When Tom Kahn looks at the federal budget, he sees more than just dollars and cents.
“The budget is at the core of most key issues that elected officials decide: How much do we tax? How much do we spend on guns and butter?” Kahn says. “You have to always remember that behind a table of budget numbers are millions of real people.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the incoming ranking member on the House Budget Committee, has asked Kahn to stay on as Democratic staff director and chief counsel. Kahn served as staff director for 14 years under Rep. John Spratt, the outgoing committee chairman, who was defeated by South Carolina state Sen. Mick Mulvaney in November.
Kahn, 55, says that his continuing goal is to serve the members of the House Democratic Caucus as the national spotlight turns to the country’s long-term fiscal challenges.
A native of Brookline, Mass., he graduated from Tufts University in Boston in 1977. He’s been on Capitol Hill ever since, taking only one break to pick up his law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center and work for a private practice from 1981 to ‘86.
Except for a stint on the Brookline Town Council — a seat he won when he was 19 — Kahn has always been more interested in behind-the-scenes work than in elected office. One important lesson he has drawn from working on Capitol Hill while juggling his responsibilities as father to a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old: “Sleep is an option.”
At the Bar
Stephanie Kanwit was a student at the Columbia University Law School when the campus was convulsed by protests in the 1960s. “It was a horrible time. I can’t say enough bad things about it,” she says. “I think people show their worst sides when there’s that kind of “¦ tension in the political system.”
Kanwit acknowledges, “Sometimes, civil disobedience is necessary, but it’s really the rare case. And in this particular situation, those protests brought out the worst in everybody.”
She is the newest addition to the Washington office of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. A commercial litigator and a onetime regional director for the Federal Trade Commission, Kanwit has spent her legal career chipping away at sexual discrimination and “making sure that all Americans had equal rights under law.” In the early 1970s, she was a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging Chicago’s male-only luncheon clubs, “which kept women from realizing their full potential by keeping them from sites where business was conducted,” she says. Even though Kanwit ultimately lost that case, “we had a lot of press coverage, as you might imagine, and by the end of the 1970s, all of the clubs in Chicago had admitted women.”
In another case, she sued the Chicago Tribune, which had been running “sex-gregated” want ads, in which potential employers expressed a gender preference for applicants. It was not a flagrant instance of discrimination, but the ads did not accord with modern views of equality. “The federal judge hearing the case basically said to the lawyers for those papers, “˜You know, gentlemen, I think [stopping this practice] is an idea whose time has come,’ “ she says.
Kanwit’s childhood had a rustic flavor. Stony Creek, Conn., was “the kind of town where you’d let your kid walk a mile to school by himself even when he was 5 years old.” She and her brothers attended a school “so small there were two, and sometimes three, grades in one room.” She collected pollywogs in buckets and coffee cans, depositing her plunder at home in an aquarium to watch the larvae mature.
A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, Kanwit has been a lifelong lover of archaeology. She has traveled to Mayan ruins in Central America, the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, Greco-Roman temples in Sicily, and archaeological sites in Greece, England, Egypt, and Turkey (three times).
She is also a self-professed opera buff and used to serve on the board of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Kanwit’s “all-time favorite” is Don Giovanni. “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — I think he was a total genius.”¦ If I could have someone come back to life and talk to me, it would be him.”
Kanwit, 67, has nine grandchildren, enough to field a baseball team, she says.
Christopher Snow Hopkins
Mark Seifert, Erik Hotmire
After a few action-packed years in government, Mark Seifert and Erik Hotmire both made the leap last month to senior positions at the Brunswick Group, a corporate-relations and communications firm.
Seifert, who joins the group as partner, had been at the Federal Communications Commission since 1996, starting out as a staff lawyer and ultimately ascending to the post of deputy division chief. In 2006, he was detailed to serve as counsel for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, primarily working on Internet and telecommunications issues. Three years later, Seifert moved to the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Agency, and ultimately became the senior adviser to the deputy secretary. There, he worked to strategically invest millions of stimulus dollars in the deployment of broadband across the country. Seifert recalls that Larry Strickling, the head of NTIA, told him that he would be perfect for the job but that he would have to give up 18 months of his life.
“There are some really great people who care intensely about getting it right,” Seifert, 48, says of his work in government. “They don’t always agree on both sides of the aisle, but they are smart, they are hardworking, and they are passionate in their beliefs that technology and telecom can help people, whether it’s individual consumers, business, or America at large.”
It was an unlikely career for someone who majored in music and was thinking about medical school when he was an undergraduate at Birmingham Southern University in Alabama. Ultimately, Seifert instead decided to get a law degree from the University of Virginia and then “beat a path to Washington, D.C.” He joined the FCC 14 years ago on the recommendation of a friend, and was hooked.
During the 2004 presidential campaign, however, Seifert found a cause important enough to take a break from the FCC. He joined the Kerry-Edwards campaign as director of outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.
“I went to the bureau chief at the time and said, “˜I’d like to take a year off and go work on a campaign,’ “ Seifert says. “It was the first political thing I had ever done, and it was a trial by fire.”
The Kerry-Edwards bid may not have ended the way Seifert would have liked, but four years later, he was downright blissful on President Obama’s Inauguration Day. That was the day he and his husband fought through the crowds to walk to the airport and catch a flight to Washington state, where their adopted son was born.
“He’s definitely going to get sick of hearing that story,” Seifert says.
Erik Hotmire joins the Brunswick Group as director after an equally wild ride at the Securities and Exchange Commission, where as a senior adviser, he specialized in communications strategy and messaging after the 2008 financial-industry collapse.
“It was a difficult time to be at the SEC, for the markets and for the investors — for obvious reasons,” he says. “As a practitioner of strategic communications and crisis management, which is what I’ve done throughout my career, it was a fascinating time.”
Hotmire, 37, began his career as a journalist at a commercial radio station in northwestern Ohio at age 15. He continued to work in broadcasting throughout college and as a young graduate.
“I always would, every evening, watch Walter Cronkite,” Hotmire says. “As long as I can remember, as soon I could read, I would arrive home from school and open the afternoon paper.”
In 1995, though, the lure of Washington and an offer to work in communications for Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., was too good for Hotmire to pass up.
He also was in the George W. Bush administration, serving as a spokesman for the USA Freedom Corps, an agency established to promote service in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and as special assistant to the president.
At the Bar
Read Van de Water
When Read Van de Water arrived on the Hill at age 22, an arthropod was instrumental in getting her a job on the staff of then-Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
“I had a pretty funny interview” with Ken Carroll, DeLay’s chief of staff, says Van de Water, who is joining the health law/public-policy department at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz. “I was sitting on one of those big leather couches.”¦ He was sitting across from me, and he was rolling up a Newsweek.”¦ Then, he reached over and slammed it down next to my shoulder, and this gigantic dead cockroach fell on the couch. And he looked at me and said, “˜Well, you didn’t flinch — you’re hired.’ “
Van de Water was most recently head of the National Mediation Board, an independent federal agency that governs labor-management relations for the nation’s railroads and airlines. “In this country, airline and railroad employees cannot strike at will,” she says. “They can only strike when they’re released by the [board].”¦ That’s why you don’t see a lot of rail or airline strikes.”
Van de Water, 46, grew up in Charlotte, N.C., one of six kids in a “Brady Bunch family,” she says. Her stepfather, an otolaryngologist, “had three boys, and he married my mother, who had three girls. I’m smack in the middle.” After receiving a bachelor’s degree in political science and Third World studies at the University of the South, Van de Water gravitated north. She arrived in Washington “not knowing anyone” and “went door to door on the Hill to every Republican office.”
She was on DeLay’s staff for four and a half years, also attending night classes at the Georgetown University Law Center. In 1991, she left Capitol Hill for Northwest Airlines, serving first as director of government affairs and, after she got her law degree, as legislative counsel. A stint as legislative counsel at the Business Roundtable came next.
In 2001, Van de Water was recruited for a senior position in the Bush administration’s Transportation Department. “The White House announced the intent to nominate in the summer,” Van de Water says, “and I was going through all the paperwork — and September 11 hit. My paperwork went to the Hill on September 12, and I was confirmed as assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs two weeks later.” In the wake of 9/11, it was a “24/7 job.”¦ We ate a lot out of vending machines. We did what had to be done. It wasn’t a choice.”
At Baker Donelson, Van de Water will be working on the same floor as her husband, Mark Van de Water, a senior public-policy adviser at the firm. The two met on a Coast Guard trip to Alaska when she was working for DeLay and he was an aide to then-Rep. Les AuCoin, D-Ore.
“We got a lot of raised eyebrows from people when we came back and announced we were dating. At our wedding, we had to ban all talk of taxes, primarily from my dad, who was about as conservative as they come.”
In the Tanks
In 1999, Daniel Runde, who was enamored with an Argentine woman he had met on the first day of graduate school, followed her to Buenos Aires after the couple graduated from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
The three years he spent in Argentina as an assistant vice president for Citibank and a consultant for BankBoston, building public-private partnerships to strengthen public schools in the city, touched off a long career in international development. As an added bonus, Runde married his girlfriend in her native country.
“I think living and working in a developing country makes you realize that we’re very fortunate in the United States, because we expect things to work,” Runde says. “In much of the world, people have little faith that anything will function like it’s supposed to, from traffic lights to the legal system.”
He joins the Center for Strategic and International Studies as the director of the newly created project on prosperity and development, and the Schreyer chair in global analysis. In his post, Runde will be focusing on how the United States should proceed in international development, given the rapidly changing global environment. He will particularly study the role that the private sector can play.
Before joining CSIS, Runde directed philanthropy relations at the International Finance Corp., the private-sector branch of the World Bank. Earlier, he was director of the Office of Global Development Alliances at the U.S. Agency for international Development, where he controlled a $15 million budget to build international partnerships.
The past 30 years have brought about a sea change in international development, Runde says. Most of the resources flowing from the United States to the developing world were once in the form of government aid, but today, investments — largely by corporations — dominate. Runde has played a key role in this transformation. In 2002, he helped Chevron create the Angola Partnership Initiative to support education and small businesses in that African country.
For Runde, 38, development has been as much about the U.S. national interest as about assisting ailing nations. His patriotism was inspired by his grandfather, who served in the infantry in Western Europe during World War II.
“I wanted to find ways to support the United States in doing great things around the world,” Runde says.
Farming, like most professions, has its terms of art. Growing up, T.J. Birkel “detasseled corn” and “walked beans.” (The latter involves walking up and down rows of beans and cutting out weeds.) Birkel, who has been named Darden Restaurants’ manager of federal government relations, is a proud native of Lincoln, Neb., where “everything revolves around agriculture.”
A graduate of North Central College in Naperville, Ill., he got his first job in Washington as a staff assistant to Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., “making coffee, answering the phones, and setting up tours.”
Birkel was later promoted to legislative assistant for agriculture, but after three years he returned to Nebraska (and his parents’ basement) to assist in Republican Mike Johanns’s 2008 senatorial campaign. “When [Johanns] won, I moved back out — my first day was swearing-in day in January of ‘09.”
Birkel, 28, was most recently Johanns’s speechwriter and legislative assistant for agriculture.