Fairfield University political science student plays big role in mother's election as governor of New Hampshire


When people today talk of whom they prefer to vote for in elections, the responses are usually borne of disappointment or frustration. Voting for the lesser of two evils or the wish for another choice are common responses. But Stefany Shaheen, a political science major at Fairfield University and member of the class of 1997, was not one of them in this past election.

A resident of New Hampshire, she was so gung-ho for the Democratic candidate for governor in her State, she dropped out of Fairfield this semester, turned down a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Belize and an opportunity to graduate early, and left the volleyball team in which she was a three-year starter to spend her time campaigning for her candidate's election. It didn't hurt that the candidate was her mother, Gov.-elect Jeanne Shaheen, who became the first ever woman governor in New Hampshire and the only female Democratic governor in the nation on Nov. 5.

Stefany joined her mother's campaign in May when Gov. Shaheen declared her candidacy, and was her mother's scheduler, handler and grassroots retail politicker. She worked mostly afternoons and evenings, driving her mother to events, sitting in with her on editorial board meetings at newspapers, and scheduling appearances with local groups who wanted Candidate Shaheen to speak. "It was a ruthless job. I was getting several requests a day for speaking engagements all at the same time. So I had to decide who she would see and what was the best use of her time," said Stefany.

Stefany served often as a stand-in for her mother at campaign events. One of her big roles was to attract the youth vote, so she barnstormed through 59 towns and stumped at 25 high schools, and colleges, sororities, women's studies groups--basically, to anyone who would listen. She established the Students for Shaheen team and they wore caps that proclaimed: Shaheen R.O.C.S. (Reaching Out and Connecting Students). She spoke before large crowds, including some with as many as 200, encouraging their participation in politics and reminding them of their responsibility to vote. "It was tremendous experience," she said.

Her appeals paid off. Of 24,000 high school students polled, Gov. Shaheen was favored over he opponent by a 3 to 1 margin.

Stefany also took care of the little things that in the television age may turn out to be major embarrassments. "My role also was to get her to places on time, make sure her lipstick wasn't on her teeth and mascara was in the right place," she said.

As an intern last spring in Washington, D.C. where she worked in the White House on President Clinton's Domestic Policy Council, she met President Clinton, First Lady Hillary Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Jesse Jackson and Gloria Steinem. She said Gore was "intelligent and sincere" and that President Clinton had the ability to connect to young people in the same way celebrities do.

Being a White House intern prepared her for her mother's campaign. "It framed my experience," she said. A political science major and women's studies minor, Stefany said her professors at Fairfield - Dr. Donald Greenberg and Dr. Alan Katz she mentioned in particular - are "wonderful" and gave her a "solid grounding" in political theory. She thinks that after the rigor of the campaign, she may step back and ponder her future while maybe volunteering in AmeriCorps or the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

She said she was grateful for the privilege of participating in the political process and having the opportunity to discourage young people from being cynical and apathetic about government. "I have learned that everybody has the power to change the system. My mother started out as a concerned citizen who was frustrated with the status quo. She took little baby steps that amounted to giant leaps. Now she's the first woman governor ever in New Hampshire.

"We have an obligation to be informed about the political process. It can be disheartening and discouraging, but it takes seeing for what it is and getting beyond it. My mother has been part of many lost elections - it's the losses that make the victories matter. My mother's supporters voted for hope and for what can be different. As a U.S. citizen you shouldn't take your role in the process for granted. You're vote does count."

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on November 1, 1996