The Hill's 25 Women to Watch: Page 7 of 26

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CAPITOL HILL

CATLIN O’NEILL

CHIEF OF STAFF, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI

Catlin O’Neill, the chief of staff to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), has politics in her veins. Not only is the D.C.-area native the granddaughter of legendary House Speaker Tip O’Neill, but her great-great-grandfather — on the other side of the family — is George Wallace Jones, one of the first senators to represent Iowa in Washington.

Both would surely appreciate O’Neill’s rapid ascent on Capitol Hill, where the 35-year-old “commands the respect of members of Congress and my constituents,” in the words of Pelosi.

Still, O’Neill says her foray into politics was hardly inevitable. Indeed, she was a self-described idealist working in the music industry in New York City when the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, provoked a move to public service.

“My world came crashing down and I realized that I had just been sort of naive,” she said in an interview this month.

After a stint with former Gov. Bill Richardson in New Mexico, O’Neill accepted an offer from Pelosi to come to Washington. She thought she might last two years before returning to the arts. Instead, she came to adore the work.

“I never expected to live in Washington, D.C., and I certainly never expected to work in politics,” she said. “[But] I had sort of this moment of clarity where I said, ‘You’re committed to this, you love this, just go with it.’ ”

O’Neill attributes much of her success to Pelosi, whom she calls “a role model” and “a tremendous force of nature.”

It’s a respect that’s reciprocated. 

“Her commitment to public service and her dynamism are in her DNA,” Pelosi said. “In all that she does, she wins admirers and friends.” 

O’Neill’s future, she said, remains up in the air.

“My life has been blessed with a series of phenomenal opportunities … so I’m hoping that something comes along that’s just as exciting,” she said. 

“But,” she added, “I’ve never really been a big planner.”

— Mike Lillis

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