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Sam Schwartzkopf, '19

October 27, 2017
Experienced campaigner gets a look at life after the election during internship with mayor's office

Sam Schwartzkopf, ’19, signed up for her first political campaign in 2012. After watching her dad’s passion during President Barack Obama’s 2008 run, she was ready to join in four years later.

But this past summer, she wanted the chance to experience a different side of politics, to see what life is like the day after the campaign ends. The Richmond native even had an office in mind: her hometown mayor, Levar Stoney.

Schwartzkopf’s political science professor, Dan Palazzolo, was integral to the process. He connected her with Lincoln Saunders, the mayor’s chief of staff. She ultimately landed a summer internship handling event planning and scheduling for the mayor, communications for the press secretary, and research with the senior policy advisors.

A typical day might begin with fielding calls from Richmonders about issues ranging from potholes and leaf collection to underfunded schools and SNAP benefits.

“What mattered to me was not what people were calling about, but that they were calling in the first place,” she says. “In an era when I think people want to hide under rocks and take a nap until we stop talking about politics, it’s wonderful that Richmonders are some of the most engaged and passionate people I’ve ever met.”

She also worked on research for policy issues the mayor was interested in pursuing, and wrote press releases for the office of communications.

One day, during her second week on the job, Stoney’s press secretary approached Schwartzkopf about writing a five- to 10-minute speech on women’s reproductive rights for the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood’s annual meeting.

“I was blown away with the amount of responsibility,” she says. “But I also found speech writing to be a really interesting intellectual activity. I had to write in the voice of an elected official, someone the people chose to lead them.”

To prepare, she analyzed past speeches to get a sense of Stoney’s tone and style. She also drew on her experience writing speeches as a member of Richmond’s Mock Trial Team. When she watched Stoney deliver the speech a few days later, she says the experience was surreal.

“It was a phenomenal feeling,” she says, “going to the annual meeting of an organization that I care about and hearing the words that I had penned coming from an elected official that I really respect.”

Schwartzkopf’s summer was full of moments like that one. She learned the importance of communication within a political office. She learned that valuing everyone’s roles and contributions, no matter how niche, keeps the staff moving forward.

They’re lessons she’s continuing to learn this semester; at the end of the summer, Schwartzkopf was invited to continue working for Stoney. Three days a week, she walks out of her political science classes and heads downtown to watch politics in action for a few hours.

So far, Schwartzkopf says, working on the other side of the campaign has revealed the reality of bringing campaign promises to fruition. She’s even considering a future in local and state politics.

“In campaigns, it’s easy to make promises,” she says. “When I was researching policy, the thought wasn’t about what’s going to make the most people the happiest. It’s about what’s going to benefit the largest sect of the Richmond community. It’s a much more tangible effect than trying to bring hope and inspire passion and civic engagement. That’s important, but there also has to be policy to back that up, and that’s where elected office comes in.”