Hill Climbers: He Was Inspired by a Fiery Speech

Posted September 10, 2010 at 4:26pm

One of the perks afforded to Congressional staffers is the access to a slew of political power players and celebrities. For Andrew Wilson, this perk came in the form of the buttery basso voice of Isaac Hayes, the Oscar-winning artist more recently known for his role as Chef on the animated comedy series “South Park.”

“You know it’s going to be a good day when Shaft walks into your office,” said Wilson, who was recently hired by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. “He was great fun and just had this classic voice. It was one of those things where you think, ‘How did I find myself in this position where I’m getting a glass of water for Isaac Hayes?'”

The 29-year-old, who started as director of communications for the Illinois Democrat in August, landed the position through a revolving-door history with Jackson; he has intermittently held three gigs with the Congressman since 2002.

“It was more of a homecoming than a new beginning when I started here,” Wilson said. “There are a couple of new faces in the office, but also some really good friends I’ve worked with for years. I’ve mostly been getting reconnected with folks and getting up to speed on what’s been going on.”

The Covington, Wash., native attended George Washington University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English with minors in Japanese and psychology. But it was his experience listening to a speech orchestrated by the College Democrats that ultimately put him on the Capitol Hill track.

“Congressman Jackson had just written a book and was giving a speech about a series of constitutional amendments that would guarantee additional rights to all Americans, things like the right to health care, education and voting, which actually aren’t in the Constitution,” Wilson said. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s stuff I’ve never heard before.'”

Remembering Jackson’s fiery speech, Wilson pursued a yearlong internship with the lawmaker during his senior year of college. He was hooked on politics, and Jackson’s office in particular, from his first day at the internship.

“I actually got to work on one of those amendments that I thought was really cool from his speech. I called around and tried to get co-sponsorship for the bill,” Wilson said. “I sort of got the bug right away.”

After graduation, Wilson held a job with a local public-relations and lobbying firm before he secured a staff assistant position with Jackson. The new staffer worked for a year before he was temporarily transferred to the district office in Chicago.

“Living in Chicago helped so much, just to know the geography of the district and the personalities in some of these towns,” Wilson said. “There’s always something interesting going on in Illinois politics. It definitely keeps you hopping.”

Wilson, who had lived on the East and West coasts — and a city in between — had always hoped to add New York to his list of residencies. So when an opportunity arose to work for a travel and tourism PR firm in the Big Apple, Wilson didn’t hesitate.

“I shared an apartment down in the East Village and lived above this bar that became a really hot restaurant in New York,” Wilson said. “Everyone thinks it’s such a hard town, but I made great friends there and felt right at home.”

Although he relished his seven-month stint in New York, Wilson knew that D.C. was where his heart lay. He eventually returned to the District to work for Hill & Knowlton, a public affairs firm, but said: “I left a piece of my soul in New York.”

Wilson’s Hill homecoming didn’t come until early this August, when a hybrid position opened in Jackson’s office involving communications, media and legislation. (He jokes that starting during recess is a “good strategy” for future staffers out there.) Although he is content with where he has ended up, he admitted to not knowing where the door might lead him next.

“Every time I try to map something out, it goes completely haywire or some new opportunity comes up,” Wilson said. “People always want to talk about a five-year plan. Well I hope to be living and breathing in the next five years, and everything else will just work itself out.”

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