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Hill Climbers: Phish Out of Water

For those familiar with the band Phish, the halls of Congress are probably not where you’d picture the group’s frontman, Trey Anastasio. But that’s just where Arthur Mandel, Phish fan and legislative assistant to Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), met him.

[IMGCAP(1)]Mandel recalled meeting Anastasio at a reception in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, where the musician had come out to support the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

“It was an interesting context to meet him in,— Mandel said. “One of the last places you’d expect to see him is in a room full of district attorneys.— (Anastasio was arrested in 2006 for driving under the influence of drugs.)

Meeting notorious figures is just one of the perks of being a Hill staffer, Mandel said. The 24-year-old from West Orange, N.J., has been working in Washington, D.C., since his sophomore year of college, when he interned with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He also interned with Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) in 2006.

Mandel graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in government and politics and a minor in astronomy in 2007. He had worked with Pascrell on the committee and was hired to the Congressman’s personal office as a staff assistant when he finished school.

After putting in time in that position and as a legislative correspondent, Mandel was promoted to legislative assistant in March.

[IMGCAP(2)]Mandel said he had long had an interest in government, but through his internship experiences, he discovered he was definitely in the right place.

“The people you meet on the Hill, not just the Members of Congress or the high, big government officials, but the other staffers — everyone is smart, intelligent and hardworking. That was an environment I could see myself in,— he said.

Kristen Molloy was also recently promoted, from staff assistant to legislative correspondent and scheduler. Like Mandel, she recently had a celebrity encounter of her own: seeing first lady Michelle Obama leaving a ceremony in the Capitol honoring Sojourner Truth.

Though Molloy didn’t get to speak with the fashionable first lady, she did catch a glimpse of her outfit and said she “looked fabulous.—

“It wasn’t sleeveless, surprisingly,— she said.

Molloy, who is from Metuchen, N.J., started in Pascrell’s office as a staff assistant in February and took on her new role in April. The Northwestern University graduate interned in the New Jersey state House during college, where she got her first taste of the life of a staffer.

“It was really great to get to interact with people who actually use government services,— she said.

Having spent four years in Chicago, Molloy knew she wanted to move back to the East Coast and thought Washington would be ideal. She interned with Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) from October 2008 until January, and then was hired by Pascrell.

She has gotten accustomed to life in D.C. and is playing softball this year with What Exit?, the New Jersey Democrats’ softball team. (Mandel is also on the team.)

“I’m in no way athletic. I was peer-pressured into it,— she said. “It’s a cliché thing to do, but it’s fun.—

Jessica Abraham is the newest member of Pascrell’s office. She is following Molloy as staff assistant.

Abraham first heard about the job opening through her uncle, who knew Pascrell’s chief of staff, and jumped at the opportunity to move to D.C.

“I’m young, and I just decided to try different things right out of college,— she said.

Abraham is from Montclair, N.J., and was raised by her uncle there and in New York. She went to college at Clark University in Massachusetts and has developed a passion for travel. Her interest in visiting other countries was inspired by her own multicultural background, she said. Her mother is Lebanese, Palestinian, German and English, and her father is Filipino.

Although Abraham seems to be leaving her options open as far as long-term career plans go, she is making the most of the opportunities she has right now.

“I especially enjoy when we’re in session and it’s busy,— she said. “I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.—

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