Member Spotlight: Kevin Zeithaml & Jessie Brooks

Studio IX: So let’s start at the beginning. Who are you guys?

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Kevin Zeithaml

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Jessie Brooks

KZ: Kevin Zeithaml.

JB: And Jessie Brooks.

Studio IX: And what do you do?

KZ: We work for a gentleman named Roger Dean Huffstetler, who is running for Congress in 5th District here. Jessie and I have been working for him now for the better part of a year, trying to get him elected next year.

JB: Kevin is the Campaign Manager and I am the Finance Director.

KZ:  He raises the money that I then get to spend. It's a great relationship. (laughter)

Studio IX: How did the two of you guys get started in this field?

KZ: I was in high school when Obama ran the first time and a friend of mine that was two years ahead of me convinced me to go make phone calls for him one day after school. And I haven't stopped since.

JB: I was working at a non-profit and met the former Mayor of Portland. He was the only person there who had a political background. We had a couple of conversations about his career in politics, what working on campaigns was like, and he connected me with a few people who worked in campaigns and politics in Oregon. I ended up on a statewide ballot measure. It was a crazy experience. I have been doing it ever since. The thing I appreciate about being on a campaign is the scale, being part of something so large I think is really interesting to me.

KZ:  Agreed.

JB:  Also the level of commitment you have to have, and just the amount of autonomy and responsibility you’re given. Other than maybe the startup world, I don't think it's super common to get those types of opportunities.

KZ: There's an incredible amount of trust placed in people in their mid-20’s. I agree with Jessie that you don't see it in a lot of other fields...I think a better way to put it for me is that I have been given responsibility at a much younger age than if I was in the private sector.

JB: Yeah definitely. And it’s a special kind of responsibility, related to people and community...and I think that sort of ties into the other reason I like working in campaigns and politics: purpose. You don't have to look very far to see purpose. You feel it every day. I think that is something that I always struggled to find outside of politics.

KZ:  Especially in today's climate. We're working for a Democrat and in today's climate, it helps because there's a lot of people that like to complain about the state of politics and about the state of our country, and it’s nice to actually do something about it.

JB: Yeah definitely.

KZ: Not that this is the only way to do something about it there are hundreds of ways thousands of ways.

Studio IX: Yeah that's a pretty direct one.

JB:  I feel as far as passion, the competition is a huge element for me. To get motivated by that competition. There are a number of comparisons you can make to athletics in politics, including the team that you have, the people with you, and the experience you get to share with them.

KZ: This is our first opportunity to actually build our own team. We've been brought into teams before but this is our first time building one.

Studio IX:  So it is kind of like cycling in that you have to build a team and then you might lose a stage but you win the race there's pain there's adrenaline everything is involved in it.

KZ:  Yeah there's lots of good analogies to make. The other exciting thing about this that sort of goes back to the adrenaline or the competition thing, is that I can wake up tomorrow and I have no idea what the headline or the breaking news of that day is going to be. But we have to acknowledge it, decide whether we’re going to respond to it, and do so very quickly. You wake up every day and you roll the dice on a lot of things.

JB: For sure and that's the other thing is the stakes of your decisions. You work on Wall Street, right, that's competitive, you can say the stakes are high but really at the end of the day what do people lose other than they lose money.

KZ:  Which to be fair for some people that's high stakes.

JB: Sure but the thing that I really feel motivated by in politics is there is a lot more at stake than just money. Policy, humanity, really big and you can say philosophical issues that are at stake and you get to fight for and talk about.

KZ:  And with that it's really easy to get an overinflated sense of self sometimes. We have to find ways to check our ego and bring it back down, it's very...I've worked with people that either come in with the wrong attitude or do it for too long and get something very much like a savior complex. If that happens then you don't last long.

JB:  Yeah and I think the one thing you really want to avoid is believing that you're more important than the issue at hand or more important than the person you're working for. Those are the two really dangerous complexes. Everybody has a role to play and it isn't about which is more important it's about the mission at hand and how you can get there.

Studio IX:  So what is it about Charlottesville? What drew you here?

KZ: Well for me it's just a lot easier because I've been here for twenty years. So I moved here when I was young, went to school here, went to college here, went off the beaten path a bit with college. I left Charlottesville for two years, left UVA for two years to go work on campaigns around the country, and actually just came back here in January to finally graduate.

JB: Yeah definitely. For me Charlottesville is really my first serious big move outside of the Pacific Northwest. When I left Oregon. Charlottesville is a really special place. I think the people, the natural beauty, it’s all really special. I don't know how to put my finger on it but you can sort of step in and out of different things. A lot of doors are open for you here.

JB: And I think Studio X is a contemplative place. I firmly believe that your built environment and the structural aesthetics around you, do actually have consequences on your experience. Going back to an office park, working in a nondescript bland generic environment, I think there are consequences for that. I think it's great how Studio X places a priority on what your environment look like and how do people move around in it.