10 to Watch

Marisa O'Gara

Mayor Elorza's Deputy Chief of Staff

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Bio
• 24 years old
• Grew up in New Hampshire, but, “I consider Providence my adopted hometown”
• Worked on Sheldon Whitehouse’s 2012 reelection, as well as the successful marriage equality campaign
• Tutors French to students and adult professionals relocating to French-speaking countries

• Serves on the Planned Parenthood Young Professionals Steering Committee, and as Communications Director for the Young Democrats of RI

What She's Done So Far
Mayor-elect Elorza’s successful campaign benefited from a lot of high profile help, including several former opponents, Rhode Island’s entire congressional delegation and even the president, but there is only one person he publicly referred to as “the boss” throughout it all: his 24-year-old Campaign Manager, Marisa O’Gara. For all the stories written about the keys to Elorza’s success, his secret weapon was always her quiet force and effective leadership. (Full disclosure: I worked with O’Gara on that campaign and remain an unabashed fan.) Prior to joining his team, she was Deputy Director of Community Relations for Mayor Taveras.

Why We're So Impressed

Because if she can accomplish all that before her 25th birthday, imagine what she’ll do before her 30th. Putting aside her age, O’Gara’s accomplishments are no less impressive. During the primary, she organized a grassroots effort to propel a virtually unknown housing court judge and law professor past a Democratic machine that had already lined up behind the much better known and better funded City Council President, Michael Solomon. In the general election, she was responsible for managing that same Democratic machine while the Elorza campaign rapidly ballooned in size and scope – yet still managed to be overshadowed by the juggernaut that was the Cianci campaign. Throughout a tough election, she kept a young and relatively inexperienced team focused on sophisticated, data-driven efforts to identify and turn out voters through phone calls and door knocking. Her poise and steadiness kept the campaign grounded even when the atmosphere of the election turned circus-like. She was particularly adept at avoiding mistakes, never allowing Elorza or his team to get bogged down by the kinds of distractions and unforced errors that often sink even more experienced campaigns. At one point, RINPR reporter Ian Donnis referred to the campaign as “relentlessly on-message.”

What She'll Do Now
While her next move remains a matter of speculation, at least for the moment, a smart politician like Elorza is not going to let such a promising young talent slip away. With the top positions in his administration going to Tony Simon (Chief of Staff) and Brett Smiley (Director of Operations), it’s likely that O’Gara will wind up as one of their closest lieutenants – we’re betting on Simon. O’Gara herself declined to discuss specifics (always on-message), but did hint at a desire to work in the administration. “Before the campaign I worked for city government,” she said. “You really can make an impact at the city level. I’m interested in law and government because I think it’s the most effective way to make change.”

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