasing voter participation by unmarried women, a demographic whose voter registration is much lower than that of married women.
In 2008, the organization broadened its reach to include other groups that constitute the “rising American electorate” — young people, minorities, and others who are underrepresented among voters. The group changed its name in 2011 to reflect this new focus.
She says the voter center likes to think of itself as “a utility” for this new group of American voters. The organization’s outreach efforts are mostly done by mail and include sending the target demographics important voting information and useful resources, such as actual voter-registration forms.
Kitch brings an extensive background in management and civic engagement to the group. She has a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. She has served as a chairwoman of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, as a Radcliffe College public-policy fellow, and as president of the Federation of State Humanities Councils, a national membership organization of the state affiliates of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Most recently, Kitch was executive director of By the People, a project that encourages public discussion of policy issues.
Kitch believes that she brings many personal skills to the table at her new position — focus, discipline, ambition, and commitment fueled by confidence. By using these skills and her experience in managing people, she says she can help the group “continue to move into a breakout vision where we are seen as the organization that can provide research-based proven tools and techniques for maximizing the broadest possible reach for the rising American electorate.”
Kitch plans to enlarge the organization by using innovation and new technology. In particular, she wants to use social media to “ensure the broadest possible reach “… using tools to meet [our target market] where they are.”
Already, the organization is moving toward her goals. The group is about to launch a new, more comprehensive website, which Kitch says will make the center’s outreach efforts more effective and accessible.