Sunday, March 25, 2007

One for Sunday Night

"When he's not on the campaign trail, Roger Fisk (right) is a member of the Popgun Seven rock-reggae band."
"JP operative hits the road for Obama" (Boston Globe):
Where others might see an endless string of details to get right and too many nights in third-tier cities, Roger Fisk sees hope for civic renewal.

What some might dismiss as stage-managed hoopla, he calls a tonic for a dozing democracy.

Which explains why the 39-year-old Jamaica Plain resident is back from several late-winter days in Iowa -- and pumped to talk about it.

As the new director of special events for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, Fisk is part of a parade of Bay State politicos who have given Massachusetts an outsized reputation for exporting political talent and fund-raising muscle into the quadrennial presidential sweepstakes. But while big-money rainmakers Alan Solomont and Steve Grossman and field operations impresario Michael Whouley make headlines when they sign on with a candidate, it's guys like Fisk who make the doughnuts.

A veteran aide to Senator John Kerry, Fisk has done advance work and event coordination for a string of state and national campaigns, including Kerry's bruising 1996 showdown with Bill Weld, his failed White House run in 2004, and Deval Patrick's campaign for governor last year.

An all-in-one event man, Fisk, who mainly operates behind the scenes, can also help rev up a political crowd on stage. He handles guitar for the Popgun Seven, a local band whose sound Fisk places "at the junction of rock and reggae." Their most recent campaign appearance was Patrick's election-night celebration.

Fisk got hooked on politics after answering an ad in 1989 for an intern in Kerry's Boston office. The eager 21-year-old showed up for an interview on the right day -- but one week early. "I advanced myself, if you will," he says.

A Kerry loyalist since, Fisk made no moves in the coming race until his boss officially closed the door on another presidential run. "I was all ready to charge back up the hill," says Fisk, even if many Democrats were not.

Within a day or two of Kerry's January announcement, Fisk says he heard from several Democratic camps, eventually deciding to leave Kerry's staff to coordinate large rallies for Obama, who has quickly become a rock-star type draw on the campaign trial. "When my sister, who lives in Bangor, Maine, told me she had been in a diner and heard a bunch of truck drivers talking about Barack, I knew that something was going on here," says Fisk.

Fisk has seen what happens when a candidate begins to connect with voters, sometimes well before the pundits and reporters can see it. It was in Iowa three years ago that he saw Kerry rise from the ashes of supposed also-ran to storm his way to the nomination. "Fifteen-hundred journalists in Iowa -- not a single one picked up on the fact that he was going to win," says Fisk.

He marveled at the turnout for the Obama event in Iowa that he had just returned from organizing. The campaign had aimed to draw a crowd of 1,300, but the Dubuque rally drew almost twice that, a turnout that "no other candidate could hope to get until the last 20 days of the cycle," he says.

While politics can breed cynicism in players and observers alike, Fisk oozes an earnest belief that campaigns -- and the rallies that can be their defining moments -- really do help repair the civic soul.

"I love doing events because I see civic life in America on the ropes," he says. "When I build these events, to me it is like re-creating the town square of old. There is a civic gene in the American character that hasn't been nourished in a while."

Each rally is "like a miniature life cycle," he says. "You build it, see it walk, then on game day it gallops, then it dies and you're stacking chairs."

"Those to me are congregations, not drive-bys," he says. "I always get a feeling of melancholy when it's over."

When it all works, though, there often is a day-after lift.

"Then you get the front-page color photo the next day," says Fisk. "I should have brought you the Dubuque Telegraph. It was beautiful."
Also this weekend, "Barack Obama calls for new political spirit during South Florida campaign swing" (South Florida Sun-Sentinel).



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