Kinsey Casey ’02 was destined for a life in public service. And no wonder:
Her Wagner College professors all knew it. So did her classmates, who chose her as a student senator, then president in our Student Government Association (among her many extra curricular activities).
Her childhood home in Helena, Montana, was located just three blocks away from the state capitol building; her second-grade soccer team practiced on its big, open lawn.
“I’m pretty sure my mom took me to city council meetings when I was a tiny baby,” she said. “My parents were hippies; my mom was always protesting, and my dad sort of got swept up into it.”
As a high school student, Kinsey was one of five students nominated by her teacher for the American Legion’s Girls’ State model legislature program. Kinsey was, of course, elected speaker of the house.
As a Wagner sophomore, Kinsey interned with two campaigns: one candidate lost (Nancy Keenan in Montana), the other won (Hillary Clinton in New York).
But it was her first real job in politics, as a field organizer for New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen’s 2002 senate campaign, that yielded the connection that would shape much of the next five years of her life.
“I went up there partly because New Hampshire has the first-in-the-nation primary, and it’s sort of the training ground for presidential campaigns,” she said. “Almost every presidential candidate came to my tiny little field office. Howard Dean was there for my birthday.”
Also visiting her field office was Nick Baldick, who was running John Edwards’ campaign — and they connected.
“He had a reputation of being a young go-getter in politics,” she said. “He was the next up-and-coming campaign manager.”
Kinsey Casey worked for Baldick, off and on, through a number of campaigns for a number of years, including a 13-month gig with Hilltop Public Solutions, Baldick’s D.C.-based political consultancy.
Kinsey calls the Edwards campaign, which sank amid scandal, her “one big mistake” — but her departure from it led to a staff position with the upcoming Democratic National Convention and a role in the 2008 Barack Obama campaign. On election eve, she and a quarter million of her closest friends (including a teary-eyed Oprah Winfrey) gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park to celebrate the president-elect’s historic victory.
Paradoxically, up to this point, Kinsey Casey didn’t have a particularly good impression of life inside the Beltway, based mostly on her consultancy experience.
“I actually hated the time I spent in Washington,” she had told us in an earlier interview, some 15 years ago. “I vowed never to go back unless I’m working in the White House.”
Naturally, her next move was to Washington, where she spent seven years working in the Obama administration — part of it in the White House — becoming one of those unsung operatives who quietly get stuff done for the American people.
“That’s how I like it,” she said. “I like to be the person behind the visionary with the big ideas; I take those big ideas and make sure that they happen.”
Kinsey worked for three years as an “advance” staffer for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, “one of the greatest experiences of my life,” she said, “my traveling education of the world. I ended up going to 23 countries with her.”
That was followed by two years on the White House staff as national security director for presidential personnel — “somewhere I’d always aspired to be and didn’t think, as a little girl growing up in Montana, was something achievable” — and another two years as the chief of staff for Secretary of State John Kerry’s Office of Global Partnerships.
“I didn’t want to leave that job because I loved it, it was fun,” she said — but the end of the Obama administration was approaching, and her long-term boyfriend had gone back to his home town of Pittsburgh. After about a year of commuting between the two cities, Kinsey decided it was time to move to the Steel City herself.
During her job search, she connected with another former Obama administration official who needed “a D.C. person” in his office. For the first time in her career, Kinsey Casey spent two years outside politics and government, working as deputy chief of staff for the chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh.
It was the disruption at Pitt caused by the new Trump administration — especially the chaos caused in higher education by the travel ban of early 2017 — that led her back into politics. Emerge America, a San Francisco-based organization dedicated to increasing the number of Democratic women leaders, needed a new chief of staff — and her name was Kinsey Casey.
“After Trump was elected, the organization grew so quickly because everyone wanted to join this fight to elect more women,” Kinsey said, “and the wheels were coming off because it was expanding so quickly.”
Kinsey and her husband, Rick Siger, moved back to Pittsburgh after a year and a half, where Kinsey took another public-service job as chief of staff to Bill Peduto, the city’s mayor. Peduto lost his reelection primary last year — meaning that, come the new year, Kinsey would need another job.
So it was back to Pitt, where she serves today as the associate vice chancellor for economic development in the health sciences.
“We’re working on building a facility we’re calling BioForge, a cell- and gene-therapy manufacturing facility,” she said. “It’s designed to take cells out of a human, manipulate them, and put them back in to fight cancer or whatever it is you’re trying to fight.
“I’m not a scientist,” she said, “I’m just trying to help the vision of these scientists become a reality.”