Softball coach, bookworm, joins Kildee’s office

Alec Gerlach, 25, is a troll. That’s what Upper Peninsula Michiganders call anyone who lives south of the Mackinaw Bridge in Michigan. To be more specific, he’s from Trenton, Mich., near Detroit. But he doesn’t act like a troll one bit.

It’s been an entire week since Gerlach started work as deputy press secretary for Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.). The eight-person staff in the office is tight-knit; when I met them one Wednesday afternoon, they were all sitting around a table together, eating lunch.

“His staff has been around for a while, which tells me he’s a good person to work for,” Gerlach said. “[Kildee]’ll tell stories about way back in the ’80s.”

When he moved to D.C. two and a half years ago, Gerlach thought urban housing would work the same way as it does in Detroit: cheap apartments downtown, expensive condos in the outer suburban sprawl. He was shocked to find the opposite: a vibrant and expensive downtown, and cheaper pockets in the suburbs.

“D.C. is more community-oriented, and I think there was better urban planning,” he said.

Gerlach now lives in Tenleytown, which he says may be “too suburban” for him. To counter his suburban image, he and his girlfriend go look at modern art.

Before coming to Kildee’s office, Gerlach worked as deputy press secretary for Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) on the Energy and Commerce Committee. In Kildee’s office, he replaces Badar Tareen, who is attending law school at the University of North Carolina.

Only a few days into the job, Gerlach is still finding his bearings.

“I’m apparently intern coordinator,” he said. “One of them is actually two years older than I am.” But he tries to keep them busy.

Gerlach doesn’t come off as nerdy, but he is a bookworm. No novels, he’s quick to point out. He read Plato’s Republic after moving here and is now plowing through The Black Book of Communism (a 900-pager) and Dante’s Inferno.

Speaking of infernos, he wishes it weren’t July. In fact, he’d prefer it were December. Gerlach graduated in 2004 from Michigan State University, where he says winters are “ridiculous.” Since it is a large land-grant university, there was plenty of walking to and from class. He would trudge through two feet of snow and uphill for half an hour to get to class.

He may not have the accent, but he is a true Midwesterner and prefers winters there to the ones in D.C.

“Here you just get the cold; in Michigan you get heavy snowfall, a white Christmas,” he explained. “If you’re going to do winter, do it right.”

A Detroit Tigers fan from before they were good, Gerlach has pursued his love of the game here. He has assumed responsibility for the Michigan delegation softball team — the Great Lakers.

His primary duty isn’t coaching — it’s bringing the beer.