Sunshine State status not required in Fla. office

It’s not a requirement to be a Florida native to work for Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), but it helps if you have some affection for the Sunshine State.

Kathleen Hennessey, 23, who grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from the University of Buffalo, first came to Capitol Hill in May 2005 to be the congressman’s scheduler. She’s now his executive assistant, which means she’ll be working more closely with the district staff.

Her first brush with political work came in August 2004, when she came to Washington to intern and then work for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Her switch to the Hill was strategic: “I love campaigns, but I wanted to see the government, not just the politics,” she says.

One of Hennessey’s new colleagues is Justin Kimbler, also 23. He has been with Diaz-Balart only since the end of January and is a staff assistant. Before that, he interned for former Rep. Anne Northup (R-Ky.), now running for governor.

What attracted Kimbler to Diaz-Balart’s office was the Hispanic influence that sets some of the office tone — a product of the congressman’s Cuban roots. In his native Louisville, Ky., Kimbler had worked and volunteered as a musician for two Hispanic churches. He plays bass and guitar. He graduated from the University of Louisville, studying business management and international business. He also completed an internship in the Dominican Republic.

In his spare time, Kimbler is trying to build up his running skills so he can one day participate in a marathon.

Meanwhile, Adriana Pereira, the new press secretary in the office, is a native Floridian. She came to work for Diaz-Balart in May of last year as a staff assistant and deputy press secretary. She graduated from Florida International University in Miami.

“My two loves are journalism and politics,” she says, explaining that she promptly figured out that she was better off on the press side of the office. “I think I’m a press person, not so much a politics person. I’m about getting the word out and outreach.”

Pereira is a second-generation Cuban-American. Her parents are Cuban natives who came to the United States two years after Fidel Castro’s regime took over. She is struck by the fact that her mother left Cuba at age 11 with a 6-year-old cousin. Her mom’s parents followed two weeks later. Her dad, meanwhile, left Cuba as a teenager.

Pereira, who learned Spanish before English, is Miami through and through, and her eyes light up when she talks about the city where she was born and raised. “Miami is a unique, amazing place and it will always be my home,” she says. “I know the district. I know the constituency. I know the media.” 

Someday she intends to return to Miami. But that doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon, considering the fact that she’s earning her master’s in public administration at American University at night.

Her attitude is not the typical goal-oriented mindset one usually hears on the Hill. “I’ve had so many curveballs thrown at me in life, I try not to plan,” she says, explaining that she had her sights set on one university — the University of Florida — and got accepted at every school but that one.

Nonetheless, she admits, her dream job would be to become a public official in Miami.