Hill Climbers: New York to Capitol Hill, Via Spain

Posted September 23, 2011 at 4:37pm

Liam Fitzsimmons graduated from high school sure that he would go to law school, but nine months in Spain convinced him otherwise.

“I thought I would go to law school, and I was pretty set on that,” said Fitzsimmons, who joined the office of Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) this summer as legislative director.

After graduating from high school in Watkins Glen, N.Y., Fitzsimmons deferred a college acceptance for a year to participate in a foreign exchange program. He moved in with a host family outside Barcelona and attended Spanish classes for nonspeakers at a local high school and university.

The study abroad experience sparked an interest in foreign affairs that overshadowed his law school ambitions. 

“I had a good time there,” he said, “and that got things rolling.”

“I liked the idea of thinking about how the world works and the way that countries engage with each other,” which led him to study political science at the State University of New York at Albany, he said.

After graduating from college, Fitzsimmons took to traveling again, this time visiting family members in Hawaii and Mexico. He also spent time rebuilding houses in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. 

“Once I had gotten that little travel bug out of my system, I moved to D.C.,” he said.

The new resident was already familiar with the District from his time as a summer intern at the State Department. “I knew there was a lot of interesting work here,” he said. “I thought I would come down to hunt for a job in international relations.”

His friends worked on the Hill, but he didn’t aspire to join them. “I was not thinking about working on the Hill at all,” Fitzsimmons said. “That was not on my short list.” 

He wanted to return to the State Department or work at the National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit that supports democratic institutions around the world.

But he struggled to find work, and a former internship supervisor suggested he reach out to Rep. Maurice Hinchey, whose New York district is near Fitzsimmons’ hometown. “I was open to ideas and open to meeting new people,” he said, so he set up a meeting with the Democrat’s office — and landed a position as staff assistant.

He started in summer 2006 and worked his way up to legislative assistant and deputy legislative director before moving to Slaughter’s office.

While working for Hinchey, Fitzsimmons was able to focus on the policy areas that continued to interest him, including foreign affairs and national security. 

“I spent a lot of time working on defense energy security issues and helped my boss found, launch and be the co-chair of the Defense Energy Security Caucus this year,” he said.

As a legislative director for Slaughter, Fitzsimmons is broadening his experience, with a particular focus on trade issues. “I am especially excited to be building on my appropriations and political experience by working closely with the Rules Committee,” of which Slaughter is the ranking member, he said.

Fitzsimmons said he is glad to be working in the policy areas that interest him. “To be able to work in that space on Capitol Hill is really gratifying,” he said.

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