Susan Elsbree is vice president of the public relations and communications firm InkHouse.
My first job out of college—I studied politics—was working on the 1994 Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign of Mark Roosevelt. And I made the very basic mistake of, you know, actually believing that we could win. This was my big opportunity to work for a man whose last name was Roosevelt, so it was a really powerful experience. But believing that if you run a Democrat in Massachusetts you're going to win automatically—it was much before our country's turn purple, so lots of lessons there.
On election night I was the only person on the campaign who actually thought we still had a chance to win. Part of it is being young and being naive, but sometimes you have to be a little bit naive in order to get yourself through a grueling campaign or working in politics. If you're not naive, how do you go through these 20 hour days working for no money?
You have to find something that you believe in, and I really believed in this candidate who was all about education reform. For me I got the best experience of my life, and I would say to any young person who's thinking of working on a campaign, it has made me a much better person and helped me professionally.
We were running against what in the end turned out to be one of the most likable and popular governors of Massachusetts: Bill Weld. It was probably a shift in Massachusetts politics that we were a part of at that time, but we didn't really know it. There was a shift happening around us that we weren't able to see until the end.
We had won the Democratic convention and we had mayors and legislators who were supporting us. You have the establishment behind you, but then it turns out the people are not the way you thought they were. It was the wrong game at the wrong time. We misread the electorate before we even started and we didn't adapt to the way Massachusetts was changing. We raised money, we had a good issue, we were also talking about the Big Dig.
The interesting thing about Mark Roosevelt was he was incredibly smart, and he knew before the electorate knew that the Big Dig was going to be way over budget. But people didn't believe it. Fast forward 10 years later and he was right, so we were sort of our ahead of our time there.
My advice is actually to still be passionate or still do something even if you aren't going to succeed in the end, which is so trite. But fast forward—my next job is through a mutual connection that I had on the campaign and I end up working with what is going to be the longest-serving mayor in Boston's history, Tom Menino. After you get beaten up and you run this campaign and you lose, you're torn up inside and you spend a lot of time crying and reflecting, but I got right back into the arena.
Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I don't think I'll ever have a better job than the one I did right after the campaign. This working 60 hours a week for not much money and not a lot of recognition, I did because I'm passionate about politics and development. I think working on a campaign prepares you for a lot of life lessons like that.