During his time at Penn, Joseph Ahearn never saw himself as the cornerstone of several political campaigns. A classical studies and American history major, the 2007 College graduate was not especially involved in politics as a student.
Since he left Penn, however, Ahearn has quickly made a name for himself on the campaign trail, serving most recently as the regional finance director of 1987 College graduate Jon Huntsman’s unsuccessful presidential bid. He has also worked on Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2009 re-election campaign, as well as in several other regional races.
Ahearn, who now runs a consulting firm and serves as chief of staff for New York State Assemblyman and School of Veterinary Medicine graduate Stephen Katz, said he always knew in the back of his mind that he wanted to pursue a career in politics but could not have foreseen his extensive experiences in campaigns.
“I thought that I would be on the other side of campaigns [as an actual candidate], but campaigns are kind of addicting,” he said.
‘Over the top’
Upon graduating from Penn, Ahearn went on to work for a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. for six months, with the hopes of paving his way to Capitol Hill. In January 2008, he seized the opportunity to work for McCain on the Arizona senator’s financial team.
He recalls this campaign as the one that launched his career.
From there on, each campaign led him to the next. For example, Ahearn saw a lack of organization in the Republican Party in New York, where he was working as part of Rep. Nan Hayworth’s (R-NY) campaign. In consolidating the local politicians’ efforts, Ahearn developed close ties with Katz and was able to “put him over the top for his campaign.”
Throughout his political career, Ahearn has developed numerous connections with members of the Penn community. These affiliations were especially apparent during his time working for Huntsman.
“Gov. Huntsman had a lot of folks from the Penn community support him starting at the beginning of the race,” he said. “The fact that we were able to utilize the Penn network … was a great starting point for someone who had been out of the country for two years.”
He has also provided mentorship for younger Penn students looking to follow in his footsteps.
Wharton and College sophomore Sacha Samotin said he first met Ahearn when he recognized a Penn logo on his belt and struck up a conversation.
“He is a really intelligent guy, great to work with, greatly gifted,” said Samotin, who was a full-time paid employee for Huntsman’s campaign. “We talked about the fact that we shared many of the same political science professors, and it was nice to know someone from Penn on the campaign for a Penn alum.”
In College sophomore Anthony Cruz’s case, Ahearn served as the link to the University.
As a high school student, Cruz volunteered at the campaign office for Bloomberg’s re-election campaign with Ahearn, who strongly encouraged him to consider Penn in his college search.
Cruz said he still keeps in touch with Ahearn and met up with him at a rally for Huntsman last year.
“He put his back into that campaign and running the office, and he encouraged me,” he said. “I was probably the youngest volunteer at the office, and he made me feel like I was one of the important ones.”
He added that Ahearn has not only given him practical advice, such as encouraging him to take a class with politics professor John DiIulio, but also has provided an example of good campaigning and the opportunities available for young people in politics.
Now more than five years removed from Penn, Ahearn is focusing on developing his consulting business while continuing to work with a variety of campaigns.
“I get to wear many hats,” he said, adding with a laugh that his resume is already 11 pages long, with no signs of stagnating.
Ahearn pointed to the day-to-day challenges of campaigning as a difficulty for him but emphasized that he wants to continue to support the politicians with whom he has grown close.
“Overall, it’s a campaign, it’s a race, it’s a fight,” he said. “There is someone who is going to try to distort something or bring you down, and that’s the way it is at the end of the race.”
Brendan Browne, a 2007 Engineering graduate who will be a groomsman in Ahearn’s upcoming wedding, believes Ahearn still has many opportunities ahead of him.
“I could see him kissing babies [as a politician], but I think that he likes to be the dealmaker and run things behind the scenes as well,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that he would never run for office himself, but I think he’s found a niche.”
This story has been updated to reflect that Samotin was a full-time paid employee for Huntsman’s campaign, not a volunteer.