NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — Although West Essex High School Alumna Julie McClain says working for Hillary Clinton for America is an extremely time-consuming job, she wouldn’t want to have it any other way.
“I eat, sleep, and breathe Hillary Clinton right now,” said McClain. “But I feel very lucky to be part of making history. It's challenging and difficult and extremely exciting.”
McClain, who is currently the communications director for Clinton’s Maryland campaign and also held the New Hampshire press secretary position for Clinton the previous year, came to the realization that she wanted to be involved in politics at a young age. She furthered her love for politics at the University of Pennsylvania, where she took an introductory course on the Introduction of American politics her freshman year.
McClain said being at West Essex was a wonderful “stepping stone” that gave her life skills that have helped her through all of her work in politics and media.
“My U.S. History courses, taught by Mr. Boyd and Mr. Woodworth, really sparked my interest in government,” she said. “As did a few of my extracurriculars, like class council and the Lincoln-Douglass debate team.”
History teacher Mr. Woodworth, who was the adviser for the Lincoln-Douglass debate team at the time, said he remembers McClain as a participant who spoke confidently about the debate resolution topic and helped to make the team very successful.
“During her time at West Essex she was a top student with a very friendly personality,” said Woodworth. “She had natural talents that would lend themselves to her current position. I am definitely proud of what she’s accomplished so far in her professional life, and I’m sure that she’s capable of even more.”
In the beginning, however, McClain said she had a rough start before she eventually climbing higher on the political ladder and had the opportunity to work with one of the nominees for the 2016 election.
McClain said that in order to get where she is now, she had to intern and go into as many political positions to make herself stand out from others. Since then McClain has worked as communications director of the New Hampshire Democratic Party; various press secretary-related positions for congressional and senate races in Hawaii, Nevada and Pennsylvania; and as policy assistant for Andrew Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaign in 2010.
The only way for McClain to obtain her dream job in Washington D.C. was to start out as an unpaid intern during summers at University of Pennsylvania. According to McClain, she did a little bit of everything, including interning for Sen. Frank Lautenberg of NJ, a New York City councilor, and then Andrew Cuomo's gubernatorial campaign.
“After my first campaign, I had to take an unpaid position,” said McClain. “I had a hard time finding a job in D.C. and wanted to work in communications—a field I hadn't worked in previously. Sometimes you need to take a step backwards in order to move forwards.”
McClain said any students who are interested in the political world should take as many internships as possible. Certain people will enjoy campaigning more than working in Capitol Hill, but trying everything and staying in contact with everyone is always helpful.
“In politics, people are always helping each other out. You never know when someone may be able to help you in the future,” said McClain.
Q & A Session with Julie McClain
Q: What political position do you hold? Where did you attain your degree?
A: I am a state press secretary for Hillary Clinton for America. For the better part of the last year, I was the New Hampshire Press Secretary.
Q: Are you happy with your current position? What did you have to do to get to where you are today?
A: I love my job. Working for Hillary Clinton on the New Hampshire Primary was one of the most exciting and challenging experiences of my professional life. Before that, I held the following positions:
-Communications Director of the New Hampshire Democratic Party (March 2014 to November 2014)
-Press Secretary for Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii (March 2013 to March 2014)
-Deputy Press Secretary for Shelley Berkley for Senate in Nevada (December 2011 to November 2012)
-Press intern for Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz from PA (April 2011 to November 2011)
-Policy Assistant for Andrew Cuomo for Governor (July 2010 to January 2011)
Q: Do you think West Essex prepared you? In high school what courses did you take on politics? Did you do anything outside of school related to this?
A: West Essex was a stepping stone for me--without a doubt. It gave me some of the life skills that I find are extremely important working in politics.
Q: When did you realize you wanted to be involved in politics? Was at an early age? Who encouraged you?
A: My U.S. History courses (taught by Mr. Boyd and Mr. Woodworth!) really sparked my interest in government. As did a few of my extra curriculars, like class council and the Lincoln-Douglas debate team.I'm from North Caldwell.I realized I wanted to go into politics after I took Introduction to American Politics during my freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania. My parents encouraged me by supporting my desire to try out different unpaid internships over the summers, which helped me figure out what I wanted to do (campaigns).
Q: Do you think there's a stereotype in politics in which men are seen as better as the opposite sex and more equipped to hold these kinds of positions?
A: I don't think that there's a stereotype that men are better. In general, the only instances of gender bias I come up against are that men are seen as more authoritative and "in charge." I have found that some reporters tend to initially respect men on the campaign more than women. It takes me a little bit longer to establish myself. That said, I combat that misconception by working hard to be good at my job.
Q: What struggles did you have to go through to get to where you are today? What was your first job, how have you progressed in the political ladder?
A: I started out as an unpaid intern in a bunch of different jobs during my summers in college. I interned for Senator Frank Lautenberg of NJ, a New York city councilor, and then basically did a little bit of everything on Andrew Cuomo's gubernatorial campaign until I got my foot in the door. After my first campaign, I had to take an unpaid position because I had a really hard time finding a job in DC and wanted to work in communications--a field I hadn't worked in previously. Sometimes you need to take a step backwards in order to move forwards.
Q: For students who are looking to become involved in this field what do you suggest they should start doing? Do you know of any internships or a way for them to build their political resume?
A: For students interested in getting involved in politics, I'd recommend taking an internship and trying out all different fields. Some people like campaigns, others are more suited to working on Capitol Hill. There are different departments within offices too (I work for the communications department, for example). I would say to try it all and keep in touch with everyone you meet along the way. In politics, people are always helping each other out. You never know when someone may be able to help you in the future.
Q: On your down time what do you enjoy to do that is or isn't politics based? Favorite books, television show, etc?
A: I watch TV whenever I can! Currently, I love The Americans, Broad City and Madam Secretary. Like everyone in politics, I LOVE The West Wing and watch repeats when I can.
Q: Is this an extremely time consuming job? Why do you like it so much?
A: Yes, I eat, sleep, and breathe Hillary Clinton right now. But I feel very lucky to be part of making history. It's challenging and difficult and extremely exciting.
A Note From Mr. Woodworth:
“During her time at WE she was a top student with a very friendly personality. She had natural talents that would lend themselves to her current position. I am definitely very proud of what she has accomplished so far in her professional life and I am sure that she is very capable of even more.”
This article was written by Melanie Montesdeoca, a West Essex High School sophomore, as part of the TAPinto West Essex internship program.