The Schumer Diaspora

On Facebook, there are pages where former Marines catch up and where Ivy League university graduates connect. And then there

On Facebook, there are pages where former Marines catch up and where Ivy League university graduates connect. And then there is the Chuck Schumer Alumni Group, which is a cross between the two.

Mr. Schumer, New York’s famously hard-driving senior senator, is something of a Genghis Khan of politics. Like a particular Y chromosome, his unique imprint can be found in the professional DNA of an improbably high percentage of well-placed political types who served him in various capacities in his Assembly, House and Senate offices; on his campaigns; or on staff at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

"They work long and hard, but they learn a lot," said Mr. Schumer. "We’re very productive. We’re a very proactive office. We’re not moving papers around or keeping our head above water." Schumer compared his staffers and those who move on to "a family. Everybody looks out for another; one staffer doesn’t complain to me about another."

From the halls of national, state and city government; to Hillary Clinton’s war room; to Yahoo’s headquarters, members of the Chuck Diaspora have been baptized in the fires of ceaseless requests and demands that the senator puts on staffers between the late-night and early-morning phone calls. (One staffer was known for taking daytime naps under the desk.) In return for enduring their trials-by-Chuck, Mr. Schumer’s staffers have been able to move into some of the most sought-after politics-related jobs in the country, many of which are a breeze by comparison. Also-some of them married each other.

"It’s kind of the boot camp of politics," said Hillary Clinton, whose Senate office and recent presidential campaign were both larded with ex-Schumerites. "And if you survive it, you can go anywhere and do anything. And I have been the beneficiary."

She added, "I am grateful that we have so many smart, young and vigorous people in the Democratic Party, particularly here in New York, who Senator Schumer has sent out into the world to serve us all."

Once a year, a group of them get together for a Christmas party at the Black Sheep, a dive bar on Third Avenue, where they compare old scars, trade news, do impressions of their old boss ("That’s awful-awful!") and, sometimes, witness the rare sight of Chuck Schumer having a drink.

What follows is an attempt at a comprehensive accounting, along with the recollections of some former staffers of their time in Schumer World. The list doesn’t include interns, although a number of the Schumer alumni who were kind enough to help with this project made a point of mentioning one who didn’t go on to a career in politics: Oscar winner Marisa Tomei.


Anthony Weiner:

"I was there at the birth of a nation."

Mr. Weiner compares his former boss to Wayne Gretzky. "The game was much slower for him, Chuck is like that legislatively," he said.

"He was my singular influence. I didn’t work for five or six different people coming up. I worked for just him. And that was enough."


Howard Wolfson:

"The closer you get to any campaign the more anxious one gets," he said. "And I dealt with my anxiety by coming into the office earlier and earlier and earlier. In order to sort of spend some quiet time, sort of collect my thoughts before the day began. I read the newspapers as early as possible and thought about what we were going to do that day as uninterrupted as possible. So Chuck somehow found out that I was coming into the office that early, 4:30 a.m. He would start calling as soon as I got into the office. So the whole purpose of morning quiet time, to reflect and think about the day, was utterly defeated. Because the moment I sat down the phone would ring and Chuck would ask about the morning papers or talk about what we had done the day before. And it was just like, there was never really any quiet time working for Chuck Schumer."


Erick Mullen:

"The Schumer school teaches that if you have the guts to work for it, you can do almost anything in politics. The people who embraced that have gone the farthest in this business, especially the communications staff."

Mullen talked about making fund-raising calls from the DSCC shower room, "Ironically, the now DSCC chairman did his 1998 work in the DSCC shower room, and you know what: he didn’t care. When I objected to the way it looks, he said, ‘It’s the numbers not the pictures – get to work. So I used to bring my briefcase, a super long curly cord, an extension, sit in the mail room and he’d sit in the shower room across the hall and we’d throw phone lines back and forth making fund-raising calls. Chuck was in third place in the primary and still raised millions of dollars because he had the guts to ask."

"We’d pick up Crain’s weekly on the ride in, check who got promoted and call them. He’d say ‘Hey, it’s Schumer! I heard you got promoted! I’m trying to get promoted too! To the Senate! And I need your help.’ And you know what they would say? ‘Yes.’ You know what they would do, send him a check. You know what they would do, have him to their firm. Because he had the guts to ask. See a pattern here? People respect his work ethic."


Sean Sweeney:

"I tell people that I’ve worked for Schumer and Clinton and when they ask me who I worked for longer, I always say Schumer." (This is false. He worked for Hillary Clinton for twice as long.)


Phil Singer:

"He was obsessed with the Big Mouth Billy bass fish (the toy fish that sang some of those old spinners songs) and would usually bring it out late at night when we were doing staff time. We’d be in there talking about issue X and then all of a sudden the fish would come out… It was one of those things that was really funny at first but then got kind of annoying (in the way a parent does something that’s fun at first and then gets annoying with repetition). So we hid the fish in his office so he couldn’t use it – I think it might still in the place we hid it.

The Schumer Diaspora