As seen in today's New York Times: You go, Chuck!
Senator, Senator, Make Me a Match: For Staff, Schumer Is Cupid
Mr. Schumer, left, dances at the wedding of Cathie Levine, a former staff member.
Published: August 17, 2012
Even by the standards of Capitol Hill, where ambitious and awkward young people are thrust together in cramped workplaces and crowded bars, the nuptial output of Senator Charles E. Schumer’s office stands out.
Richard Perry/The New York Times
For his part in their union, Elizabeth and Farrell Sklerov honored Mr. Schumer by naming their dog after him.
Mr. Schumer at the wedding of Elizabeth Stanley and Sean Sweeney. The senator would press Mr. Sweeney to propose. “He would just keep saying, ‘Let’s go already,’” Mr. Sweeney said.
Schumer staff members, put simply, like to marry each other. There have been 10 weddings so far, and two more scheduled this fall — an average of nearly one “Schumer Marriage” (his term) for each year he has spent in the Senate.
Cupid’s arrow lands where it will, but many of the couples say that Mr. Schumer, a New York Democrat, has an unusual knack for guiding its journey. He keeps close track of office romances, quotes marriage-friendly Scripture (“God to man: be fruitful and multiply”), and is known to cajole, nag, and outright pester his staff (at least those he perceives as receptive to such pestering) toward connubial bliss.
Forget Master of the Senate. This is the Yenta of the Senate.
“What’s the holdup?” the senator asks couples who are dillydallying on an engagement. “Did you get a ring yet?” Other could-be-marrieds receive a simple instruction: “Get moving!”
“He would just keep saying, ‘Let’s go already,’ ” recalled Sean Sweeney, a top Democratic strategist who began dating the woman who would become his wife when they were on Mr. Schumer’s staff in 1999. When he proposed, the senator reacted “like a sportscaster,” Mr. Sweeney said. “ ‘Goooooal!’ ”
The encouragement rarely stops at the altar. Mr. Schumer is described by aides as a fabulous wedding guest, quick to request a Jefferson Starship song from the D.J. and eager to dance with the bride. And his focus, like many a politician’s, never strays far from his legacy: first comes Schumer Marriage, then come Schumer Babies.
“Have kids; have a lot of kids,” Mr. Schumer, who has two daughters, is known to intone. “Start early and keep having them.”
Sometimes, Mr. Schumer greets a former staff member, “So, is your wife pregnant again?” Other times, he does not even bother with the question. One former aide, who asked not to be named, recalled seeing the senator bump into a recently married couple, both Schumer alumni. “He just stared down at her midsection and said, ‘Well?’ ”
In an interview in his Manhattan office, Mr. Schumer grinned and giggled as he recalled the couples he had brought together.
“Our staff is a family,” Mr. Schumer said, his voice often taking a paternal tone. “I want them to be happy. I get worried that they’ll be lonely. So I encourage them. If I think it’s a good match, I try to gently — as gently as I can — nudge it.”
Mr. Schumer, who prides himself on training the next generation of Democratic leaders, runs his office like a Congressional West Point: boot-camp hours, sky-high expectations, and a powerful alumni network. Mr. Sweeney runs a major “super PAC” that supports President Obama; another alumnus, Josh Vlasto, is the press secretary for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and he plans this fall to marry Megan Murphy, Mr. Schumer’s scheduler.
But in between teaching the art of press strategy and budget talks, “Chuck,” as his young staff members call him, likes to impart a different kind of counsel: how to live well. His matrimonial maxims are repeated so often that staff members can finish the lines for him.
“It brings him joy,” said Risa Heller, a former communications director, one of more than a dozen former aides who recounted his sayings, often while imitating his voice. “He picks good people to work for him, and when they pick each other, it’s even better.”
The senator said he took care to tailor his pitch, realizing that some may be more open than others. But he is known to plot a surprise, now and then. Josh Isay and Cathie Levine met in 1997, when Mr. Schumer was serving in the House. The two thought they had kept their relationship a secret — until Mr. Isay’s going-away party, at which Mr. Schumer announced to the entire staff that the couple “can now be public about what we all already know.”
The two were mortified, although happy with the enormous grin on Mr. Schumer’s face. The senator later signed the ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract, at their wedding, and stayed late at the reception. “I have pictures of him doing the Love Train,” said Mr. Isay, now an influential political consultant in New York.
Four of the couples interviewed for this article recalled similar experiences. “I just about tried to melt into the floor,” laughed Moira Campion McConaghy, whose relationship was revealed by the senator at a holiday party.
Later, when she and her boyfriend told Mr. Schumer they were engaged, the senator began recommending reception halls near Ms. McConaghy’s hometown, Endicott, N.Y. “He was bringing his knowledge of the entire state to our wedding planning decisions,” said Ms. McConaghy, now the legislative director for Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat.
Romance can be inevitable in an office of like-minded young politicos. “You have to be a certain type of personality in order to be successful in Schumer World,” Mr. Isay said, describing the senator’s ideal hire as “Type-A, hard-working, fast-talking.”
But Mr. Schumer likes to keep a thumb on the scale, interrupting late-night policy meetings to grill aides for gossip on potential couples. And he occasionally counsels against choices that he deems questionable. “Marry a solid, good person,” he says.
Daniel Squadron, a former assistant to the senator, was set up by Mr. Schumer and his wife, Iris Weinshall, a former New York City transportation commissioner whose chief of staff, Elizabeth Weinstein, had caught Mr. Squadron’s eye.
If Ms. Weinshall called, Mr. Schumer “would ask with a giggle if I had spoken to Liz,” Mr. Squadron recalled. Once, all four bumped into one another at a Starbucks. The senator “was clearly proud of how flustered we were,” Ms. Weinstein recalled.
Years later, after the couple married, Mr. Squadron confided to the senator that Ms. Weinstein was pregnant. Mr. Schumer was so excited that he blurted it out at a news conference — not knowing that the couple had not yet told friends and colleagues.
“After the marriage happens, the immediate question is: when is the baby?” said Mr. Squadron, who is now a New York state senator. “After the baby happens, the immediate question is, when’s the next one?”
Mr. Schumer often says his biggest regret was not having more kids. “Everyone has a hole inside themselves,” he said.
“They don’t know they had it until they have kids, and then that hole fills up. And it’s so great; it’s just God’s greatest gift to us.”
Couples that have not spoken to the senator in years receive calls when their child is born. “I was in a state of shock,” said Laura Block, who gave birth 11 years after leaving Mr. Schumer’s employ. “My phone rang and they said, ‘Can you please hold for Senator Schumer?’ I had just gotten home from the hospital.”
Schumer couples, in turn, often find ways to recognize the senator’s role in their lives. Farrell and Elizabeth Sklerov, who met while interning for Mr. Schumer in 2003, named their black-and-white Shih Tzu after him.
Ms. McConaghy, at her wedding, played “It’s Raining Men” in his honor. (Mr. Schumer loves the song — in the interview, he explained its message as: “It’s going to rain men, so you’re going to find somebody nice.”)
Mr. Schumer, whose wedding in 1980 was encouraged by a colleague in the New York State Assembly, said his goal was to ensure that the people under his charge could prosper without sacrificing happiness at home.
“There are two tests in life, more important than any other test,” he said, his voice growing soft as the sun set behind him. “On Monday morning, when you wake up, do you feel in the pit of your stomach you can’t wait to go to work? And when you’re ready to go home Friday afternoon, do you say, ‘I can’t wait to go home’? ”
“If you can say yes to both those tests,” Mr. Schumer said, “God has been good to you, don’t complain.”
Ahhh. The heart warms...
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