University of Vermont

Leahy to Obama Administration: Class of '85 Alumnus Finds Place in Politics

Ed Pagano with U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Leahy's office)

Ed Pagano ’85 was perfectly happy working as chief of staff for U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy. Then the phone rang, and the only employer capable of luring him away from the longtime legislator from Vermont was calling.

“When the President of the United States asks you to work for him, you answer the call,” says Pagano, who was named President Obama’s deputy director of legislative affairs in March. “It was very hard to leave Leahy’s office because he’s a wonderful man and a loyal friend. I’ve been blessed to have worked for two men of integrity."

With only a few months under his belt at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Pagano says he’s still learning the ropes, but has been “amazed at how much information the White House has to deal with on a given day.” His experience with Leahy, the second most senior member in the senate, has been helpful in working with all branches of government.

“My work focuses on the senate, and I’ve been able to blend my previous experience with my current duties,” says Pagano, who was a strong supporter of Obama’s 2008 campaign. “It’s a true privilege and an honor to come to the White House every day and work for President Obama.”

Pagano’s path to the White House, or even poliitics in general, wasn't clear cut when he was at UVM. He wasn't a political science major or active in political groups on campus. He majored in English and played four years of basketball. It was on a recruiting trip to campus when he “fell in love with the place and the view of Camel's Hump from Harris-Millis,” he says. “I had a great four years at UVM. It really opened up new worlds for me that I otherwise wouldn’t have discovered.”

Pagano, who played power forward for the Catamounts, has yet to utilize his basketball skills against Obama, who is known for enjoying an occasional lunchtime game among staffers. “I’m hoping to get to play with him sometime. That would be a lot of fun.”

After graduation, Pagano moved to New York and worked as a paralegal while earning his law degree from Fordham University at night. After an unfulfilling stint at a law firm in D.C., Pagano found his calling as a field director for the Clinton-Gore campaign at the same time Leahy was running for the U.S. Senate. One year later, Pagano joined Leahy's office as an attorney, quickly moving up the ranks until taking over as chief of staff in 2005.

In addition to managing Leahy’s Washington and Vermont offices, Pagano oversaw his boss’ work on the senate Judiciary, Agriculture and Appropriations committees and advised on the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, the first major reform of the patent system in 60 years. He also played a key role in the hearings and confirmations of Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. More recently, Pagano helped Leahy secure disaster relief and renovation funds after Tropical Storm Irene ravaged Vermont.

“Ed is as exemplary and honest and modest a public servant as any I have known,” Leahy said at the time of the announcement. “Now he is taking on another big job, with huge challenges, and it is a testament to Ed's stature and skill set that the president has picked the best person for a tough and vital job.”

Despite the long hours involved with his new job, Pagano, who is married to Democratic consultant and MSNBC Hardball commentator Jenny Backus, says he still manages to find time for his most important job -- being a father to his five-year-old son John Jack Wallace Pagano. “The new job has been 12 hours per day, but I still get to see my son every morning and read him a story at night.”