George Kundanis: Senior adviser, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)
Few veterans of Capitol Hill have been there longer — and had a closer window to power — than George Kundanis.
The Chicago native arrived in the halls of Congress in 1976 and, beginning a decade later, has been a top adviser to every chief Democratic leader in the House, serving former Rep. Tom Foley (D-Wash.), who would go on to become Speaker; former Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), the House minority leader; and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) through the entirety of her historic leadership tenure.
That remarkable run continued this year, when Kundanis, 73, joined the office of Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) as a senior adviser — a wide-ranging role that defies easy description. He is at once a political consultant, policy expert, messaging guru, master of floor tactics and in-house congressional historian.
“I’m available,” Kundanis said with characteristic modesty. “Mostly I stick with communications and keeping people abreast of what’s going on in the caucus. They call it senior adviser, and that’s pretty much what it is. It’s like people looking at situations, asking how they might have been dealt with in the past.”
The Capitol Hill of the past, Kundanis is quick to note, looked very different than it does today. Congress, and especially leadership, was older, whiter, and almost exclusively male — a far cry from the current Congress which is much more diverse and, in the figure of Jeffries, features the first African American to lead either party in either chamber.
“I went into my first meeting, and it was all white men — the whole room. All the staff, all the members: all white men,” Kundanis said with a laugh. “And now, you know, it’s nearly the opposite.”
After almost five decades on Capitol Hill, Kundanis has seen plenty of staffers come and go. He has remained, he says, for reasons similar to those propounded by his old boss, the 83-year-old Pelosi.
“She was doing it because she believes in the principles that she believes in,” he said. “And the best way to make sure that those principles are protected is by being there and fighting for them.”