What was it like to work on the campaign of the first female presidential nominee? And what happens when that nominee loses? Today Alessandra Biaggi, the former Deputy National Operations Director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign shares her story.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m grew up in Westchester County, and consider myself a New Yorker through and through, having graduated summa cum laude from New York University (08) and Fordham Law School (12), where I served as a member of the Fordham Law Review.
I’m blessed with an unusual amount of energy, so tennis, running, and hiking are what bring me balance and it’s when I do my best thinking.
How did you get interested in politics?
When I was 5 years old I told my parents I wanted to run for office. I wanted to emulate the work that my grandfather, Congressman Mario Biaggi (D-NY) was doing. He cared very deeply about his constituents, and the community, and dedicated his life’s work to making life better for others.
It was encouraged, rather than taboo to speak politics at the dinner table, and it’s where I learned how to negotiate and support my views about policies and current events.
After attending NYU, I interned for Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY), resolving constituent issues. The sheer amount of good that we did — reuniting families by resolving immigration issues, ensuring that the elderly received social security benefits, and listening to their various issues — lit me up in a way that nothing had ever before.
Sure, politics can be a dirty sport, but that neither scares me, nor makes me question, whether this is my path. Politics represents the most meaningful work, where you can do the most good, and have the most impact, in the short time we have on this earth.
While I was in law school I was drawn mostly to public service, working at the Kings County District Attorney’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and serving as an editor for the Presidential Succession Clinic at the Feerick Center for Social Justice.
One of my passion projects is empowering women through legal and political processes, which is why in 2014, I attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University. This passion continues to guide my pursuit of a career in public policy and politics through my involvement in organizations such as Ladies Get Paid, flippable, New Leaders Council (NLC), Eleanor’s Legacy, She Should Run, Emerge America, Running Start, The Arena Summit, Breakout Today, and Rally + Rise.
In 2014, I was appointed as the Assistant General Counsel for the NYS Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, where I served as counsel to the Small Business, Community Reconstruction and Infrastructure programs. Working for Secretary Clinton has always been a dream of mine, so in 2015 I didn’t think twice when asked to join her campaign.
How did you end up working for Hillary? And what was your official title?
In early 2015, I applied for a political entrepreneurship fellowship with the New Leaders Council. My entry onto the campaign was the result of being in the right place at the right time, but it would not have happened had I not followed my passion for politics.
Serendipitously, and unbeknownst to any of us, one of the Fellows was the Director of Talent for HFA, and so he asked if I was interested in working on a campaign, to which I replied, “no”; I sent my resume anyway, still not knowing to what campaign I was applying. A few weeks later in April, I received a call from the Director of Vetting, was offered a position, and left my job at the Governor’s Office to join the campaign in May.
As this was my first campaign, I was unfamiliar with team structures and dynamics, but after a year on Vetting, I was promoted to Deputy National Operations Director.
Can you walk us through an average day on the job?
Anyone will tell you that there is no such thing as a typical day on a campaign, and that the best description of what it’s like is ‘building a plane while you’re flying it’.
Time: you work 7 days a week, 12-15 hours a day; you’re literally on call all of the time. That was the steepest learning curve.
Organized Chaos: I usually had between 8-10 meetings a day, 200-300 emails/day (during the Primary’s sometimes more) and the phone calls were unrelenting.
High Stakes: Because you’re working up against a deadline (i.e. election day) the stakes are incredibly high and you’re running at 100% capacity, 100% of the time.
People: There was never a time when I didn’t feel like I was surrounded by the smartest and most accomplished people in their fields. That expectation drove me to reach higher, and challenge myself.
When you first started working on the campaign, were you expecting Hillary to get the nomination? Or to win?
We never took anything for granted, and because of that we worked around the clock — literally, 7 days a week for 19 months — to maintain our competitive advantage.
During the Primary this became especially challenging because the contests came like rapid fire, sometimes several per week, and sleep was just not possible. That was probably the hardest part…the lack of sleep and the personal sacrifices you make when working on a campaign, are unrivaled.
That said, I feel prepared to take on pretty much any job, knowing that I’ve pushed the limits every day and was constantly leveling up.
Some people didn’t like Hillary because they perceived her to be cold or robotic. What was your experience with her?
I could not disagree more. Secretary Clinton is one of the most brilliant and warmest leaders I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. It’s disappointing, but not entirely discouraging that strong women who are clearly innate leaders are scrutinized by a standard that is laudatory to men acting the same way.
What was the atmosphere like around the office when the ‘Pussygate’ tapes leaked?
Going into the election, how confident were you that Hillary Clinton would be our next president?
There were so many unprecedented aspects of this campaign, I really thought more people would turn out to vote. My confidence in our leadership and the overwhelming support we had made us optimistic, but you can never be too confident in politics.
Walk us through election day.
I was at the Javits Center from about 2 pm until 3 am on election day. I was working from about 5 pm until 9 pm when my mother called asking if I was okay.
Not really having clear sight of CNN or other news projections, I was unaware that we were not doing well in key states — namely Florida and Pennsylvania — and so I was confused at the question, but curious to figure out what was going on.
I remember walking into the press room where silent faces stared at their computers as the results came in. There was a heaviness that was only made bearable because we all shared it. It wasn’t until after 3 am, while we were walking to catch a cab that we heard someone on the street say, “she conceded”.
Many of us were devastated by the election results; I can only imagine how you felt! How did you take care of yourself in the days following the election?
It was really a blur, but what I can say is that we shared the loss together. The best way that I took care of myself was staying in the togetherness.
You continued working for Hillary through November and into December. What is there to do after a candidate loses?
So much! There’s is a long wind-down period. We open hundreds of offices and hire thousands of staff in a matter of months. We had been planning our shutdown operation prior to November 9, because most of our leases expired at the end of November and most staff were heading home during that time too.
After election day, we started shutting down offices. We collected security deposits, boxed up equipment, and donated what we could to the state parties. This shutdown period was a little unusual in that I also had to oversee the recount effort.
So many of us feel hopeless and overwhelmed in the face of this election. How do you keep your spirits and energy up?
Switch parties. Just kidding!
Being surrounded by the love and support of my “tribe” of family and friends is number one. Staying physically active is second. And a close third is channeling the disappointment into action and strategy that strengthen the Democratic Party and support my run for office.
This last one is the most exciting for me, because I’ve never felt so close to the reality of being able to run.
What are three things ANY American can do to become more involved in the political system and make their opinions heard?
- Register to vote! – this is a must!
- Join a community board in your neighborhood.
- Volunteer for a local/state campaign. Most folks from the campaign started out as volunteers for their elected races and later became field organizers. Being an organizer is one of the most exciting, albeit demanding, jobs you can have on a campaign because you’re at the center of gravity — talking to voters day in and day out.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Alessandra! Do you guys have any questions for her?