Over the past fifteen years, hundreds of alumni from the Obama campaigns and White House have built on their commitment to public service. Some have become doctors, others educators, but a select few have reaffirmed their dedication to building strong and resilient communities through the power of state and local government.
We recently connected with five alumni working in a range of state and local government positions about their current roles and the values they’ve carried from their time working as part of the 44 Alumni community. Learn more about them below.
2012: Deputy State Director for Paid Field, Obama For America ‘12
Recent: Chief of Staff - 5th District, Cook County, IL Government
Brady Chalmers entered into the world of politics as a volunteer. In 2007, he moved from his hometown of Chicago to the DC Metro Area to learn more about politics and government action in real time as a canvasser in Northern Virginia. Taking his knowledge and passion, Brady eventually became the paid field team lead for the St. Louis region on the Obama 2012 campaign.
“Even back then, I spent my time communicating with voters in places like Ferguson, Missouri on how much President Obama needed their help…we went into areas of St.Louis that no one else wanted to work in because oftentimes, those people, my people – primarily black, working-class, and low-income – needed an administration that would fight for them.”
After his work on the campaign, Brady pursued a career in public service, specifically looking towards opportunities to support his community through local government. In addition to his tenure in constituent services for a Chicago alderman, Brady formerly served as the Chief of Staff for Cook County, Illinois’ 5th District.
In his position, Brady worked with direct service programs for low income students and on programs such as the Medical Debt Relief Initiative – which took a $12 Million investment from American Rescue Plan funds and worked with hospitals to forgive over $280 million in medical debt for Cook County residents.
For Brady, the work that supports community members in his native hometown makes the harder days more bearable: “Programs like these, where I know we've made a direct impact on people, are the reason I love local government.”
Brady’s Advice for People Interested in Working in Government
“Go into government because you want to do the right thing. You can change lives every day. But not every day will be a good day and every victory comes after many defeats.”
2008: Director of Special Projects & Press Aide, Obama for America ‘08
Now: Director of the Department of Transportation, City of Santa Monica, California
Galvanized by the words and leadership of President Obama, Anuj Gupta took a leave of absence from his position at a law firm in Los Angeles to volunteer for the 2008 California primary. Later, Anuj continued on to campaign staff roles in the Texas, Indiana, and South Dakota primaries, and then to Virginia for the general election.
Following his time on the campaign trail, Anuj came to Washington and served in President Obama’s Administration, first on the nominations team in the Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice and then in the White House as Associate Staff Secretary. While working in the administration, Anuj got a first hand look at what it takes to develop policy and the incredible importance of diversity in political representation:
“The community organizing model to achieve change – focusing on storytelling, the power of person-to-person engagement, and the guiding principles of Respect/Empower/Include – have shaped my commitment to inclusive and meaningful public engagement.”
After leaving the White House, Anuj returned to California and began working in city government. In 2017, he assumed the role of Deputy City Manager for Santa Monica, spearheading policy initiatives on homelessness and mobility, and guiding the city's economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic Opens in a new tab . Today, he leads as Santa Monica’s Director of the Department of Transportation, overseeing a team charged with offering the Santa Monica community an array of mobility options that address climate change and reduce traffic congestion. These initiatives include the Big Blue Bus transit service – a project that installs zero-emission, fully electric fleet of buses – and a pedestrian and bike-friendly redesign of Santa Monica’s roadways. Opens in a new tab
“I grew up as the youngest child of immigrants from India, and my entire immediate family -- both parents and both older sisters -- chose medicine as their profession. I saw each of them making a vital difference for the countless patients they served, and it made me consider how I too could make an impact on people’s lives in my own way. While I knew early on that I had different aspirations, through public service I have connected with my own ability to make change to improve the lives of the most vulnerable around the country and in my own community.”
Anuj’s Advice for People Interested in Working in Government
“Be open to opportunity, and don’t get too attached to one fixed path or plan. I walked away from a stable, well-paying job at a prestigious law firm to take a chance on an initially unpaid campaign role in 2008, but not for a moment could I have imagined or planned that this decision would eventually lead to me working in the West Wing of the White House or traveling with President Obama. While you may not know what waits behind every door, if you let your values and passions guide you, and commit to causes and leaders you truly believe in, you will rarely make a wrong move.”
2008: Deputy Director of Religious Affairs, Obama for America ‘08
Now: Secretary, Maryland Department of Service & Civic Innovation
Early in his career, Paul worked in then-Senator Obama's Capitol Hill office before transitioning to Chicago as Deputy Director of Religious Affairs for Obama for America in May 2007. In his role, Paul was tasked with engaging local and denominational faith/belief leaders around some of President Obama’s campaign issues. Following the campaign, Paul was asked to join the White House Office of Public Engagement, where he worked with faith leaders, public service organizations, and others to support the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Program.
During President Obama’s second term, Paul was appointed Director of AmeriCorps VISTA at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) in 2014 and then Acting Director of the Community Relations Service at the Department of Justice.
Today, Paul works alongside a team of Maryland leaders – and 44 Alum Tess Hetzel – as the first-ever Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Service & Civic Innovation Opens in a new tab . The department, established through the (SERVE) Act of 2023 works to promote opportunities for young people in the space of service and volunteerism throughout Maryland.
In his journey, Paul cites the values of the Obamas as guiding light for the work he continues to do:
“They [the Obamas] exemplified excellence in public service and proved that kindness and civility doesn't have to be sacrificed in order to work at the highest levels of government. For someone like me who wasn't born into privilege, they also embodied the hope that we don't have to be limited by the circumstances we're born into and that the halls of power have a place for all of us.”
Paul’s Advice for People Interested in Working in Government
“Maryland has a number of vacancies at all levels of government. There are amazing people that work here, opportunities to work on relevant challenges and leading edge solutions to improve our society. Those of us in the public sector should take every opportunity to remind those looking for purposeful work that government service is a preferred destination."
2008: North Carolina Field Organizer, Obama for America 2008
Now: Chief of Staff for the Maryland Department of Service and Civic Innovation
At 19 years old, Tess Hetzel dropped out of college to join the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. From that point on she knew her path lay in public service and community organizing. During her time on the campaign, she worked to organize western, rural areas of North Carolina, which helped bring about a decisive victory for the campaign.
“Organizing in rural Western North Carolina was one of the hardest things I had ever done and the thing I am most proud of in my life. Despitemultiple vandalizations and threats of all kinds we persisted.”
Following her time on the campaign, Tess went back to school, while still keeping a foot in politics. She went on to intern in the East Wing of the White House, and subsequently worked at the White House Visitors Office after graduating. Her time spent within the administration and on the campaign shaped her decision to work in government and provide support for millions of people.
“Working with the Obamas and the incredible team showed me the power of public service and the responsibility we have to be civically involved. Over the years I've loved being able to shine a light and uplift the voices of people doing incredible work all over the US.”
Tess continued on her path of public service, working for AmeriCorps, promoting national service and volunteerism, through the end of President Obama’s second term. Now – in a reunion of two 44 Alumni – Tess recently began her position as Chief of Staff for the Maryland Department of Service and Civic Innovation, continuing her efforts to support young people as they pursue opportunities for workforce development and service in the state. “Secretary Monteiro and I worked together during the Obama Administration at the White House and AmeriCorps. It’s been an honor to continue that work, building a department from scratch, launching a first-in-the-nation Service Year Option program, that honors the values we upheld in the administration. We’ve done so much in the first couple of months and we’re just getting started!”
Tess’ Advice for People Interested in Working in Government
“You can find some of the most passionate and inspiring folks working in public service. Find those people, figure out how to make the change and GO FOR IT.”
2009: Special Assistant to The White House Chief of Staff
Now: Ridgefield NJ Council Member and Chief of Staff to Bergen County, NJ Executive Jim Tedesco
Like Brady and Anuj, Craig’s tenure with the Obamas began as a 2008 volunteer. He quickly worked his way up, becoming an organizer in his native New Jersey for the general election. Following his time on the ‘08 campaign, Craig joined the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence, where he was part of the team of writers charged with drafting policy responses, presidential proclamations, and messages to constituents. He credits the experience with introducing him to several lifelong friends, and eventually making it possible for him to take a position serving as Special Assistant to two White House Chiefs of Staff, Bill Daley and Jack Lew. He later spent several years as an appointee in the Department of Interior.
After President Obama’s term ended, Craig moved back to New Jersey where he held multiple positions in New Jersey state government. In 2017, he joined the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, working with the state’s Natural and Historic Resources program, and eventually served as New Jersey’s first Administrator for Urban State Parks. Still this wasn’t enough for Craig. Motivated by the tireless work of his peers and inspired by the legacy of President Obama, Craig decided to run for local office in 2021, and won.
“As a Councilman, I have found that what smaller governments may occasionally lack in scale or complexity of problems, it more than makes up for in the speed with which progress can be made and solutions explored…the opportunity to take action on behalf of and work to improve the lives of your neighbors, even in modest ways, has been extraordinarily rewarding.”
In addition to his work as a Council Member in Ridgefield, today Craig serves as Chief of Staff to the County Executive of Bergen County, Jim Tedesco.
Craig’s Advice for People Interested in Working in Government
“DO IT! It might not end up being for you, and that's okay, but you won't know if you don't give it a chance. I think the best case for our democratic republic writ large is made through effective government, which can be achieved by thoughtful and caring leaders serving at every level, doing their best on behalf of their neighbors and communities.”