Senator Lautenberg Died At Age 89
Senator Lautenberg’s death today was sad news and a big loss for New Jersey. While I never knew the politician or worked for him directly, I did have a connection to the pol, and I wanted to record it here for posterity.
I’ve pretty much always been a Democrat. I’m liberal on social issues like gay rights, abortion, etc. I’m an environmentalist and a union supporter. I think the rich don’t pay enough in taxes and that our political system is too corrupt and too eager to please business instead of doing the right thing. But I also have moderate impulses, such as my preference for fiscal prudence and distaste for government waste, or donating to John McCain in 2000, campaigning for a Republican state representative (Bob Casey of Florida) and voting for that state rep when he tried to go for state senate.
When I moved to D.C. in 2002, I had just ended a 3-year stint at the University of Florida, where I had participated in six Student Government campaigns but had virtually no “real” campaign experience or local connections. Trying to get a masters’ degree I thought was going to substitute for a lack of connections. I needed to pay the bills, but working minimum-wage would have been nearly counter-productive to landing a real job. Finding full-time employment with no connections and no experience was difficult. Turns out, the only meeting I could get for a job on the Hill was for my former congresswoman, Karen Thurman, whom I had met quite randomly at a event in Ocala. My meeting with her staff was just weeks before she lost a redistricting-influenced re-election campaign.
So, out of work and running low on money, I decided to sign up as a paid volunteer for the final week of the midterm elections. I and a number of other similar volunteers were literally bussed up to Bergen County, New Jersey, to boost turnout for Senator Lautenberg’s campaign to come out of retirement (which had emerged only after a campaign finance scandal sent the incumbent packing).
I remember hearing him speak at his campaign headquarters, and some of the antics I got into because of sleep deprivation. I still have the sleeping bag the campaign gave each of us volunteers because the fly-by-the-seats-of-their-pants operation had found no other sleeping arrangements for us but an empty law office next door.
It was an amazing experience, and one I so thoroughly enjoyed that I signed up for a return engagement in 2004, this time in North Carolina for Erskine Bowles.
But what really made that week so amazing for me wasn’t the campaign, or the all-night watching of election returns with my fellow politicos. Instead, it was what came next that made it special for me. You see, once I got home, I had a number of phone messages (I hadn’t bought a cell phone yet). One of them was from a Joan Poindexter from the UMWA Health & Retirement Funds, an organization I apparently emailed regarding a job, but I had honestly not remembered. She had seen my resume and had wanted to interview me for a position involving pensions. I called her back, by Thanksgiving I had been interviewed, and by Christmas I was working full-time. And now, over 10 years later, I’m still at that organization, having been promoted 4 times (most recently just 2 months ago).
Yes, Lautenberg had nothing to do with it. But what if I had continued to pursue my job search rather than take the nearly two weeks off to help his campaign? I might have taken a detour with a different job that had no security or upward trajectory. I might have even taken a political job, only to suffer through 4 more years where being a Democratic staffer on the Hill was considered unlucky. I might have taken a job that was more demanding on my time that I would have struggled with grad school and never finished 4 books, a handful of screenplays, and have more writing projects on the way.
Fate is like a current running through your life. Sometimes you steer your boat against the tide, other times you ride with it. If it hadn’t been for Lautenberg, I can’t say for certain that I would have had the amazing ride I’ve had over the last 10 years. And he never even knew it.
Senator Lautenberg was a decent man, a passionate voice for gun safety, environmental protection, and public health. His death is a huge loss for New Jersey and for America. May he find eternal peace.