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PoliticsPA: Profile of Shawn Kelly, Communications Coordinator, Lou Barletta for Congress

By Alex Irwin
PoliticsPA Contributor

In this feature, we’ll profile someone working behind the scenes at one of the many campaigns throughout the state. Here’s a short chat with Shawn Kelly, Communications Coordinator, Lou Barletta for U.S. Congress.

Where are you from?

I was born in Hazleton and grew up near the city, in what I call “suburban Hazleton.”

Where do you live now?

I live in Hazleton – and I can tell you it’s not what Lou’s opponent wants you to believe it is.

When did you first know you wanted to pursue a career in politics?

I had a regular 9-to-5 job, something that was relatively repetitive yet stable, and wasn’t really looking to move into politics. I had known Lou for a few years before his 2002 run for Congress, so when Lou asked me to join his campaign team, I figured it would be something new and exciting to do. I thought it would be a learning experience, and it was. I worked with Lou again in 2008, when we came so close to victory. And now I’m back again. I guess you can say that I didn’t pursue a career in politics. It just sort of found me.

Where did you go to school? Were you politically active in college?

I’m a Penn State graduate. I wasn’t politically active in school. I majored in journalism and minored in history. I had one poli sci class and, to be honest, I thought it was too dry and clinical. My interest in politics was more from the perspective of a journalist rather than as a participant in the process. The most political thing I did in college was attend a speech given by former President George H.W. Bush and Joe Paterno. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I was Michael Dukakis in my high school’s 1988 mock presidential debate.

What political figures have influenced you?

I don’t want this to sound like good PR spin or plain-old sucking up, but I would rank my boss, Lou Barletta, as a solid influence. Working in the media before getting into politics, I dealt with a variety of politicians and different levels of government, but I always thought Lou was different. Lou had a conviction and character I didn’t see in many other politicians. When Lou became mayor, he had to make some very difficult, politically unpopular decisions, but he didn’t blink. He made them. My hometown had been a laughingstock before Lou took the reins. Lou changed that. He really set the tone. He led by example. I’ve spent countless hours with Lou and I can say that he is one of the finest men I’ve ever known. He doesn’t play political games. He doesn’t dance to the party tune, and that sometimes hurts him politically. And there are many who – because they don’t know him or are deliberately malicious – misrepresent Lou’s positions and personal beliefs. But Lou is his own man and a great leader. I wouldn’t work for him if he weren’t a good man.

What was your first job or volunteer effort in politics?

My first job in politics was on Lou’s 2002 congressional campaign.

What’s your current position?

My title is “communications coordinator,” but my job definitely goes beyond that.

What’s an average day like for you?

I’d love to have an average day. My day usually starts with grabbing my Droid the moment I wake up to check my e-mail, then my laptop before I roll out of bed to check the local headlines. If there’s nothing extremely urgent, when I get to the office I will spend more time skimming all of the local newspapers in the 11th District, then I’ll search for more news about Lou, about Mr. Kanjorski, about our race and other regional or national news of interest. Writing a press release or responding to a survey usually comes next. In a race like this, it doesn’t take too long until reporters start asking for a comment on an issue or asking what Lou has on his public schedule. The afternoon is devoted to media and constituent response, with Google News searches every half hour or so because the 24- hour news cycle demands it. The local talk radio station is always on in my office, too. Then in the evening, since I live in Hazleton, I usually staff Lou at events all across the district.

What’s the best part of your job?

Traveling with Lou, I get to see every corner of the 11th District, and I have to say that Northeastern Pennsylvania is a really beautiful part of the country and the world. The people here work hard, and they definitely enjoy spending their free time with their families and friends. In an age when technology is everywhere and free time is at a premium, it’s great to see that the rich local traditions – church picnics, bazaars, fairs, parades, festivals, and other community events – continue to thrive. It’s fun getting to be a part of them.

What’s the worst job you worked in politics? Outside of politics?

I wouldn’t say I had a “worst job,” either in our out of politics. Each job has taught me something. When I was in college I worked in a donut shop, and the patrons who debated issues at the counter taught me that everyone is passionate about at least one thing. I spent a summer shoveling ground-up plastic in a factory, and that made me apply myself more in school. Working on Lou’s campaign in 2002 taught me a lot about the political process. Coming so close to victory in 2008 made me hungrier to win this year. Life is a matter of learning and moving forward.

What are your plans for the moment the election’s over?

Exhale.

What are your longer term plans after that?

I’m not looking beyond Nov. 2.

Where are you from?
I was born in Hazleton and grew up near the city, in what I call “suburban
Hazleton.”
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