Presumptive U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley had one on her winning campaign. So did Rachael Rollins, now the likely next Suffolk County District Attorney. Surprise state representative winner Nika Elugardo, too; and both congressional candidates Lori Trahan and Dan Koh, who just finished a recount that Trahan won.
The magic element on all these successful primary campaigns? Women managed them.
2018 has been called the Year of the Woman in Democratic Party politics, but if you think that’s just about the candidates, you need to take a closer look behind the scenes. In the Boston area, at least, women are running the show.
That hasn’t always been the case. As with the bulk of candidates, top campaign staff used to be male-dominated.
Over the past 10 years or so, that has been changing. Notable women serving as campaign managers have included Sydney Asbury for Deval Patrick in 2010, Mindy Myers for Elizabeth Warren in 2012, and Megan Costello for Marty Walsh in 2013.
But in 2018, the number has grown “exponentially,” says Wilnelia Rivera, campaign strategist for Pressley. “We now have a bench of women who really know this work.”
And, candidates—especially but not exclusively women—are willing to give them a seat at the table.
Pressley’s congressional campaign included Rivera, campaign manager Sarah Groh, and finance director Gina Christo.
Rollins, who pulled off a surprising victory in the five-candidate primary for Sufolk County District Attorney, was similarly loaded with female staffers: Ann DeGeorge, campaign manager; Rodline Louijeune, finance director; Nichelle Sadler, deputy director; and Michelle Kweder, senior advisor.
DeGeorge became campaign manager because “my best friend Ann saw me struggling as a first-time candidate” and took on the role, Rollins says.
But as her campaign grew, Rollins made sure the staff reflected the gender, age, sexual orientation, and life experience of Suffolk County residents. “Diversity takes work,” Rollins says.
She plans to put a similar effort into building a diverse staff at the District Attorney’s office, if she wins the general election—and suggests that the way a candidate builds a campaign staff might serve as a signal of how diverse their staff might be in elective office.
In the hotly-contested 10-way Democratic primary to succeed Congresswoman Niki Tsongas of Lowell, the three top finishers all had women campaign managers: Jackie Bart for Lori Trahan, Rachael Goldenberg for Dan Koh, and Samantha Riemer for Juana Matias.
“It has been growing slowly for years, but this year does seem like a breakthrough,” says Georgia Hollister Isman, state director for Rhode Island Working Families Party (WFP).
Isman, who used to train Massachusetts women to be political candidates as executive director of Mass Alliance, helped create a WFP training program this year for women to run campaigns. When they announced the plan online, more than 2,500 women responded wanting to sign up.
Similarly Emerge Massachusetts, which has been training women who want to run for office for the past decade, this year added a class for campaign managers. It graduated 23 women this year.
WFP held the day-long session in four cities earlier this summer, including Providence. Many of the roughly 50 women who attended were from Massachusetts, Isman says.
Those women aren’t the ones running congressional campaigns this year, Isman says, but they are working on smaller campaigns, often for women candidates spurred to run for local office in the activist wave that started with the women’s marches after Donald Trump’s inauguration.
That interest in running for office has resulted in a slew of campaigns, many by first-time candidates, often running outside of or against the local establishment. That in turn has meant a lot of opportunities for first-time campaign managers.
In that light, it’s perhaps not surprising that Elugardo, running against the sitting House Ways & Means chairman, Jeffrey Sánchez, turned to a Latina who had never run a campaign before.
That was immigrats- and workers-rights organizer Cristina Aguilera, and the result was victory.
“It’s never easy for a first time candidate or campaign manager, especially in a race that really heats up,” says Dan Cohen of Blue Sun Campaigns, who consulted for Elugardo. “Cristina and Nika were among the most focused and disciplined I’ve ever worked with.”
Another state representative primary winner, Liz Miranda, turned to someone who had gone through the Emerge Massachusetts campaign-manager political training while she took the candidate training bootcamp. That was management consultant Christie Lindor. With Lindor as her campaign manager, Miranda won the Dorchester-based district previously held by Evandro Carvalho.
The phenomenon could be seen in last week’s New Hampshire primaries as well. Kari Thurman was campaign manager for Chris Pappas, the winner of a crowded Democratic primary to fill the vacancy where Carol Shea-Porter is retiring.
Another woman, Tova Yampolsky, is campaign director for Ann Kuster, Democratic congresswoman running for re-election in New Hampshire. Much of the state party’s staff are women, including executive director Amy Kennedy, and coordinated campaign director Erin Turmelle.
None of this should suggest that women have gotten into all of the back rooms, by any means.
Most of the top political strategists in the area are still men—just as they were on those 2010 Patrick and 2013 Walsh campaigns. They have been increasingly employing, training, and mentoring women in running campaigns, but the top figures remain primarily male.
This year those advisors included Martin Walsh of Gateway Public Solutions, who consulted for Trahan; Doug Rubin of Northwind Strategies for Koh; Paul Trane of Government Insight Group for Michael Capuano; Scott Ferson of Liberty Square Group for Rollins; and Cohen for Elugardo.
And all six of the major-party candidates for Governor in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island are led by male campaign managers.
Still, you won’t find many Boston-area candidates any more that don’t have at least a couple of women in senior campaign positions.
Judging by the success rate of women campaign managers in the Massachusetts primaries, they’d be fools not to.