Bishop’s Brigade Battles for Big Issues
Stony Brook Alums are the heart and soul of Rep. Tim Bishop's staff
They are a loyal group, these five Stony Brook University graduates — united in working for Congressman Tim Bishop (D-NY). Yet their skill sets and degrees are as diverse as the roles they play for the legislator who represents constituents of the First District of Long Island.
They battle for veterans and their rights, for affordable education, for environmental preservation — issues they say are the Congressman’s top priorities.
“I have always had a positive experience with Stony Brook students and graduates,” Bishop said. “They come well-prepared and eager to learn and enter the world of work with an active intellectual curiosity and a strong work ethic.”
Senior Congressional Aide Military and Veterans’ Affairs Coordinator Erin D’Eletto, ’04, a political science major from Patchogue, New York, has the thickest résumé, which includes backgrounds in nursing and paralegal studies prior to her career change at Stony Brook.
The daughter of a navy veteran, D’Eletto spends her days fielding and returning phone calls and forwarding inquiries to the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration. Her duties run the gamut from coordinating medal ceremonies and interviewing service academy candidates who require congressional nomination, to handling emergencies that arise.
“A veteran needs a burial, a solider in Afghanistan wants to get home for the death of a family member — very important and time-sensitive matters in peoples’ lives,” she said.
The challenges of D’Eletto’s jobs include managing a large workload with long hours, solving problems quickly under pressure and learning not to take negativity personally.
D’Eletto describes herself as a “political junkie,” partly self-taught, with a particular interest in the workings of the federal government.
Port Jefferson, New York native and political science major Adam Garrett Santiago ’03, met the congressman when Bishop was a candidate in 2002, assisting him in various campaigns until recently landing a job as his district director.
Acting as Bishop’s liaison to local, state, and federal government officials, Santiago said there is no such thing as a typical day. “One day can be filled with meetings on issues ranging from barrier beach restoration projects being implemented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to meeting with local business owners to listen to their recommendations on how the federal government can save or create jobs locally,” he said. “The next day might involve helping local homeowners save their home at a mortgage foreclosure prevention workshop.”
He cites Stony Brook courses taught by professor Lester Paldy as critical to his understanding of the mechanics and dynamics surrounding the policy makers and bureaucracies that make government work.
Holbrook, New York resident Jared Fischedick ’09 interned with Congressman Bishop in 2008 and joined his Patchogue office team in 2011. The political science major focuses mostly on the issues of United States military personnel and veterans.
“A common problem that veterans experience is long adjudication times for their service-connected disability compensation claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Fischedick. “If a claim has been pending beyond a ‘reasonable’ amount of time, we advocate to the Department to expedite that claim. But my most rewarding moments have been when the congressman has been able to present long overdue medals to veterans who, for whatever reason, were never given their medals when they were discharged.”
Fischedick listed organizational, interpersonal and analytical skills as being vital to his job. “Stony Brook has helped prepare me for this job by providing a top-notch education that developed my critical thinking skills,” he said. “The most useful courses for me were my U.S. Congress class, which taught me the ins and outs of congressional procedure, and my courses about the executive branch and structure of government.”
Education, naturally, remains a front-burner issue for Bishop, who once served as the provost for Southampton College. “I was instrumental in writing portions of the law to make it less expensive to borrow money for education at no additional cost to taxpayers,” he said. “As a member of the Education and Workforce Committee, I continue to focus on making a college education more affordable for all Americans.”
Bilal Malik, ’05, ’07, a political science major with a master of arts degree in public policy (MAPP), has been a congressional aide for Mr. Bishop since 2007, dealing with Social Security, Medicare, health insurance, mortgages and USPS matters. “The MAPP program helped me tremendously by allowing me to seek an internship with the congressman,” said the Selden, New York resident. “Without that program, I would not have considered working for an elected official.”
Malik enjoys researching policy-related issues to solve constituents’ problems. “I reach out to the appropriate government agency, not-for-profits and other organizations that might be helpful to their situations,” he said.
Holbrook, New York native Krystyna Baumgartner, ’07, ’08, a political science major with a MAPP degree, began working for Bishop in 2012 as his community outreach coordinator.
“Today, as communications director, my job is to make sure the public is informed about the work the congressman is doing on behalf of his constituents,” she said. Baumgartner does this by issuing press releases, putting together newsletters, maintaining his website and managing his social media accounts.
Image is obviously extremely important for an elected official and his employees all say that they strive to be a direct reflection of what the congressman represents.
“When choosing interns and permanent employees,” Bishop said, “I look for people with energy, intelligence and a commitment to public service. I find my internship program to be an excellent means to evaluate potential future employees.”
— Glenn Jochum; photos by John Griffin