Byline: Christopher Snow Hopkins and Lara Seligman
For Shimmy Stein, 34, “it’s a new year and a new job.C[yen] Last week, the former aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., ushered in Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, by leaping into the private sector. As a principal at Blank Rome Government Relations, Stein will advise the firm’s clients on foreign affairs, financial services, trade, and defense.
Like Cantor, Stein is a Jewish conservative Republican–”a rare combination,C[yen] he says. But although Judaism is “a huge part of who we are, it’s not the only part,C[yen] Stein says. “The majority leader and I share multiple interests across the board.C[yen]
A native of St. Louis, Stein lived in Israel from ages 6 to 10 and speaks fluent Hebrew. His mother and father, a dietician and a conservative rabbi, attended political rallies with their children–perhaps one reason that Stein chose to major in political communications at D.C.’s George Washington University. Shortly after graduating, he was hired as a legislative correspondent for then-Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., whom he followed to the Justice Department when the latter was confirmed as attorney general in 2001. Later that year, Stein joined Cantor’s office, eventually rising to be senior policy adviser.
Stein and his wife, Leah, have three daughters, ages 8, 5, and 3. The family is Sabbath-observant, which requires them to go without certain amenities for 25 hours every week. “From Friday night to Saturday night, the world is essentially cut off,C[yen] Stein says. “No TV, no BlackBerry.C[yen]
Christopher Snow Hopkins
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect title to the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity.
“I got slammed pretty good in 2001,C[yen] says Melissa Merson, who overcame terrorism, cancer, and anthrax all at the same time.
In September of that year–a few days after 9/11–Merson was diagnosed with breast cancer. On Oct. 17, the Ford House Office Building–where she worked–was shut down after staffers and police officers tested positive for anthrax. Finally, on Oct. 29, Merson underwent bilateral mastectomies.
But Merson has not been handicapped, nor even hampered, by her disease. She is an avid triathlete and participated in the 2006 Ironman competition–a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run.
In September, she was appointed executive director of the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity, where she will emphasize the role of physical activity in preventive medicine. “The nation [is becoming] increasingly aware of the importance of physical activity in maintaining good health, avoiding preventable diseases, and effectively allocating health care resources,C[yen] NCPPA President Laurie Whitsel said in a statement.
Merson arrives from the Congressional Budget Office, where she was associate director for communications for more than a decade. At CBO, Merson made a habit of commuting to work on foot, about a 12-mile run, roundtrip. She attributes her preternatural stamina to a Spartan lifestyle. “I’m not talented as an athlete, but I’m determined.C[yen]
Earlier, when Merson was a reporter in the Capitol, she swore off the Senate Press Gallery’s junk food. “I used to sit right behind the candy machines. I prided myself on C* never, never going into that machine, even though I was pretty desperate a few times.C[yen]
Merson, 58, is from Long Island, N.Y., where both her parents were in the garment industry. After studying journalism at the University of Maryland, she joined the Bureau of National Affairs, where she wrangled with machinery that seems quaint in today’s world of tablets and smartphones.
“I can remember when we first put computers in the press galleries. We used RadioShack TRS-80s–the first really portable laptops. You had to put the telephone receiver into these cups, called ‘acoustic couplers.’ C[yen]
“The screen only showed you three lines! Once you were four of five [paragraphs] into your story, you couldn’t remember what you had said before. It wasn’t so bad for me, because I had experience dictating as a wire- service reporter. But late at night, reporters used to forget their [lead paragraphs].C[yen]
Next, it was on to CBO, where Merson dealt with constituents emboldened by the advent of the World Wide Web. “These days, the country feels that their government is much more theirs now,C[yen] she says. “They can see videos of everyone–not just the famous people or the leadership–but their own [members].C[yen]
In 2001, Merson nominated her father, Leo Merson, to be part of the torch run leading up to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The elder Merson, a basketball player, had boycotted the 1936 Olympic Games–something his daughter did not realize until she saw an exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Leo Merson died before he could participate in the relay, but Melissa Merson and her mother carried the torch in his place. On Christmas Eve 2001, they found themselves on a bus with other torchbearers in Queens, N.Y. Merson had just undergone her first chemotherapy session, and she had no hair.
One of the other torchbearers, a 9/11 survivor, said to Merson that he had saved more than a dozen people that day. At the time, Merson felt that the others in the relay were more deserving of the honor, but in retrospect, she says that her father was “a hero in his own way.C[yen]
She is periodically asked, “What’s the toughest endurance event you’ve done?C[yen] The answer is not the Ironman, nor a 50-mile Volkswalk she did in 1997.
“I always say, ‘Chemotherapy is the toughest endurance event.’ C[yen]
Christopher McCannell, newly appointed vice president of APCO Worldwide’s D.C. office, has always felt a calling to work in Washington. He says he inherited his love of politics from his grandparents as a child growing up in Portland, Maine; as soon as he graduated from college, he headed to D.C.
McCannell arrived in 1991 to work for the Democratic Policy Committee under then-Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine. McCannell has also served as press assistant to Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.; chief of staff and floor assistant to Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y.; and press secretary to Reps. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa. Off Capitol Hill, he was a director at Quinn Gillespie & Associates, a bipartisan government-relations firm, where his clients included Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
In 2008, McCannell became chief of staff to Rep. Michael McMahon, D-N.Y. He says it was particularly meaningful to him serve as McMahon’s head political, communications, and legislative adviser because of his New York ties–he attended Fordham University in New York City and built his professional career in the New York delegation.
But McCannell and the rest of McMahon’s team got a shock during the GOP takeover that marked the 2010 elections. “We never thought 2010 would be as bad as it was,C[yen] he says.
After McMahon lost his seat, McCannell decided a slight change of career was in order. He took a job as vice president of government affairs at Ameriprise Financial, where he handled legislative priorities related to the House Financial Services and Senate Banking committees. He also managed the implementation of the Dodd-Frank regulations with the group’s clients.
He decided to make the move to APCO, an independent communications consultancy with 29 locations across the globe, last month to broaden his horizons.
McCannell, 42, says he is looking forward to working with a diverse group of clients on a variety of issues in a bipartisan setting. Ameriprise Financial works with primarily American clients; at APCO, he will get the opportunity to work with foreign companies.
“We arrange ourselves around the table to help the clients, to provide them with the benefit and counsel that they need to advocate the results,C[yen] McCannell says. “That might mean working with Republicans C* or Democrats.C[yen]
Col. Joseph Schmitt
Col. Joseph Schmitt, nicknamed the “Energizer Bunny,C[yen] runs four to six miles every morning. Stationed at Kandahar Air Base last year, he worked 80 to 90 hours a week. And earlier in his career, he earned three master’s degrees–in construction engineering management, systems management, and national-resources strategy.
Nevertheless, Schmitt downplays his manic lifestyle, volunteering that he is an avid golfer. “My wife calls it my ‘one vice,’ C[yen] he says.
This month, Schmitt joined Dawson & Associates–a favorite destination for retired brass–as a senior adviser. He will be based in Naples, Fla.
Born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., Schmitt was drafted into the Army just as the Vietnam War was drawing to a close. After two years as an enlisted man–much of it spent near Fort Devens in Massachusetts–he was promoted to sergeant.
After graduating from Officer Candidates School, Schmitt was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers. He picked up an associate degree from Columbia College in central Missouri and then became a full-time student–”courtesy of the ArmyC[yen]–at the University of Missouri (Rolla).
In the ensuing years, Schmitt rose to the rank of colonel and collected three graduate degrees–from Oregon State University, the University of Southern California, and the National Defense University in Washington. His last assignment in uniform was as commander of the Corps’ Savannah District, where he oversaw construction operations at hydropower plants, deepwater ports, and regional waterways.
As a civilian, he was a county administrator in Florida–his adopted home state–for nine years and then was recruited by defense contractor DynCorp. The 62-year-old retired colonel was most recently chief of staff and project manager at the Defense Department’s Logistics Civil Augmentation Program.
Christopher Snow Hopkins and Lara Seligman