Burris’s People

Who joins a Senate staff on short notice?

Despite Roland Burris’s bumpy ride so far as a U.S. senator, more than 500 budding politicos have submitted their resumés for the 50 or so positions in the D.C. and Chicago offices. Even Darrel Thompson’s departure as chief of staff on February 20th hasn’t stemmed the flood. Here’s a closer look at some of the men and women who make up the staff of Illinois’s junior senator.

Senator Burris and his staff
The senator with his staff: (left) Jim O’Connor, (3rd from right) Ken Montoya, (right) Brady King
 

JIM O’CONNOR, 32, communications director
EDUCATION: B.A., political science and English literature, Fairfield University, Fairfield, Conn.
BACKGROUND: O’Connor, a Chicago native, cut his political teeth working on campaigns for the late Cook County Board president John Stroger. He also served as press secretary for Blair Hull’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2004. Most recently he’s been a political news commentator for the San Francisco TV station KRON4.

 

VERA BAKER-MERLINI, 34, deputy chief of staff
EDUCATION: B.A., political, legal, and economic analysis, Mills College, Oakland, Calif.
BACKGROUND: Baker-Merlini was national finance director on Barack Obama’s 2004 U.S. Senate campaign and deputy political director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Prior to that, she worked in client development at a bond broker-dealer, and was a legislative assistant to U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

 

KENNETH SAWYER, 41, senior adviser
EDUCATION: B.A., political science, Howard University
BACKGROUND:Sawyer is the nephew of the former Chicago mayor Eugene Sawyer, who introduced Burris to the Democratic machine in the late 1970s. Sawyer ran for 3rd Ward alderman in 2003, losing to Dorothy Tillman, who then chose him as Democratic ward committeeman. He is a former government relations director for the Illinois Restaurant Association.

 

KEN MONTOYA, 53, legislative director
EDUCATION:B.A., political science, University of the Pacific; international relations graduate work, San Francisco State University
BACKGROUND:Most recently the government affairs representative for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Montoya worked previously as a legislative assistant for two Senate-star Pauls, Simon (D-Ill.) and Wellstone (D-Minn.).

 

BRADY KING, 43, chief of staff
EDUCATION:B.A., history, Texas A&M; M.A., history, Baylor, Waco, Tex.; Ph.D. candidate, political science, Temple, Philadelphia, Pa.
BACKGROUND:King has often worked with Congressional freshmen since arriving on Capitol Hill in 1992 as appropriations adviser to U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.). Since then he’s worked as the legislative director for Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla., then new to Congress) and defense policy adviser to Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

 

Photograph: U.S. Senate Photography Studio

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