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Hill Climbers: Staffer Takes Atypical Path to D.C.

Josh Drobnyk’s résumé, which includes stints in government, advertising and communications, proves his experience is all over the map — literally.

“New York was very intense, Chicago was very laid-back and San Francisco was liberal and outdoorsy,” Drobnyk said, reminiscing about his past jobs. “But D.C. is so engaging, especially on the Hill. Once you get behind that office door, the environment is incredibly friendly and fun.”

The 35-year-old is now communications director for Rep. Sander Levin. Drobnyk started with the Michigan Democrat on Jan. 10, but even though he has lived in Washington for almost six years, Drobnyk is still relatively new to the Hill. His first Congressional job was with then-Rep. Christopher Carney (D-Pa.) in November 2009.

Before becoming communications director for Carney, Drobnyk served several stints in advertising and journalism. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1998 and moved to New York to work as an account executive for an advertising agency. A year later, he transferred to San Francisco to work as a senior marketing associate.

But Drobnyk, who always had a passion for writing, wanted to break into the journalism field. He decided to attend Northwestern University and moved back to his native Chicago to work on a master’s degree in journalism. While in graduate school, Drobnyk did freelance work and editing for Afrique News Magazine.

Ultimately, his decision to move east was prompted by his then-fiancee, who was working as a lawyer in D.C. The two were high school sweethearts and attended their senior prom together.

Drobnyk managed to find a reporting gig with the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call, where he worked for a year. By 2005, he secured a job with the Washington Business Journal, which brought him closer to the District and his future wife.

“Like any reporter, you sort of just fall into things to a degree,” he said. “I fell into reporting on politics and government. In college, as an economics major, I never thought I would be covering politics in Washington.”

But by 2009, Drobnyk was ready to try something different again. He didn’t want to completely abandon his journalistic roots, so he began looking for communications jobs with lawmakers.

Even though his path to the Hill might seem atypical, Drobnyk says his background couldn’t be more beneficial in his current job.

“For anyone who does my job now, it’s really key to understand what types of questions reporters are going to ask, where they’re going with the story and what deadlines are like,” he said. “It’s really helpful when you’re trying to deal with a press issue.”

Toward the end of 2010, he also served as a spokesman for Carney’s re-election campaign. Although the Congressman was defeated in November, not all was lost on the campaign trail; Drobnyk learned the ins and outs of campaigning, something he said he always wanted to do.

“Working on the campaign was really fun for me because every political reporter loves to be able to see behind the scenes,” he said. “You learn so much just by experiencing it and being on the campaign trail.”

His most behind-the-scenes moment came from a run-in with President Bill Clinton in the most unlikely of places: the Senate press gallery bathroom. Clinton was at the Capitol to watch his wife, then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), be sworn in for a second term. But at some point, nature came calling.

“It’s not that crazy to see a high-profile politician on the Hill, but seeing him under those circumstances was just so funny. I had to do a double take,” Drobnyk said. “When he came out of the bathroom and saw all the reporters waiting, he said in that famous, slow Southern drawl, ‘Well, hi everyone.’ It was a total trip.”

Not all Hill moments are as exciting as brushes with former presidents, but that hasn’t stopped Drobnyk from being excited since he started with Levin’s office. He has been focused on handling all communications for the Congressman while establishing a relationship with the Detroit press, a task that hasn’t been too difficult for this former member of the press.

When asked whether he misses journalism, Drobnyk reflected for a moment before he said: “I’m still doing it. What I do now is very similar to reporting. There’s still a daily deadline, a sense of independence and a focus on communication, which is everything I loved about journalism.”

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