Politics

The Ins and Outs of Interning in Politics

University Student Interns with Congressman; Encourages Others to do the Same


politics-dan-romanWhen I heard those words, “Come in on Monday” I was ecstatic. I wasn’t certain I would get the internship I applied for with Congressman Bill Pascrell, from the 8th district in New Jersey, I just applied thinking the worst they could say is no. So when I heard I had gotten it , I was beyond happy. I never thought that they would take a freshman, especially with so many juniors and seniors looking for experience in politics before they graduate. I gratefully accepted and started one of the most exciting summers of my life.

I went to the Paterson office at the perfect time. Starting in May, I was thrown into a contentious campaign. Pascrell was battling fellow incumbent Congressman Steve Rothman for the Democratic nomination for the newly drawn 9th Congressional district in New Jersey. Rothman and Pascrell had been forced to battle because of redistricting in the state. Rothman had a choice to go after Republican Congressman Scott Garrett, but thought Pascrell would be easier to pick off. Congressman Pascrell said it best when he quipped “With friends like these, who needs enemies”.

The office needed all the help they could get. While working at the office we would make phone calls, go door to door, set up fundraisers, and be around all day to do whatever we could to bring congressman Pascrell back to congress. Polls had each campaign sweating, as they were statistically tied with each other. Both teams knew that the campaign which was able to bring more of its voters to the polls would win. Every single vote would count. Our campaign even helped a 95 year old bed-ridden woman vote, by bringing an absentee ballot to her bedside. Going doorto- door in Paterson and Clifton the week before the election turned out to be the successful strategy. Pascrell won hands down by 11,000 votes or 61 percent to 39 percent for Rothman, respectively.

The post-election was just as interesting as tons of top political operatives from across the state called to congratulate Pascrell. The best however, may have been the phone call from President Obama himself. The Commander-in-Chief calling was just another day at the office.

After the election in June the office tried to return to normal activities. This is when I experienced my favorite part of the summer, helping the constituents. By talking to people across the district, I was able to see how government truly reaches the people. You read about government everywhere, but for me my politics truly changed. Caseworkers dealt with immigration, social security, Medicare, veterans and housing. People’s very well-being was at stake, and they all took their jobs very seriously. The personal relationships between constituents and caseworkers amazed me. Our office helped families keep little children from being deported, making sure a man’s young son is safe in the chaos of Syria, a homeless veteran, who they were able to put in a nursing home, and explaining the new health care law to average citizens who couldn’t afford to get their kids health insurance, until now.

Interning changed my view of the world I hope to spend my career in, politics. Yes, it is about connections and knowing people, but in my view it is more important to remember why you are there in the first place. We were helping the people of our district. I wasn’t getting paid, and I was driving 45 minutes to and from work every day, but I loved every second of it. It reaffirmed my commitment to having a career in public service.

Political Science career advisor Dr. Enoch Nappen believes in internships, “It is so important to get a chance to work in an office as a student” he adds “an internship in politics is great because not only are you dealing with the legal aspects, also you can get a letter of recommendation for a great future job.”

The University offers a program where students can study in Washington D.C. for their internship. Junior Political Science major Sam Maynard is looking forward to his internship next spring in Washington. Maynard says “I cannot wait to go, Washington is the center of it all, and interning is so important to start a career in politics.”

There were tough times at the office where other interns wanted to quit. It is a lot of work researching, answering phone calls, getting breakfast for the Congressman, and other duties the staff didn’t have enough time or patience to complete. The best interns were the ones who did the work without complaining. Each intern wants to be involved in the glorified politics of it all, but you must start somewhere. I am finished with the internship, and am very glad that I was a part of it. Next summer I may go to Washington D.C. where this year each intern was offered a position to do the policy side of politics, while this summer we saw the Constituent side. That is of course as long as the Congressman wins on November 6th, which he is major favorite.

PHOTO COURTESY of Dan Roman