For Larson aides, all roads lead to Capitol Hill

Rep. John Larson’s (D-Conn.) new staff assistant has leadership and public service in her blood, while his new communications director revels in “the dark side.”

At 23, Liz Malerba, from Uncasville, Conn., looks like the typical eager-to-please, politically active staff assistant. She’s also one-sixteenth Mohegan and the great-great-granddaughter of Chief Matahga, the Mohegan chief from 1937 to 1952. Among his other achievements, he championed the tribe’s rights to sacred burial grounds. Malerba’s grandmother served on the tribal council for more than 30 years, and her mother serves as the council’s vice chairwoman.

“I hope to continue the legacy and be able to give back to the tribe in some fashion,” Malerba said. “I’d be honored to help in any way possible.”

Although she originally planned to go into publishing, Malerba accepted an internship in 2004 with the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, and the experience changed her mind. She said she felt she could contribute more to society through politics than publishing. Last May, she completed a degree in women’s studies from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., where she served as president of FACE, the Feminist Association for Complete Equality.

After graduation, Malerba interned for Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) before joining Larson’s team in September. Her duties include greeting visitors, conducting tours and responding to constituent mail.

“I know it sounds really schmaltzy, but I really am thrilled about this,” Malerba said. “I feel like my life is sort of falling into place. It’s my first job, and I feel really privileged to be a part of history over here.”

As a journalist covering politics for National Public Radio, Emily Barocas, 28, often felt like she was on the outside looking in. Now Larson’s new communications director, she can hardly contain her enthusiasm at being invited to closed-door meetings on the Hill.

“Sometimes, I feel … like a kid in a candy shop: It’s so exciting, it’s so neat,” she said. “You know, if my friends at NPR knew what I was doing, they’d be so jealous.”

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Westchester County, N.Y., Barocas earned a degree in communications from Cornell University. During the 2006 midterm elections, she worked through the night at NPR, booking interviews for the next morning’s marathon broadcast to assess the election results. She was thrilled when the Democrats won, but had to refrain from celebrating.

“I … felt a little frustrated because I couldn’t have any opinions or work for anything that I believed in,” she said.

So Barocas made the leap to “the dark side,” her sarcastic moniker for public relations, when she called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) press secretary and asked for advice. Upon the secretary’s recommendation, she applied to be Larson’s communications director and was hired three weeks ago.

“When you work for somebody whose opinions you generally agree with, then you feel like you’re working towards a cause and working towards an end goal,” she said. “You’re part of the discussion as opposed to just watching.”