Week 8: US Conference of Mayors

June 29th, 2012

Kalissa Holdcraft ’13, Keyes Fellow in Urban Policy Development

The final week! My swan song! I can’t believe it’s actually over, but at least I went out with a bang! This week was full of charity, politics, and historical moments. I think that’s a great way to leave a place like DC.

The last Monday! I was extremely excited because Monday night was the Friends of Ballou Scholarship Awards Ceremony.  Friends of Ballou is an organization that assists students of Ballou High School, which is a DC area public high school. Friends of Ballou convenes private and public representatives to fund scholarships for graduating seniors each year. During the day I had to finish my article and prepare for my meeting with Congressman Loebsack. As soon as Mr. Gatton edited and suggested changes to my article, I fixed everything and hit submit. After doing some more fact finding and printing off way too many handouts to narrow down tomorrow, I exited the building with to attend the event at a law firm downtown. This event reminded me why education reform is so important to me. These students were the best and brightest of the high school. One young man was the first in 3 generations of his family to graduate high school. It was certainly a different world.  My boss has an amazing way of impressing upon me the importance of giving back. Regardless of what I want to do, he tries to put everything into perspective. We also had an amazing chat about Cornell and the liberal arts on the way back from the ceremony.

On Tuesday, I could barely think. I spent the entire day preparing for my meeting with Representative Loebsack on Wednesday. I did some minor editing for the US Mayors Newspaper articles. That’s about it.

Wednesday was the day! My morning consisted of a lot of last minute research that was completely unnecessary for my meeting at noon with Congressman Loebsack. To say that I was nervous is a gross understatement. At about 11:20 we headed down to grab a taxi to Longworth, one of the three buildings that house representatives; the senators have larger buildings in a different area. We took the elevator up to the fifth floor and stood out in the hallway, as we still had about 20 minutes until the appointment. Dave and I just chatted about any number of news stories we had read that day. After about 15 minutes a man walked by and said hello. What do you know! It was Congressman Loebsack. We followed him into the office and told the staffer at the desk we were here for an appointment. I began describing the resolution (I had put together a folder with all pertinent documents for him to review later. After about 15 – 20 minutes of chatting and a quick picture, we were out. It was not so awful, but I could have been a little more confident. I honestly don’t remember anything else that happened today after the meeting. I know that I worked on tying up loose ends, as tomorrow morning is my LAST day at work, not to mention the healthcare ruling will be released shortly after 10 AM.

Well… I’m done. I feel like I’ve finished a marathon. It’s crazy how although I feel as if I’ve been in DC forever, my time here has flown by. My final day at work (it was only the morning) consisted of cleaning out my desk, mailing packages, and making sure that everything I was in charge of was complete. And oh yeah, that little Supreme Court ruling on healthcare was released. I actually felt like I was a part of history, being in DC at the moment it happened.  My co-workers and I gathered in my boss’ office to listen to the radio and talk about the ruling. After busy-work and discussion, my boss invited me into the office for our “exit interview”. He essentially asked me how I felt about the experience and what I learned. After pausing a moment, the lessons just began pouring out of my mouth. I never really stopped to consider how much I truly gained from this experience. Aside from the sheer amount of research and new topics that I was exposed to through my boss’s incessant requests for information (something I love!), I definitely have a new-found respect for local governance and the role of mayors and cities. Despite the economic downturn and lack of ANYTHING at the federal level, cities have moved forward with innovative plans and projects. It was definitely something I had never considered, being from small towns. What mayors of large cities are able to do is amazing. We also reviewed everything I had worked on during my time at the Conference. I could literally talk to Dave for days, so we just kept chatting about my future plans and everything else. After the “interview” we got ready to join the rest of the office and walk to a really great seafood restaurant for my goodbye lunch. The lunch was perfect. After that I turned in my key and headed to pack up my DC life.

Week 7: US Conference of Mayors

June 21st, 2012

Kalissa Holdcraft ’13, Keyes Fellow in Urban Policy Development

In comparison to my previous week, number seven was not nearly as jam-packed. I was given Monday and Tuesday off, as the office was not slated to start work fully until Wednesday. I took my days off and explored areas of DC that I had spent little time in. I moseyed around the Chinatown area on Monday, walking in and out of shops and dodging the rain. On Tuesday, I ventured to Dupont Circle. By Wednesday, I was excited to get back to work. Once my boss arrived, I dove right in by preparing folders for the Florida Congressional delegation. The folders were full of information about the USCM’s Metro Ports and Exports resolution, forum, and task force. The Florida Congressional delegation was to be meeting with Floridian port representatives, as well as the mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, Alvin Brown. After packing the folders, I was able to join my boss in attending the meeting. We arrived quite early and chatted with port lobbyists. I may or may not have had a 10-minute conversation with one man about boar hunting in Texas. Strangely enough, after all my research and work on ports and exports, I know a fair amount about the issues related to ports in America. Paul Anderson, who is port director for JaxPort, was the speaker. He did an excellent job speaking on the importance of ports to US growth, highlighting the roles that Florida could play in pushing forward initiatives. It was a great way to spend a morning. That afternoon, Mr. Gatton informed me that I needed to make an appointment with Congressman Loebsack. That thought is slightly nerve-wracking. I finished up the week by reworking drafts of my article for the US Mayors Newspaper.

This week was considerably more subdued than my previous ones. The highlight being that I was able to make my way to a Senate building for the ports meeting. As much as I love my office, I loved getting out and into the city. I surprised myself by carrying on conversations with various staffers and representatives at the meeting. So yet again, writing and networking skills are constantly in play. After watching the port lobbyists, I totally think I could do that. I don’t know if lobbying is necessarily an ideal job for me, but the idea of informing lawmakers about important issues is appealing. If I had to, working for a lobbyist that specializes in higher education issues or primary and secondary education reform would not be a bad path. I can’t believe I only have one week left!

Week 6: US Conference of Mayors

June 14th, 2012

Kalissa Holdcraft ’13, Keyes Fellow in Urban Policy Development

This was THE week. It was easily the most jam-packed and exciting week of my internship thus far. I went from the most stressful experience of my life to enjoying an amazing work vacation. As far as the LSAT goes… my brain was fried by the end.  I was at the test site (a $50 cab ride away from my apartment) for about 8 hours. I cannot do anything about my score now, and I’m doing my best not to think about it! The next morning, I made my way to the airport and flew into Orlando! The conference is being held at Loews Pacific Royal Resort. Most of the staff got bumped to another Loews hotel about a mile away from the conference rooms. I am completely fine with that. Aside from getting settled in my room, I, along with another intern for the conference, headed to the main hotel to get registered. Upon arrival, we got our staff badges and GOODIE bags. They were packed full of random giveaways. We had a relaxing night in preparation for the opening day.

The next day I set up the booth and chatted with some business vendors. A few mayors and staff people stopped by, and we made small talk. I was reunited with the fantastic Mayor Cownie of Des Moines. Once my coworkers arrived, I headed off to help my boss set up for one of the forums that he was in charge of organizing. This day’s forum was Metro Economies and the New American City. This session included many of publications. Let me tell you, they turned out beautifully. I’m basically a published author now… but in all reality, I was impressed. My task for the session, after passing out all the handouts and folders, was to “take minutes” of the panel discussion. At night, Universal Studios shut down 5 clubs for USCM and provided free food and drinks. After that, we walked to Harry Potter World, which was also shut down for us. No lines, no cost. People love mayors.

The next day, I had another session to cover. This was the one on Metro Ports and Exports. It was not extremely interesting, as I had written all of the information for it, but the Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade was a speaker. He really was able to provide the federal component of trade and exporting. My boss also managed to have two small businesses that are at different levels of exporting present. After that, I readied myself for another night of fun. We were bussed to the Amway Center, where the Orlando Magic play. The bars and clubs were open for us, and we dined on the court while listening to a classic rock cover band. It was quite the experience. After dinner, we were shipped to Lake Eola park. There was a grand tent set up for us. Jenna and I walked around a bit; the view was breathtaking. After snagging pictures with our favorite mayors – Mayor Cownie of Des Moines and host Mayor Buddy Dyer of Orlando, we headed back to the hotel. We obviously wanted to get enough sleep so we would be fully awake for tomorrow.

Friday was the BEST day. Joe Biden spoke! I spent the entire morning attempting to distract myself until Biden arrived. I headed into the main meeting ballroom (which is huge) to stake out a prime seat. Jenna and I got a front row table far left of where our Vice President would be speaking. He was thirty minutes late, but it was totally worth it. He started off by greeting and joking with the mayoral leadership of mayors Nutter, Plusquellic, Villagairosa, Smith, Kautz, and others. He then launched into a passionate (and hilarious) speech commending the mayors on their bipartisanship and efforts to assist their constituents through difficult economic times. He was everything I imagined and more. My crush on the Vice President was solidified. After the luncheon, I decided to attend the Education Forum. Mayor Kevin Johnson (former NBA player) of Sacramento is the chair. Also speaking was Arne Duncan (also a former NBA player), the Secretary of Education. After that session, I was done for the day. Jenna and I returned to the room to take a nap before our night events. The night began at Sea World. We ended up at the Hard Rock Cafe for a huge party in honor of the new USCM President’s inauguration. The final day was a half-day that consisted of the voting for resolutions. My resolution passed! I’m so excited! We went to Epcot that night. It was fantastic. And just like that, the conference was over.

I still cannot believe I was in Florida for a week hanging out with mayors and any number of federal and state government representatives. It was great! I definitely put those networking skills to work. I met some extremely lovely mayors, as well as many of the various business vendors attending the conference. I’m also glad that I’ve had to take minutes for Student Senate before because those skills definitely helped me get accurate quotations from the sessions I staffed. Someone once told me that working for USCM was a great job, but the summer conference every year was the greatest perk. Honestly, trips like this every year would be totally worth it. Obviously, I enjoy all the work I’ve done so far, but this was fantastic. It was really good to meet other employees at USCM as well. Because I am not on the main floor, I am a little isolated. On the serious side, seeing my resolution passed made me extremely proud. Although it isn’t technically legislation or policy, it could be. That’s so exciting to me! As someone who is a complete policy nerd, it’s strange! I tried extremely hard not to the think about the LSAT or future plans this week, but I continually end up flip flopping between policy analysis and legal counsel.


Week 5: US Conference of Mayors

June 7th, 2012

Kalissa Holdcraft ’13, Keyes Fellow in Urban Policy Development

This week was the beginning of the end – my final four weeks interning at the US Conference of Mayors. It was definitely crunch time, as the office was preparing for next week, which is the annual conference in Florida! Unfortunately, I have one extremely large obstacle looming in my way before I jet off to Orlando… the LSAT. So this week could be summed up as prep time – for the conference and the LSAT. I could leave it at that, but I’ll give some details because it actually was an interesting workweek. The week started off with a lot of editing! No surprise there. I received my 4-pager on Metro Exports and Ports with suggested edits. Having not worked on since the second week I was here, I was sure there would be substantial changes. The only major change was that I had to create a different final page with a new focus. Other than that, the changes I had to incorporate were merely wording or phrasing edits. Because I had to create an entirely new back page about exports, I had to go back to the YouTube videos of the meeting. After completing that behemoth of a project, I finished up all of the other handouts – from Des Moines to Akron to Chattanooga. I also met Mayor Cownie of Des Moines this week. He’s fantastic! I guess I never really thought mayors could be so… personable, and not in a sleazy politician way. First off, he’s extremely down to earth and willing to have a nice conversation with a random intern. Mayor Cownie was in town to attend the President’s Export Council as the USCM representative. Another highlight of the week was the Nationals game! My boss and the other David in the office took myself and the other intern, Jenna, to watch baseball. It was great! The stadium is beautiful. The next morning included a conference call with an employee of the city of Chattanooga. Chattanooga has instituted a health care program for its employees that has been able to keep its premium flat for five years, creating additional revenues with the savings. It seems suspect at first, but upon hearing the woman’s story, I am amazed. The fact that she can receive prescriptions for $5 when it used to cost her over $100 is crazy talk! Chattanooga has its own fitness center, two wellness centers, and a pharmacy with ridiculously low prices. Happily, the employees of the city tend to take full advantage of the program. I ended the week with a half-day so I could cram in some extra studying time for the LSAT.

I know I’ve already said this, but I am so grateful that most of my courses at Cornell have been so writing intensive. All of my projects include some form of writing, editing, revising, etc. I definitely have some room for improvement, as my boss is a meticulous editor. He can spot the slightest error, and I feel like my writing is getting better with each submitted draft. I also feel like the opportunities I’ve had through Cornell in meeting with alumni and other distinguished person has taught me how to properly interact with those people. Instead of being nervous and uncomfortable, I have found that it easy for me to carry on a conversation in meeting new people and networking. I have not had any epiphanies about my future plans, as I have had complete tunnel vision with LSAT prep. Let’s hope it will all  be worth it!

Week 4: US Conference of Mayors

May 31st, 2012

Kalissa Holdcraft ’13, Keyes Fellow in Urban Policy Development

Well this week was strange. I started off by getting Monday off… because Memorial Day is a federal holiday everywhere but Cornell. Just kidding. I did not spend my Memorial Day doing anything exciting, I actually spent the day studying for the LSAT. Over the weekend I did the grand tour of every monument, and I also attended the National Memorial Day Concert. The concert was great until they told everyone to evacuate because dangerous storms were expected in a few hours. I guess what ended up being shown was a compilation of the actual concert and footage from the previous night’s rehearsal. On Tuesday, I came into work, raring and ready to go. Luckily, Mr. Gatton had plenty of tasks for me. He wanted me to submit an article for the US Mayors Newsletter. I spent the day crafting a succinct report on the Inner City 100, which is a list that ranks small inner-city businesses with the highest growth. I perfected the article with suggestions from my boss, and I then contacted the presenters of the awards for a picture to accompany my article. It is not guaranteed to be published, but my fingers are crossed. If it is, it will be in the issue that comes out right before the Annual Conference of Mayors in Orlando, FL. We finally received information from Chattanooga about their city employee health care program. Unfortunately, it was not a wealth of information, and I had to piece together information that attempted to be cohesive. We sent that back to Chattanooga, and we are still waiting on their edits. During the week, I was able to attend a US Mayors press conference. Five mayors were holding a conference on the anniversary of the EPA’s Clean Water Act. While not unhappy with the act’s intent, the mayors were all stretched thin under unfunded mandates that required more money of the cities than are feasible. Seeing mayors openly criticize the government agency was pretty powerful. After that, I ended the week by finishing up a few publications, assisting with choosing gifts for the DollarWi$e Campaign’s giveaways for the mayors, and sitting in on a variety of conference calls.

Cornell continually shows up in my time here in DC. Not only do I love telling my Mississippi State roommates about our unique campus – knit bombers, humans versus zombies, and our Converse-loving president, but also the lessons I’ve learned keep assisting me in my duties here. I am so happy that Cornell fosters positive discussion between people of differing opinions. I like to think that it reinforces my ability to make decisions without bias. My boss has increasingly asked me to research a topic then provide him with my opinion. He seems to think my opinion is worth something – so that makes me feel good.

Political positioning and differing points of view defined this week. The press conference was really the highlight of the past seven days. It was not a hot-button issue, the press corps covering the event was not exactly robust, and it is unlikely that anything comes of it. However, seeing the mayors stand up for their cities and citizens reminded me of why I love the political sphere. It’s easy to dismiss mayors or any politician as a money-grabbing, glad-handing influence peddler. Seeing the passion behind the remarks of the mayors spoke differently of the elected leaders. They were coming out against aspects of a highly lauded environmental act not because they are not in favor of clean water, but because the mandates and requirements were costing their citizens far too much. A majority of the mayors have a large portion of constituents at or below the poverty level; their concern is in providing the best life possible for the people of their cities.  While I still don’t want to be a politician, this week reminded me of the noble pursuits of our political system.

Week 3: US Conference of Mayors

May 22nd, 2012

Kalissa Holdcraft ’13, Keyes Fellow in Urban Policy Development

I started the week off by acting like a newshound and reading story after story on countless sites. After a while, my boss invited me into his office so I could sit in on a meeting. The meeting was focused on the DollarWi$e campaign, which is a financial education initiative. There are grants associated with the campaign that cities can apply for and receive up to $15,000 to use for their financial literacy programs. Anyway, there is a summer youth campaign component as well. Most of the meeting was discussing the final touches to that online program. After the meeting, I had to proofread a publication highlighting cities that had received grants. It was extremely meticulous, but seeing the different approaches taken by various cities was enlightening. After wrapping up that project, the rest of the week held promise of a research-heavy workload. I had to research information about the President’s Export Council, which just recently offered membership to a mayoral and gubernatorial representative. After learning about the membership and duties of PEC, my boss gave me a project. He introduced me to the mayor of Des Moines, Frank Cownie, via phone. Mr. Gatton then announced that he was going to have me create a publication highlighting the sustainability efforts of the Iowan city, a task I was pleased to have been given. On and off, in between random tasks, I compiled all of the information I possibly could about the projects and initiatives led by Des Moines and Mayor Cownie. In addition, Mr. Gatton requested that I create a fact sheet for new EPA regulations dealing with air emissions from the natural gas industry. This task, which would seem relatively simple, was difficult. Getting the proper statistics is hard when the reports only focus on the greatest benefits form the regulations. Thursday was my last day of work this week, and I honored that by wrapping up some longstanding projects. We did the final edits on the DollarWi$e publication, I completed the informational about Des Moines, and I researched a bevy of topics.

In my third week, I am finally hitting my stride. Thankfully the courses at Cornell that I most enjoy tend to be extremely writing heavy. It seems that every task I am assigned as part of my internship deals with creating some sort of narrative or informational piece. In addition, I am constantly being called to critically assess statements, policies, or claims. It’s surprising how often I find myself recalling a topic I learned in a course at Cornell. Baby Boomers vs. Babies is one course that I reference quite often. The effect of demographics on public policy and initiatives is prevalent everywhere. From the different programs implemented in the DollarWi$e campaign to the stakeholder concerns about natural gas, it is clear how the makeup of the constituency influences decisions.

My career decisions have not yet been swayed. I don’t want to be a political operative. Schmoozing and biting my tongue are not things I am capable of. However, I love seeing how certain tactics allow my boss finagle certain outcomes. We’ll see how I feel at the end of this internship. Law is still number one.

Week 2: US Conference of Mayors

May 15th, 2012

Kalissa Holdcraft ’13, Keyes Fellow in Urban Policy Development

Wow! Week number 2 started off extremely busy! The highest level of policymaking that the US mayors do comes in the form of passing resolutions at their annual meetings. All of the resolutions that would be voted on at the Annual Conference needed to be sent in on Monday. That means I started off the week with a lot of editing and making changes on various resolutions. The deadline was 5 pm Eastern, and our office was still getting calls about changes at 4:30 pm. It was ridiculous. After a manic Monday, I continued my work for the week by working through the videos from the Metro Ports and Exports Meeting.  I finished that task mid-week by creating an initial draft for the 4-page spread. On Tuesday, my boss invited me to attend a committee meeting for the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Surprisingly, it was very interesting. I had no idea that realtor association took research into consideration. They went into long conversations about demographic statistics, which I thoroughly enjoyed. By Thursday, my boss had me on yet another research mission. I spent the remainder of the week researching hydraulic fracturing and the possible negative consequences of the seemingly “cleaner” fossil fuel.

I am so glad that I have had experience in frustrating meetings. That NAR meeting reminded me of faculty meetings. The main presenter was not a realtor, so the actually realtors were grilling him. It was entertaining and made me feel a little homesick. In addition to that reminder, I was shown again and again that writing skills are very important. I learned how convoluted some organizations are – the NAR has over 50 different subcommittees. Wow. I also was very interested in all my research about hydraulic fracturing. It is an issue that has SO many different stakeholders. It’s supposed to be a cleaner fossil fuel, but it may contribute to environmental damage at high levels. Being at Cornell taught me how to critically examine issues, and that skill is definitely coming into play here. Luckily, I also don’t have the procrastination bug. I’m just pretending I’m on the block plan here. No time for laziness.

I still haven’t gotten any further in deciding what I want to do with the rest of my life, but I nixed realty. I’m still enjoying the policy analysis aspect of my projects. I am reconsidering policy analyst though. It seems to flow naturally with my abilities.

Week 1: U.S. Conference of Mayors–Washington, D.C.

May 8th, 2012

Kalissa Holdcraft ’13, Keyes Fellow in Urban Policy Development

I had quite the whirlwind first week! I initially got to work extremely early (1 hour to be exact), so I spent my first portion of work reading a book I brought along. After my boss arrived, the assignments came flying. He needed me to evaluate information sent by two cities on initiatives they had begun. I was essentially taking a “case study” and boiling it down to a 1-page handout. One would be about Akron, Ohio, and the city’s efforts to attract foreign companies. The other would be looking at a health care initiative taken on by the Chattanooga local government. My main task of the day was researching the lack of vocational education in secondary schools in America. He had heard someone speak about it on talk radio that morning and asked if I could find out what the state of vocational education is in this country. The first day’s work set the tone for the rest of the week. I continually developed the handout on Akron and researched vocational education. Mid-way through the week I was handed another major assignment. I had to wade through hours of YouTube videos and two separate binders full of information regarding the Metro Ports and Exports Meeting that happened earlier this year. My boss wanted me to started gathering the key findings for a 4-page spread that would appear at the Annual Conference in June. My week ended with crafting an actual resolution! My boss had a mayor inquire about a possible resolution concerning environmental policy. I accomplished this and was curious to see what next week would bring in terms of work.

I never thought I could learn so much in so little time! From the beginning it was full speed ahead. Thankfully the countless politics courses at Cornell enabled me to read and research quickly because I did a lot of that this first week. Thankfully my writing skills have been honed as well. Not only did I have to create narrative, but I was also given tasks of making edits to a number of publications. The process of dealing with mayors and other government officials is quickly becoming clearer to me. My boss likes to invite me into conference calls, and the way he strategically maneuvers through difficult calls is impressive. I also never realized how important many of the initiatives mayors propose are. Being from a small town, I have never really seen the effect of an innovative mayor.

Seeing the different political inner workings and realizing how much I love researching different topics is causing me to think further about my choices. I am set on law school currently, but I could see working as a political operative a happy path for me. Seeing what else this summer has in store is certainly intriguing.

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