With months of service as Al Gore's deputy campaign press secretary now under his belt, Alejandro Cabrera '96 can sum up the presidential campaign experience in one word: fattening.
"No exercise and horrible food," says Cabrera, who studied political communications at Pomona. Although physical exertion may be scant, dealing with often-caustic reporters from around the world has called for mental gymnastics. One of his primary responsibilities, he notes, has been "to spin the news--I mean, to push angles for stories."
As a member of Gore's "ground team," Cabrera has mostly worked at the candidate's campaign headquarters in Nashville, though he went to Los Angeles for the Democratic National Convention. An air team has traveled with Gore on the hustings.
In Nashville, Cabrera was been stationed in the "war room," where representatives from each campaign department convene. "In the war room, all of the different power centers of the campaign are represented at once, which allows for a rapid response when problems or questions arise," he says.
A few small problems arose as a consequence of Cabrera's predilection for practical jokes. After it was announced in June that Secretary of Commerce Bill Daley would be taking over the chairmanship of the Gore campaign, Cabrera set up a spurious e-mail account under Daley's name and began sending other staff members curt instructions and strange demands for memos. "I stopped when someone called Daley himself, wanting to know when they needed to turn in a memo about the economic feasibility of instituting a formal dress code, à la uniforms," for the campaign staff, he says.
His reputation for pranksterism was established at the start. When Cabrera, who had worked as an assistant press secretary for the vice president since 1998, signed up to join the campaign, he noticed that the standard staff contract included a clause forbidding the signee from talking to the press. Because talking to the press was to be his prescribed duty, he asked for and received permission to change that clause. While he was at it, he decided to change others as well. He modified his formal title, crossing out deputy press secretary and penciling in "exotic dancer." The contract was processed as modified, and Cabrera has business cards authenticating his unique contribution as the first stripper employed in a U.S. presidential campaign, at least in an official capacity.
His irreverence did not go unnoticed. When a campaign official was taking Gore's mother, Pauline, around the headquarters to meet the people working on behalf of her son's bid for the presidency, she needed no introduction to Cabrera. "As soon as Mrs. Gore saw me, she smiled and said, 'Oh, I know you. You're the devil,'" he says. It could have been worse. "I've been called numerous things by numerous people in this job, many of them unprintable."
A sense of humor helps when 20 urgent voice-mail messages pile up during a brief lunch break, but Cabrera's immersion in politics was far from capricious. He was an English major at Pomona before spending a semester in Washington as part of a special study program. He returned smitten, with an intense desire to "participate in the process," he says. He changed his major to a self-designed one probing the strategies and theories behind political comunications.
After graduation, he went back to Washington, working first as a writer for a National Education Association magazine, and later as a policy researcher. He then became a lower-level aide to U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, a Democrat whose district includes downtown Los Angeles. When Becerra's press secretary went on maternity leave, Cabrera took over the position. His energetic, no-holds-barred approach attracted attention in Washington, and he was soon recruited for the vice president's office. He joined Gore's presidential campaign early this year.
Fattening it may be, and the hours notorious, but working on a presidential campaign has its charms. "It's fun," says Cabrera. "I can't believe that they would pay me for the job. Every day is a blast." One hazard of campaign work is that Election Day hangs like the sword of Damocles, with the potential for swift detachment. But the ambitious Cabrera, who has considered the prospect of running for political office himself, wasn't very worried about that when he was interviewed during the Democratic convention. He says his experience has prepared him well for a similar pursuit.
"I push angles, I talk on every conceivable kind of cell phone, I get to talk to powerful people," he says. "It's pretty clear that I'm going to become a Hollywood agent after this." --Michael Balchunas