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Hill Climbers: D.C. Is ‘Like Politics in a Blender’

Four years ago, Abe Rakov was on track to graduate from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and become a sports reporter. But the college newspaper’s editor-in-chief decided to add Congressional intern to his résumé, and “everything has just kind of snowballed since then.”

Rakov, the new communications director for Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), had always been interested in politics, thanks to nightly political discussions at the dinner table with his parents and brother. 

Although he had completed four reporting internships while in college, he had kept the idea of pursuing a Congressional internship in the back of his mind. When the opportunity arose to intern in Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin’s Chicago office — located near Northwestern’s Evanston campus — Rakov jumped at the chance to work for the Illinois Democrat. “I was thinking about it for four years,” he remembered thinking, “I might as well try it this last year.”

Almost immediately, Rakov decided to change his career path. “After that first week working for Sen. Durbin,” he said, “I was pretty sold on, ‘Wow this is going to be something that I want to do for a while.’”

While in Durbin’s office and still a student at Northwestern, Rakov was presented with a unique opportunity, for which he should probably thank Northwestern’s student housing department. The university’s student government president, and Rakov’s roommate from freshman year, needed a deputy campaign manager for his older brother, Stephen Webber, who was running for Missouri state Representative. “With my monthlong experience working for Sen. Durbin, I said, ‘Sure, that sounds like a good idea,’” he said.

Rakov also served as campaign manager for Illinois state Rep. Elaine Nekritz’s re-election bid.

He went two-for-two, with Webber and Nekritz both winning.

He also spent a few months as a researcher at D.C. political consulting firm Angle & Associates. After nine months there, the South Florida native returned to Missouri to work for Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. 

“I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to get some government experience,” he said, although his time there also included some campaign work in Carnahan’s failed 2010 Senate race.

Rakov enjoyed the experience but was eager to return to D.C. when he was offered the position in Norton’s office. “So much goes on here,” he said. “It’s like politics in a blender.”

Although he’s working on a different kind of sideline now, Rakov said his sports reporter education has come in handy. “The skills I learned at Northwestern University are something that help me in every aspect of my job,” he said, “whether it’s using [Associated Press] style or writing quickly on a deadline.” 

Rakov explained that Northwestern also provided him with new-media skills — such as creating podcasts, editing video and using social media tools — that have helped him. 

And while he’s not writing about sports, he’s still a fan. “Probably three-quarters of my tweets involve sports,” he said, the majority of which pertain to his beloved Wildcats. “I’m an irrational Northwestern fan,” he admitted, a distinct labor of love. The school’s football team hasn’t won a bowl game since 1948, and its basketball team has never been to the NCAA tournament.

Now that he’s in the District, Rakov is trying to become more of a D.C. sports fan. Although he will always root for South Florida teams, Rakov said he will make a point of going to Washington sporting events. For now, he’s focused on finding a team to cheer for when his alma mater isn’t playing. “I still haven’t decided between Georgetown and Maryland,” he said.

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