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Hill Climbers: What Recess?

If recess was once the ideal time to ease into a new job in Washington, that idea is long gone today. With lawmakers scurrying across their districts and with big legislative initiatives looming, the perpetual grind of Washington did not abate in August. Not only did lawmakers gain little rest, but Congressional staffers were afforded little reprieve.

[IMGCAP(1)]But for the optimistic-minded staffers, recess still provides an opportunity to adjust to the demands of a new job.

Judith Kargbo, who became press secretary for Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) on Aug. 10, exudes good nature when she discusses her job. “As a press secretary, you really don’t ever get a recess,— she said. “But it’s sweet because I am just happy to be back working. Capitol Hill is like the fast treadmill, but it’s also like no other place.—

Perhaps that positive attitude comes from the fact that Kargbo, 24, is familiar both with the toils of working in Washington and the struggle of trying to get back on the Hill. She worked as press secretary for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) from June 2007 until February of this year and spent the summer at home in New Castle, Del., looking for openings.

Luckily for Kargbo, a 2006 graduate of the Catholic University of America, the search paid off with a job that she found easy to adjust to. Clarke, 44, is relatively young as Members go, which Kargbo said shows in the day-to-day work. “Shortly after I started, I sent Rep. Clarke a text message and was totally blown away when she responded back with a text,— Kargbo said. “I was used to having to call any time I wanted to get a hold of a Member.—

Other little things also stick out since she has come back to the Hill, Kargbo said. “With the last Member I worked for, whenever the staff was in the district, there was always a person to drive us around,— Kargbo said. “Over recess, Rep. Clarke drove us around Brooklyn, which totally shocked me.—

[IMGCAP(2)]Even beyond her appreciation for having a boss proficient at driving around New York City, Kargbo said this reflects her new boss’s demeanor. “Rep. Clarke expects the best out of her staff, but she is very laid back at the same time,— Kargbo said. “She is confident in her ability to lead, but at the same time, she is humble enough to share the spotlight with others, which is something that few politicians can do.—

Although Kargbo was raised in Delaware, she quickly beams with pride in her birthplace of Brooklyn, which helped her to identify with Clarke, whose district encompasses much of the borough. “I am among the first generation in my family to be born in America,— Kargbo said. “Like a number of people in Brooklyn, my parents were immigrants. My father was born in Sierra Leone while my mother was born in Haiti.—

As is the story of many immigrant families, Kargbo attributed her parents’ sacrifice to where she is today. “It’s hard to explain because I was so used to seeing it every day growing up. but I was always told to that I would go to college, and I knew that they were working hard to make that happen,— Kargbo said. “The little things stick out, looking back. I remember my mom and dad working shift after shift so I could go to school.—

Kargbo said she hopes to one day visit her relatives in Sierra Leone and Haiti.

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