boston ma and washington dc may 6th – may 16th 2008
The cities of Boston and Washington DC played host to a group of fourteen elected officials, political party spokespersons, strategists and advocates from Ireland and Northern Ireland in May this year. The visitors were in the United States on a study visit geared toward exploring key facets of the American political system. Program participants conversed with their US counterparts on such topics as effective leadership practices, identifying and researching key issues, mobilizing public consciousness, and media relations. The ten-day study visit was designed and delivered by the Irish Institute at Boston College and funded through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Irish Institute’s mission is to support the peace and reconciliation process on the island through the provision of educational seminars and programs for public officials, business leaders, and educators. This is the tenth year in which their programs have received funding from the U.S. Government.
The Boston portion of the program began with two contextual seminars at Boston College; “An Introduction to the Complexities of American Government” with Professor Marc Landy of the Political Science department, and “Religion in American Public Life” with Professor Alan Wolfe, Founding Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and Public Life. The remainder of the week saw the group meet with local and state politicians, political journalists, advocacy groups, and lobbying organizations. Participants heard first hand about the electoral and legislative processes when they met with former Lieutenant Governor Dr. Kerry Healey. They were hosted at the Massachusetts State House by Representative Peter Koutoujian and at Boston City Hall by Councilor Sam Yoon. The visitors talked about effective media relations with Mr. Ray Howell, President of Howell Communications and with Mr. Jon Keller, chief political analyst for WBZ TV. Former Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Thomas P. O’Neill III and his colleagues and O’Neill & Associates spoke to the group about the intersection between government, business, and the media. The group enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about specific advocacy campaigns from Marylou Sudders, President of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and from Mr. Avi Green Executive Director of MassVote, a non-partisan voting rights organization that works to increase voter education and turnout.
The second week of the Effective Politics program brought the participants to Washington, DC where they had exceptionally engaging exchanges with both Mr. Mike Franc Vice President for Government Relations at the Heritage Foundation and later in the week with Mr. William Galston Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute. The group discussed the upcoming Presidential election with key staff at the Democratic National Committee. They met with Mr. Dillon Guthrie, Senior National Security Advisor to Senator John Kerry. The role of political action committees was the topic of conversation at both the National Organization of Women and the Human Rights Campaign. Participants were especially privileged to have private meetings with two of America’s leading political figures, Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Congressman Richard Neal of Massachusetts. Mr. Chris Ross, Director of National Affairs for Anheuser-Busch, spoke to the group about the day to day work of a Capitol Hill lobbyist. Finally, one of the most interesting and varied sessions that week saw the visitors take in a special briefing at the Department of State. Speakers included Ms. Colleen Graffy, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Mr. Dean Pittman, former U.S. Consul General to Northern Ireland and currently a member of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Office.