Maffei’s new flack: ‘I’m not just a Spitzer sob story’

There’s one entry on Abigail Gardner’s résumé that might as well be outlined in blinking neon lights with a “Look here!” arrow next to it.

Gardner, the new press secretary for freshman Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), worked for former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D).

In his communications office.

When Spitzer’s involvement in a prostitution ring became an international news sensation last year.

Gardner, 26, realizes this is something she can’t avoid talking about.

“It was just really hard,” she says, describing scenes of nearly being trampled by hundreds of stampeding reporters outside the governor’s Manhattan office.

“I mean, you work so hard, and for it to disappear over something so senseless, so quickly … ” she trails off.

But Gardner isn’t sitting around crying about it. She is determined not to let that experience define her.

“I’m not just a Spitzer sob story,” she says. “That was only two days of my life.”

Indeed, Gardner is much more — including a transit bus driver.

Gardner got her start in politics as an intern for Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) 2004 presidential campaign. When he lost, she cried. And cried. And cried.

She couldn’t discuss the defeat with her dad, a staunch Republican, without breaking into tears.

“He was like, ‘You need to calm down,’ ” Gardner says. “ ‘You need to have a conversation about this and not just lose it.’ ”

Gardner has since gotten a hold of herself.

“I probably wouldn’t last long as a press secretary if I couldn’t hold a more coherent conversation,” she says.

Before her press-secretary pursuits, the 5-foot-1-inch Gardner drove an 11-ton, 30-foot-long, 60-passenger transit bus as a student at her alma mater, the University of Virginia. She shuttled students around campus and into the surrounding Charlottesville area.

“You get into a rhythm,” she says of driving a bus. “It’s sort of Zen.”

No matter how relaxing driving a bus may be, Gardner’s mom wasn’t so pleased.

“Just like with politics, when I started this, my mother was mortified,” she says, comparing this reaction to her mom’s reluctance to her daughter taking short-term, insurance-less campaign jobs.

Her mother eventually embraced the bus-driving.

“And then after a year, I think just like with campaigns, [it became] a point of pride,” she says.

Gardner’s commercial driver’s license also came in handy while she was working on an advance team in 2007 for President Obama’s presidential campaign. She drove a pickup truck hauling a roughly 20-foot-long flat-bed trailer full of bike racks to be used as security blockades at a rally.

“You never know when someone’s going to have to haul a trailer,” she points out.

Her mother’s concerns should now be assuaged. Gardner no longer drives a bus with regularity, and she has a steady job that includes health insurance and a career track.

In fact, her whole family has gotten caught up in Gardner’s career in politics. Her grandmother, a longtime Republican, voted for Obama last year, something Gardner takes partial credit for. (She and her dad, whom she likens to a George Will conservative intellectual, don’t agree on much, but she says she thinks he is “very proud that I’m involved.”)

“It’s been very — ‘cute’ sounds patronizing — but it’s been very cute to see the family get behind it,” she says.