Georgetown Alumni Politicians Reflect on Their Recent Campaigns

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In 2016, many Georgetown alumni showed their commitment to being women and men for others by campaigning for U.S. political offices. From grassroots efforts to major campaigns, these Hoyas set out to contribute to and make positive changes in their communities and their country. Learn from a few of these remarkable leaders what it was like to run for office in 2016, as well as what inspired them to want to give back in the form of public service.

Image of Hon. Francis Rooney

The Hon. Francis Rooney (C’75, L’78, Parent’13) - (R) Naples, Florida
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida's 19th district
For The Hon. Francis Rooney (C’75, L’78, Parent’13), the thought of running for Congress to represent Florida never occurred to him until, unexpectedly, the current congressman decided he was not going to seek reelection. Rooney, an accomplished businessman, is CEO of Rooney Holdings, Inc., a building and construction management company working in the oil and gas, manufacturing, aviation, transportation, retail and environmental industries, and also CEO of Manhattan Construction Group, which engages in road and bridge construction, civil works and building construction and construction management in the United States, Mexico, and the Central America/Caribbean region. More

Although this was his first time running for an elected office, this was not his first experience with politics. From 2005 through 2008, he served as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, meeting with Vatican officials in Rome to discuss important issues and provide opportunities to spread understanding and appreciation for the United States. His experience made him a frequent guest commentator on top national broadcasts and cited in national publications, providing analysis on national politics, foreign affairs, and the global diplomatic influence of the Holy See.

Rooney’s Catholic and Jesuit values and teachings have long been a part of his everyday life and helped inform his role as ambassador; similarly, he feels they will continue to play a vital role in this new position.

“Jesuits teach you to think about all sorts of problems,” he said. His wife Kathleen (F’77) also attended Georgetown and shares the principles they learned as students. “The Jesuits teach you to find God in everything. Those teachings have helped shaped everything that [my wife and I] do.”

His platform focused on a number of conservative issues such as tax reform, economic growth, stronger national borders, and a limited government, as well as local Florida issues like Everglades Restoration.

Job creation is an issue he is especially passionate about. “With the rapid expansion of new technology and jobs in the service industry, there are a lot of jobs available that can be done if we can get a workforce that is prepared for the jobs we have today,” he said.

His decision to run for the office was based, he said, on “pressing issues like the need for less regulated free enterprise, which is very important to Florida, a state which is deeply involved in international trade.” He also hopes to be “a strong voice for peace through strength of foreign policy,” he said, “which is based upon protecting and nurturing U.S. interests.”

For Rooney, running his first campaign was surprisingly fun. “It was a lot more fun than I expected, and my family was very supportive. We met a lot of people in our district, and that was the most enjoyable part of the campaign,” he said.

Rooney also hopes to also inspire younger generations of Hoyas who are interested in politics, public service, and giving back.

“There are many ways to give back: charity, nonprofit work, social work, and political office. Active, informed citizenry is very important and one of the greatest ways to take part in that is by developing those areas,” he said.  

Beth McCann (L’74) (D) - Denver, Colorado
Denver District Attorney
Beth McCann was elected Denver’s district attorney, and she is the first woman to hold the office. Previously, McCann served as Colorado’s state representative for more than eight years and was also a member of the Colorado Legislative Women's Caucus.

McCann credits her parents with inspiring her to want to serve her community.

“My father was a career military man--he was a colonel in the U.S. Army--and his life was dedicated to public service. My mother was a teacher who was also interested and involved in public service, so I learned from them the importance of giving back,” said McCann.  More

McCann recalls her time at Georgetown Law with excitement. “I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Georgetown. I loved being in D.C. because I had such an interest in government,” she explained. “I was at Georgetown when the Watergate hearings were taking place and there were a lot of discussions in the Law Center about what was going on. It gave me a vehicle to get more involved in law and government and it was a great experience.” 

McCann worked as chief deputy district attorney in the Denver D.A.’s office, served as the manager of public safety under Mayor Wellington Webb, and worked as head of civil litigation and employment at the Colorado attorney general’s office. Yet, even with her considerable experience, McCann states that her campaign for district attorney was a difficult one. 

“It was a tough, long campaign, with a three-way primary,” she said. “Many people don’t know much about the district attorney position and getting people to pay attention to that office, especially during the time of the presidential race, can be quite hard.”

Despite the tough road, McCann ended up with 74 percent of the votes over her opponent.

“We have broken one glass ceiling in Denver,” she told the Denver Post after her win.

As she begins her new role, she feels strongly about taking a progressive approach to criminal justice reform and believes that many of her peers nationwide are looking to do the same.

“I want to be more involved in the prevention of crime--to keep young people from making bad choices. My personal belief is that the more we can do to provide opportunities such as employment, housing, etc. for our residents, the less likely they are to get involved with crime. The goal is to determine ‘How do we break the cycle of crime?’ not just ‘How do we put people in jail?’” she said. “Personally, it would be satisfying if I am able to make a difference in the amount of crime in our district and also to help those in need of mental health and substance abuse treatment.”

She plans to make Denver a leader in national criminal justice reform and will seek improvements in police accountability and juvenile justice. By creating more community- and school-based programs, McCann hopes to focus on early intervention for young people who are at risk or who have already entered the criminal justice system. 

“I really want to be out in the community more, along with the deputy district attorneys, so that we are talking with people and listening to the people--and so that they can speak to us about what’s important to them, things like transparency and accountability. We want to make sure that we don't have an implicit bias in the way that we handle cases.

This was McCann’s second time running for the office of district attorney. She stated that losing her first bid for the office in 2004 was hard for her, but it taught her that sometimes a different path is necessary to reach your goal. She learned that if you feel strongly about working in public service, you should persevere and keep working to make a difference.

“I feel like I’m The Little Engine That Could,” she said laughing. “People tend to be more successful if they really believe in what they’re doing. Running for office can be all-consuming and it’s hard. You have to put yourself out there and people are critical of you. In order to go through that, it needs be something you really want to do.”

Ian Conyers (C’10, SCS’15) (D) - Detroit, Michigan
Michigan State Senator
Originally from Detroit, Ian Conyers had just decided to move back after living and working in Washington, D.C. when he saw what he called, “nonsense coming out of Lansing, Michigan a few years ago,” referring to a string of scandals and misconduct by state lawmakers in the area.

“Some of the lawmakers were not community-focused. They were focused on the budget, but not on connectivity and opportunity for the people in the area,” said Conyers. “I realized there was a need that hadn’t been addressed in a long while. There were many faulty things happening that were a byproduct of running a government like a business instead of focusing on people.” More

Conyers began his campaign last year by running for the office of state representative. However, halfway through the race, a Senate seat became open when then-Sen. Virgil Smith resigned after a felony conviction. Conyers decided to change tack and level-up the campaign for the newly available position of senator.

It was a nine-way race in the primary, and the call of the opposition, he said, was always that he was “too young” and “inexperienced,” despite his record and career indicating otherwise. However, the opposition’s tactics proved ineffective.

“We dispelled the myth that seniors and middle-aged voters don’t believe in young people,” he said. Conyers believed that people were open to voting for him because he and his team “made it a point to talk about things they were going to do. Previously, there had been a string of people not doing what they were supposed to do.”

Conyers previously worked in the Office of Community Relations and Services for former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and is an alumnus of President Barack Obama’s Organizing for America. 

“At Georgetown, when I studied political science, I learned about the people, practice, and apparatus of government. Then for my master’s degree, I studied urban and regional planning, which focuses on all that can be done through government and real policies to aid issues like housing, transportation, etc. within the city and state.”

“Being able to see those professors, who were experts in their fields, actually working in those areas and to learn from their experience in real time was invaluable,” said Conyers. 

Jesuit values also play a major role in not only Conyers’ life, but in his approach to public service. “I’m a 10-year Jesuit man. Even before Georgetown, I went to a Jesuit high school. The idea of cura personalis is the entire focus of what our senatorial campaign was about--we approached problems by talking to people, listening to people, and giving them a connection [with government representatives] that they never had before.”

Conyers is eager for others to join him in his work for the state of Michigan. “We need to inspire more people,” he said. “I want to help build the pipeline of talented people who want to make a difference of our state.”

He hopes to begin to do so by serving on some committees. Conyers is minority vice-chair of both the Senate Transportation Committee and the Senate Economic Development and International Investment Committee, and also serves as a member of the Senate Energy and Technology Committee and the Senate Banking and Financial Services Committee. Each of these committees has a special relevance to the communities he serves. 

“Many communities have been left out of opportunities because they have transportation issues,” he said. “Economic development and international investing can change the way different economic groups interact with one another, while banking and finance provide important access to capital for underserved communities in the areas of business and real estate. As we move towards a third industrial revolution, we need to look at the fields of energy and technology to help understand how these resources can be used to benefit the community.”

Conyers is excited for the possibilities of his new role. 

“I want to change the mold of what it means to be progressive. You can be both progressive and aggressive. You can be authentic and be yourself and still make a difference,” he said.

Sebastian Johnson (C’10) (D) - Montgomery County, Maryland
(Ran for) Montgomery Co. Board of Education Member-at-Large
As a native of Montgomery County, Maryland, Sebastian Johnson (C’10) was following many of the local issues in the public school system there. He had served as a student member of the Board of Education when he was still a student in the county, so when the vacancy came up for an at-large seat on the board, Johnson saw an opportunity to get involved with an area close to his heart.

During what was his first campaign, he focused on local issues including how educational policy, housing, and transportation are all linked, and how to work to close the achievement gap. More

“One of the complaints that voters had was that they weren't able to see the direction of the school system. There was a perception that board members were out of touch with the changing demographic of schools and what was important,” he said.

In this way, Johnson’s youth was an advantage to his campaign. “You can make your youth an asset, and really lean into it. Yes, you need experience in public service, but we also need someone who is close to the current student experience and closer to the issues.”

Previously, Johnson worked in D.C. as director of educational development for Catalyst Network Foundation Inc., a nonprofit, where he hosted events for young professionals centered around education, politics, social issues, technology, and access and developed tutoring programs in partnership with area schools. He was the state policy fellow at the Institution on Taxation and Economic Policy and also served as a policy analyst for Governor Martin O’Malley and a number of local officials in Maryland.

He chose to attend Georgetown because he admired the university’s strong commitment to public service. “I participated in student government and also in clubs at Center for Social Justice,” he said.

Like many of his fellow Hoyas in politics, he found running in a presidential election year to be challenging, especially when there was also congressional Senate race. “This was a change election,” he said. “Youth can also be an asset in that way--people are looking for and open to new perspective. So, part of your job as a campaign is to educate voters and get name recognition. When you are new or young, you have lower name recognition, so people don’t know who you are. Sometimes this can be to your advantage, but it also makes it harder for voters to [envision you] in the position.”

One of the things he learned from campaigning can be applied to many areas of life and career: “You have an opportunity to define yourself and if you don’t, your competition will define it for you,” he said.

Another barrier to Johnson’s campaign was money. “I was able to raise the money needed in order to be a competitive candidate, but it was hard. One of the things that keep many young people and people of color away [from running for public office] is that barrier of money. They want to work on the issues, but don’t want (or are unable) to spend the huge amount of time it takes to raise money.”

“Young people today are very civic-minded; they want to orient themselves around service,” said Johnson. “The problem is that many young people don’t see politics as a path to doing that.”

Despite losing his first campaign race, Johnson continues to encourage young people to find new and different ways to get involved in their communities and with the government. “Many people don't have the means to volunteer. They may still have to work or take care of family, but it is important to think about ways to get people to participate that don’t require money,” he said. “We still need to figure out ways for people to participate on their own terms, especially to help increase minority and female representation [in politics].”

Johnson is currently a senior associate for Freedman Consulting, LLC, where he helps drive strategic research and planning for firm clients and has experience working for public officials, research organizations, and students.