Charles Schumer’s Adviser Is a Linchpin

Posted March 5, 2012 at 6:48pm

Imagine Sen. Charles Schumer, only serene and media-averse, and Mike Lynch, the New York Democrat’s chief of staff, comes into view.

As the Democratic Conference vice chairman has climbed the Senate ladder of influence and leadership, so, too, has Lynch. The Virginia native, 44, is considered Schumer’s most trusted adviser, ranking only below the Senator’s wife in clout. But he has gone largely unnoticed outside the powerful circle he inhabits, and that’s partly because he seems to have wanted it that way.

Still, he is described as a respected aide who can — and does — tell his boss “no” when he believes it necessary. Democratic operatives close to Schumer say Lynch’s calm demeanor is a perfect match for the Senator’s trademark intensity.

“Their personalities work well together. They’re just a very good fit; they balance each other,” said Carol Kellerman, who was Schumer’s best friend in college and his first chief of staff when he entered the House in 1981.

Lynch, a campaign trail and Capitol Hill veteran, counsels Schumer on matters ranging from parochial New York issues to Congressional legislation of national import and broad political and electoral strategy. The latter is the arena viewed as the Senator’s calling card during his rise to become the third-ranking Senate Democratic leader. Lynch also is intimately involved in the day-to-day running of the Schumer-led Democratic Policy and Communications Center, the Senate majority’s chief political research and messaging operation.

This includes working with Schumer and senior DPCC staff on strategic planning and message development and helping to ensure coordination with Senate Democratic legislative efforts. Lynch acts as a bridge between the DPCC and Members’ offices, communicating to his fellow chiefs of staff and making sure their concerns are heard and addressed on the inside. If there’s a problem, Lynch is considered the fixer.

Indeed, one source said Lynch became the go-to guy during last year’s government shutdown fights, giving Senate offices logistical advice on how they should operate when the government isn’t running.

Current and former Schumer aides were highly complimentary of Lynch. They said Lynch is effective as a campaign strategist and as legislative policy adviser — and that he is a competent manager of Schumer’s diverse Senate staff. In addition to running the DPCC, Schumer chairs the Rules and Administration Committee and sits on powerful panels such as Finance, Judiciary and Banking. Democratic chiefs and other operatives who deal with Lynch regularly say he deserves the accolades for keeping Schumer’s ship upright.

“When there’s a difficult issue, he gets involved and rolls up his sleeves. Anytime it is difficult and political, Mike is there and it seems to go well,” said Jeffrey Forbes, a lobbyist who served as Sen. Max Baucus’ (D-Mont.) chief of staff from 1999 to 2002 and as his staff director on the Finance Committee in 2003. “He has great instincts and an amazing manner.”

Lynch declined to be interviewed for this story, which hardly surprised those who have known him since he first joined Schumer in 1998, as field director for the New Yorker’s inaugural Senate campaign. Lynch spent the next four years as Schumer’s state director in his personal office and was promoted to chief of staff in 2002. He’s held that position since, except during a 2005 to 2007 European sabbatical to work for the National Democratic Institute.

“We are opposites, personality-wise, but there’s no one whose judgment I trust more. Mike Lynch is just about the best thing that’s happened to me in the Senate,” Schumer said in a statement provided to Roll Call.

Of course, no Democratic Senate chief is considered as powerful as David Krone, top aide to Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.). Krone, hired just after the 2010 midterm elections, is personally close with Reid and is considered to be almost on a peer-to-peer level with other Senators. Krone enjoys direct communications with Senators unmatched by other Democratic chiefs, often placing telephone calls directly to, and receiving them from, Members.

Though Lynch does not fill a similar role for Schumer, he often provides a direct line into leadership for other chiefs of staff. And Lynch tends to be at the center of all things Schumer, who has Reid’s ear and is considered a potential successor to the Majority Leader whenever Reid chooses to step aside.

Lynch, a graduate of James Madison University, began his political career as a receptionist for the late Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.). Lynch advised Aspin on legislation and later followed him to the Pentagon. He later served as President Bill Clinton’s Wisconsin coordinated campaign director and a Midwest political director for the Democratic National Committee. This experience has made Lynch well-rounded and hard to pigeonhole, said Democratic operatives who have followed his career.

These attributes, combined with his loyalty to Schumer, an ability to channel the Senator’s energy and a knack for keeping Schumer focused on specific priorities are what make Lynch so valuable — and potentially powerful should his boss continue to rise.

“The thing that impressed me more than anything else is how honest Mike is in providing advice to Sen. Schumer,” political strategist Geoffrey Garin said. “And Sen. Schumer is receptive to that from Mike. There are some people who tell their bosses what they want to hear. Mike tells Sen. Schumer what he needs to hear but does it in a way that Sen. Schumer really hears it.”