Senator Chuck Schumer’s communications director, Risa Heller, is leaving her job after two and a half years to join Global Strategy Group, a political-consulting company that several months ago poached one of Governor Eliot Spitzer’s top aides, Ryan Toohey.
Ms. Heller’s recent handiwork has been more or less unmissable for even the most casual political observers. (Her soon-to-be-former employer was referred to in a National Journal cover story last week as “The Ubiquitous Chuck Schumer.”)
Ms. Heller, 27, a cheerful, direct-talking daughter of Michigan, is about to become the latest addition to a distinguished constellation of alumni to have passed through the boot camp of Mr. Schumer’s press shop. (Average tour of duty: two years and change.)
Like her forebears—Clinton campaign spokesmen Howard Wolfson, Blake Zeff and Phil Singer, Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser, consultant Josh Isay, ABC News publicist Cathie Levine and former Illinois Deputy Governor Bradley Tusk among them—Ms. Heller has the art of generating attention for New York’s senior Senator down to a science.
“Any flack knows, if you’re going to put out a hit, you can’t do it at 3 in the afternoon,” she said in an interview this week at a café in the West Village. “So you have to know what you’re doing at 7:30 a.m., and you have to have it ready to go at 10. And if it’s noon, it’s almost too late. And if it’s noon, it’s being held till the next day.” (With that, she grabbed her BlackBerry and began returning the e-mail messages that she had received in the last few minutes.)
Perhaps the high point of Ms. Heller’s stint in the Schumer operation occurred last year, when she and her boss realized that a big story about a Dubai-based company operating in American ports was going to break on a sleepy Friday afternoon, right before a major storm.
“So the first press conference, we did it on a Monday, and there was maybe two cameras, one small paper and a radio guy,” she recalled.
“But we knew it was A) important, B) a big deal and C) something we thought merited attention. And so, for the next three weeks, we did something on it almost every single day.”
The ultimate result was a tsunami of attention for Mr. Schumer—and for a company that Mr. Schumer claimed was a security risk. In the end, the White House buckled under the wave of negative attention and blocked the deal.
Ms. Heller is officially moving to her new job in mid-June, with a serious-sounding title of senior vice president. The client roster of Global Strategy, which is headed by Democratic consultants Jefrey Pollock and Jonathan Silvan, currently includes Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards, Governor Spitzer, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Larry Silverstein, Bill and Melinda Gates, and—wait for it—the Republic of Georgia.
Ms. Heller said she’s looking forward in particular to helping to run Global’s communications department with Mr. Toohey, a 31-year-old operative who, like her, is young, but who comes out of the shop of one of her boss’ erstwhile Democratic rivals—and who is, in terms of both specialized expertise and temperament, very much her opposite.
“Ryan knows politics and how to run campaigns,” Ms. Heller said. “I know press. And together we make a tremendous team.”
The feeling, Mr. Toohey told The Observer, is mutual. “If you say who has the premier press operation in New York State,” he said, “it’s Chuck.”