Steve Elmendorf ’82

DEGREE: B.A. in history

JOB TITLE: President of Elmendorf Ryan, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm; senior adviser and chief of staff to Dick Gephardt, former U.S. Representative from Missouri and House Majority Leader, from 1992-2004; former deputy campaign manager for John Kerry during the 2004 presidential election; recently named to The New Republic’s list of “Washington’s Most Powerful, Least Famous People.”

REPORTER: How did you become interested in pursuing a career in politics?
ELMENDORF: When I was in high school, I had an internship with a political campaign in New Jersey. I continued this internship during college. At Trinity I was also involved in campus politics; I was president of the Interfraternity Council and editor of the Tripod. My first-year seminar was with Clyde McKee, a professor in political science, and I took a lot of courses with Jack Chatfield, who was one of my favorite professors. A lot of his courses focused on more recent American history and centered a lot on government and politics. College definitely heightened my interest.

REPORTER: What is Elmendorf Ryan?
ELMENDORF: Elmendorf Ryan is a government relations/lobbying firm. We represent mostly Fortune 100 companies and help them figure out how to interact with political leaders in Washington, D.C. In general terms, we usually work on passing bills, preventing bills from passing, or trying to get Congress, the White House, or the administrative agencies in Washington to work in favor of our clients.

REPORTER: How did you make the switch from political adviser to lobbyist?
ELMENDORF: In 2004 I was deputy campaign manager for John Kerry, and he didn’t get elected present. If he had been elected, I would have gone with him to work in the White House. Democrats were the minority party in congress at that time, so I went into the private sector. This happens quite often. A lot of people work on Capitol Hill, for Congress or political campaigns, but eventually they go explore the private sector for various reasons. It wasn’t a difficult transition for me. I like business and am interested in what corporations do. I am basically doing the same thing I did before, but working at a different step in the process. I am impacting what government does every day, and I get to help people from outside the world of politics figure out how government works.

REPORTER: What has been your most fulfilling accomplishment during your political career?
ELMENDORF: I think the thing I am most proud of is when I worked for Democratic House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president, on the 1993 budget act. It can be argued that it led to a balanced budget and a pretty robust economy for many years following. I was in charge of getting 218 votes to pass the bill, which meant identifying who we needed to vote yes and determining the substance of the legislation in order to gain the support we needed. While that was a completely partisan project, I also worked for Gephardt in 2001 when George W. Bush was president. In the months after September 11, all of us—Democrats and Republicans, the White House and Congress—set aside partisanship and worked together on tough issues that were important to the country.

REPORTER: How does it feel to be recognized in articles like The New Republic’s list of “Washington’s Most Powerful, Least Famous People”?
ELMENDORF: I was very flattered. It’s nice to have people think that you’re important…even if you’re not. I’ve never had any interest in being famous. When you come to Washington, you hope to do something that will help people. That’s what I’m doing now, and it’s nice to be noticed for that.