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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA JOB MARKET : CHALLENGES OF THE WORKING LIFE : ONWARD AND UPWARD : FIRST JOB : GETTING PAID IN POLITICS : Most Salaried Campaign Workers Volunteered at Start to Gain Vital Skills

September 18, 1988|KEITH LOVE | Times Staff Writer

"Wanted: Serious, dedicated individual willing to work 18-hour days, seven days a week. Starting pay is low, and employee may be asked to go off the payroll before project is finished. Housing accommodations may include sharing apartments and hotel rooms with other workers, including sleeping on the floor on occasion. If project succeeds, rewards could range from a pat on the back to a permanent job. If project fails, employee will have to share the blame and may never see deferred pay."

It is a good thing political campaigns never have to advertise, because that is what the ads would say if they were honest.

"It's a lot of young people working long hours at low pay and sometimes no pay," says Susan Estrich, manager of Democrat Michael S. Dukakis' presidential campaign.

Estrich, the first woman to manage a presidential campaign, is paid well for what she does--more than $50,000 a year. But she was once a lowly campaign worker, too, and she has some advice for anyone who wants to get a paying job in politics.

"You do it one of two ways, usually," says Estrich. "One way is to have a skill that a campaign has to have. Good example is someone who has advanced campaign events before. They get the permits, arrange for buses, set up the site for a speech. It's a very special skill.

"The other way is to start out as a volunteer, work very hard and hope you become part of the team effort and get put on the payroll."

That was the route for Pam Abel, a gregarious, energetic 22-year-old who works at Dukakis' campaign headquarters in Boston. Jammed into a tiny work space in the chaotic warren of offices near Chinatown, she helps members of the press keep up with the Dukakis schedule, get hotel rooms and reserve seats on the campaign plane.

Her telephone is ringing when she walks in the door before 9 a.m. and it is still ringing when she finally bails out sometime in the night. But she is so good at what she does that the campaign put her on the payroll in May after seven months of getting her for free.

"It's crazy, it's exhausting, but I love it," Abel said recently as she worked frantically to coordinate Dukakis' travel arrangements with those of his running mate, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen.

How did she get the job?

"When I was in school at Colgate," Abel explains, "I worked for Sen. George Mitchell of Maine. I got to know some people in his office. So, when I graduated I asked them for advice, and they knew somebody in the Dukakis campaign, and I wound up coming to Boston."

If Abel is lucky, she will wind up like Karen Kapler, a 32-year-old Iowa native who recently moved to Los Angeles.

Kapler worked in Iowa Democratic campaigns as a youngster and became executive director of the Iowa Democratic Party in the early 1980s. In 1984, she helped out in California Sen. Alan Cranston's presidential campaign.

Two years later, at 29, she finally got to run her own show. She managed the 1986 gubernatorial campaign of Florida lawyer Steve Pajcic, who won the Democratic nomination but lost in the general election.

Now Kapler is the Southern California campaign director for Proposition 100, one of the initiatives on the November ballot that could change the rules on car insurance.

California is the land of ballot initiatives, and some of them draw millions of dollars in campaign funds, thus creating sizable payrolls. They are an excellent way to get paid to learn politics. Jobs include answering the phone, recruiting volunteers, handing out leaflets and putting up lawn signs.

For example, Proposition 104, the so-called no-fault insurance initiative, did a lot of hiring all summer at monthly salaries ranging from $2,500 to $4,000. Of course, the pay stops on election day, Nov. 8.

Because of campaigns' long hours, stress and financial insecurity, the day-to-day grind is a young person's game for the most part, according to Kapler.

"When you get older, you either have to get out or go into consulting," says Kapler. "As a consultant, your situation is a little more stable, and if you're good at it, so is your income."

Consultants are the most highly paid people in politics. Many of them are based in Washington but advise campaigns all over the country.

Alan Arkatov, 26, got lucky. He landed a job running the West Coast office for one of the hottest political consulting firms in the country: Doak, Shrum & Associates of Washington. The firm has managed winning campaigns for Cranston, Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus and San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos, among others.

"Moving up the ladder in political campaigns is like dominoes," says Arkatov. "You just keep rolling one job into the next."

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