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Career moves: Congressional staff attorney

Mr. Levine goes to Washington
iconMark Levine is heading into only one of many jobs typically found in the offices of Congress members in Washington. Click here and we'll give you a rundown of some of the most regularly found positions around the Hill.

Mr. Levine
goes to Washington


In this story:

Spoiling for it

World changer

Frankly speaking


RELATED STORIES, SITES Downward pointing arrow


(CNN) -- "I've always been interested in politics. Ever since I was a kid and my mom wouldn't allow me to stay up and watch the Carter-Ford election results of 1976," says Mark Levine, "I was mad."

Levine is all grown up now, has a Harvard undergraduate degree, a Fulbright scholarship and a Yale Law degree to his name.

He can still get mad, though.

"Whenever I see something that's wrong," he says, "I call my congressman and I get angry about it."

  QUICK VOTE
graphic As we learn from Mark Levine's experience, many congressional staffers in Washington are making personal sacrifices -- income, relocation, leaving home -- to work in politics. Can you see making such a move in your career?

No, while I admire a lot of folks who let their beliefs lead their work lives like Levine, I don't think I could shape my career around it.
I'm torn because it's clearly an honorable thing to give up some of what you have like this, but that cost is high and so much of political life seems pretty unsavory.
Yeah, I'm inspired in much the same way Levine is -- and when it's what you want to do, it's less a sacrifice than an opportunity to work near the center of things.
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But beginning in March, Levine won't have to make a long-distance phone call to gripe at a congressman. Instead, he can stroll right into at least one rep's office -- no appointment necessary.

Levine, 34, will move from California to the capital to begin working for Rep. Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, as one of the politician's staff attorneys. This is his first political job in Washington -- and he says he expects to receive a little roughhousing in his new role.

"I expect I'll go in and get batted around a bit. I expect it will make me angry. I hope I don't get jaded," he says, his tone going serious. "Politics is messy, and I'm learning."

graphic

Spoiling for it

Levine is one newcomer who says he isn't afraid of a good fight, and he's sacrificing a well-to-do lifestyle as a successful lawyer to enter the ring.

Levine says his new gig will pay him little more than a kindergarten teacher might make in a year, a drastic cut from his salary at the Los Angeles-based firm of Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP. He plans to live on some money he has tucked away over the years.

"The Clinton years have been good to me," he says with a chortle. "I was making a good lawyer's salary."

But for Levine, the decision to enter the political fray has less to do with dollars than with idealism.

"It's something to be a lawyer and help a client, but it's amazing to be a part of changing laws that affect millions of people," he says.

Levine says a concept from Jewish mysticism termed tikkun olam guides him in his activism.

Loosely translated from the Hebrew, the term means "repair of the world." According to the teachings, when God created mankind and gave him free will he had to withdraw a bit to let man have the freedom to act of his own accord. When God withdrew from the world, it tore the universe into shards. It's man's duty to repair the world and stitch it back together again.

"We have to do our duty," says Levine. "If I see something that I think is unjust I just want to change it."

graphic

World changer

Seemingly armed with enough zeal to give changing the world a decent shot all by himself, Levine is trading in the squeeze-bottle tan culture of Los Angeles for the "more intelligent, less handsome crowd" in our nation's capital.

He may not be in Washington working for Frank just yet, but he's working on some near-history.

  CONGRESSIONAL CLASSIFIEDS
levine So just what's out there to be done as the 107th goes into session? Have a look at the sorts of positions you'll find in the offices of most members of Congress. Interested? 2002 is coming.
 

Levine was hired by Democrats.com, a grassroots organization, to pen the brief for the Congressional Black Caucus' objection to Congress' confirmation on Saturday of George W. Bush as President of the United States.

While the objection was mostly symbolic -- members of the caucus and several House colleagues walked out of the joint session of Congress as each state's electoral votes were counted -- the commitment Levine has for the cause is steadfast.

"If we can't have the right to vote than how can we start thinking about anything else?" he asks. "We have an illegitimate president, and I'm outraged and many African-Americans are very angry."

He is quick to point out that his work for the caucus has been independent of his upcoming staff work for Frank, but he says he hopes to continue the fight for voting reform and campaign finance reform when his new job begins in early March.

"I want to learn how the system works," he says. "I know how a bill becomes a law, but I don't know how a bill becomes a law -- do you know what I mean?

"I want to see firsthand on the floor how it works, and I will be serving a really great guy. He (Frank) is witty, strong-willed, passionate about things, and we probably agree on 90-plus percent of things."

graphic

Frankly speaking

Levine first approached Frank in 1998 when the congressman was being honored by the Stonewall Democratic Club, a gay organization in Los Angeles named for the bar raided by police in 1969 in New York. The incident -- in which customers and staffers resisted arrest -- is considered a turning point in the effort to secure civil rights for homosexual Americans.

Handing Frank his resumé, Levine told the congressman how much he admired his work and asked for a job. Two years later, he got the offer to join Frank's staff.

"He called me when he had a space," Levine says.

Levine says he looks forward to working for a man who has political ideals similar to his own.

"I've heard it said that he (Frank) is the smartest person in Congress," Levine says. "When I see conservative pundits give it to him, and he gives it right back to them, that makes me so proud."

For now, Levine will focus on learning his way around the distinctive halls of Capitol Hill. But does he have designs on a congressional seat of his own?

"Would I love to be in Congress? Sure! If you elect me, I will serve," he says. "But I'm not that presumptuous. I'm hopeful that this will lead me to some of my goals."

graphic

 

RELATED STORIES:
Congress confirms Bush electoral victory
January 6, 2001
Democrats to investigate voter problems in 2000 election
January 6, 2001
Bush tells governors that states' rights, education will be priorities
January 6, 2001
Lawmakers convene divided 107th Congress with pledges of cooperation
January 3, 2001

RELATED SITES:
Fourth Congressional District, Massachusetts, Barney Frank
AllPolitics.com
Mark Levine: Some political-opinion writings
United States House of Representatives

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