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The Newcomers: Becoming a Chief

As newly installed Ohio Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy’s (D) chief of staff, Randy Borntrager expects to be working on “pretty much a combination of everything.” That might include jobs such as overseeing the staff budget or working with the press team, he figures. Though this is his first job on the Hill, Borntrager has a wide array of political and nonprofit experience to back him up.

The Cincinnati native, 33, first moved to Washington in 2000, looking to jump-start his career in politics. He soon discovered that finding a political job proved more difficult than he expected, so he moved into a youth hostel and did campaign work until landing a gig with a polling firm. Borntrager later spent time as a communications specialist for the International Special Olympics before moving back to Ohio in 2006.

That same year, he was working as the communications director for the Ohio Democratic Party and met Kilroy. Though Kilroy lost her House race to then-Rep. Deborah Pryce (R), Borntrager was impressed and saw Kilroy’s potential for 2008. After chatting with Kilroy about the election and expressing his interest in being involved, Borntrager was hired as her campaign manager.

Borntrager’s intuition proved to be correct with Kilroy’s victory, but it wasn’t until they were at a reception for new Members that the Congresswoman asked him to come to Washington.

“We were talking about her general philosophy of what she wanted the office to look like, and she said, ‘Oh, by the way, I want you to be my chief of staff,’” Borntrager recalled.

Now that he’s here, Borntrager says the skills he learned at his previous jobs will be useful while working for Kilroy.

“Managing a campaign and working at a nonprofit where you have a slim budget, you have to have an eye for detail and be able to set priorities,” Borntrager said.

In addition to building the budget, the new chief will be managing the staff and developing legislation plans. One key to making sure things run smoothly is staying focused and on message, something any former communications director should know.

“You have to have an eye on the endgame of where you want to be,” he said. “Make sure everything you do is related to Mary Jo.”

Borntrager doesn’t seem daunted by his new position so far. But there is always the occasional hiccup — like fielding an overwhelming number of e-mails, or navigating the layout of the Congressional office buildings.

“The biggest challenge has been finding my car in the garage,” he said.

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