Capitol Faces: Sean P. Nichols


Position: Communications director, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)
Age: 44

Hometown: Montgomery, Ala.
Marital status/children: Married to Robin, also a Hill staffer, with two boys: Langston, 6, and Patrick, 2
Last job: Independent PR/communications consultant

First job: UniServ director, Alabama Education Association

Most embarrassing moment: “Trying to explain ‘reptile dysfunction’ to my 4-year-old son when he overheard a Levitra TV commercial.”
Number of cups of coffee you drink per day: Two or three bottles of Frappuccino coffee drink
Religion: Catholic
Favorite political TV show: “The West Wing”
Favorite political movie: Three-way tie between “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “All The President’s Men” and “The American President”

Most inspirational figure:
“My sons. Knowing that they may grow up in a world in worse condition than I did inspires me to help make a difference.”
Dream job (not including present one): “When I retire one day, I’d like to open a jazz supper club and name it Madam Zenobia’s.”
College: Alabama State University

Passion outside work: Scuba and golf.

Sean Nichols’s grandparents, Fred and Nellie Briers, lived next door to Martin Luther King Jr. on Jackson Street in Montgomery, Ala. Nichols, a new aide to Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), recounts his grandfather’s memories of the man.

“He would say, ‘I could tell King was a passionate man from the first time I met him,’ “ Nichols says, adding that Briers would know, since they, too, participated in the civil rights movement in Montgomery.

During the Montgomery County bus boycott in 1955, for instance, Fred and Nellie Biers shuttled blacks from work to home. Fred worked for a railroad company; Nellie was a schoolteacher.

Nichols says it’s difficult to know how close his grandparents were to the Kings because he never got the chance to ask them before they died. He described them in a recent e-mail as “good neighbors [who] shared many friends in the community.”

As African-Americans living in the South in the 1950s, the Briers’ lives were sometimes threatened. Nichols recounted the time a bomb was thrown onto the Briers’ porch. His grandfather pulled his children to the floor and covered them with his body. Fortunately, the bomb never exploded.

Hearing stories from his grandparents about the civil rights movement is the main reason why Nichols, from a young age, had his sights on Capitol Hill.

“My grandfather used to say, ‘You can be part of the problem or part of the solution,’ and he was part of the solution,” Nichols said.

Another influence on Nichols was the Watergate scandal. Nichols recounts watching the congressional hearings on TV as a 10-year-old. He would reenact the hearings with GI Joe dolls.

Nichols previously worked for former Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). Running for public office someday is not in his plans.

“I prefer working behind the scenes, helping people,” he says.