A Diaspora of CUNY Students into Halls of Power
After coming to the United States
from Haiti in 1986, at the age of 14, Marie Adam-Ovide attended
Tilden High School in Brooklyn and then headed for City College
with the hope of studying architecture. But after spending several
years out of school caring for her cancer-stricken mother, she
returned to campus with interests that had shifted to politics.
|City Council Finance Committee Chair
David Weprin, seated, conferring with intern Damion Noel,
left, former intern Marie Adam-Ovide, and intern Hemraj
Singh in his Queens district office. Photo, Rob Klein.
While working toward her CCNY B.A. in Political Science, Marie
heard about the CUNY Internship Program and applied. Little
did she realize this would lead her, in a few short years, to
a full-time position in one of the most important offices of
the New York City Council. She now manages the calendar of newly
elected City Councilman David I. Weprin, chair of the Council's
Finance Committee, which has become all- important as the Bloomberg
administration and City legislators face the challenge of the
9/11 aftermath and the simultaneous economic downturn.
Marie's Fall 2000 internship was with Weprin in his position
as leader in a north-east Queens district that encompassed parts
of Hollis, Queens Village, and Fresh Meadows. There, she says,
"I learned all about its community boards and police precincts,
and became familiar with the people in the constituency." After
the internship, Marie worked with Weprin's predecessor in City
Council District 23, Sheldon Leffler, then in subsequent months
as a volunteer on Weprin's own campaign for the office.
On the jubilant evening of Weprin's election, he popped the
question: would Marie like to join his staff full-time. As Weprin
explains, 'I was so impressed with Marie's energy during the
internship, and then, afterward, when she went above and beyond
the call of duty and volunteered to work on the campaign. She
never said no and was really performing so many
of the functions of a legislative assistant.”
Having become hooked on 'knowing what's going on in government
from the inside,' Marie accepted the offer with delight, and
now she is honing her diplomatic skills as Weprin's chief scheduler.
Asked if she might be tempted into public service herself, Marie.
'Oh, yes! But not any time soon." Referring to her two-year-old,
Patrick, she explains, "My son wouldn't have a mother! I have
seen how much time running for and holding elective office demandsall
the functions and long hours. That leaves very little time for
family life." For 34 years, since 1968, the CUNY Internship
Program has been ushering students like Marie Adam-Ovide into
the halls of power throughout the five boroughs, at City Hall,
up in Albany, and on Capitol Hill.
The name was officially changed last year
to the Edward T. Rogowsky Intern-ship Program in Government
and Public Affairs, in honor of its late, greatly admired
director from 1995 to 2001. One of Rogowsky's former Brooklyn
College interns, Anthony Alexis, was so inspired by the experience
that he actually ran for City Council himself last fall in
Brooklyn's District 41. Though he lost in the primary, AlexisÃ
campaign proved so impressive that the eventual winner, Tracy
Boyland, hired him as her full-time chief of staff.
According to the present director, Anthony J. Maniscalco,
in a typical year about 300 CUNY students, mostly juniors
and seniors, become interns. They may serve in district attorney
offices, with advocacy groups like the Association of Community
Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the New York Public
Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), in the offices of local
and state government officials, or those of Congressmen like
Gary Ackerman, Major Owens, and Vito Fossella.
Every summer 12 Rogowsky interns head down to Washington for
a two-month tour of duty, and this year, Maniscalco says,
"there is a banner number of 26 spring interns serving
in the State Legislature in Albany." He is also pleased that
Rogowsky interns will soon be emanating from CUNY's community
college campuses. Borough of Manhattan Community College became
the first to come onboard in Fall 2001, and efforts are under
way to bring the other community colleges into the fold.
All interns enroll in a three-to-six-credit weekly seminar
course in Political Science or Public Affairs on their home
campus, while agreeing to work 10 to 15 hours a week in their
assigned office. More than a third of these students exercise
the option to register for a second internship in a succeeding
semester. For Rogowsky interns, the highest praise is the
offer of a full-time job, and Maniscalco says with pleasure
that examples of this happy segue "occur all over the place."
He notes, for example, the full-time hire of Jennifer Hom,
a former York College intern, in the district office of Democratic
Representative Nydia Velazquez, then tells of a current intern,
Rasheida Smith, also from York College. Smith must have made
a very good impression on new District 27 Councilman Leroy
G. Comrie, because in mid- internship he offeredand
she accepteda full-time position in his Queens office
(Smith will continue her York course work).
In 2001, three Washington interns remained in their assigned
offices as full-time employees. Two others were offered full-time
positions but decided to return to New York to complete their
For the Rogowsky Internships, the highest compliment is the
government official, legislator, or executive who comes back
for more. Councilman Weprin has fallen eagerly into this category.
"It's a great program, and I'd love to see it expanded," he
says. "What with limited full-time staff capacity, my office
at 250 Broadway simply could not function without them, and
my new responsibilities as Chair of the Finance Committee
make their presence even more valuable."
Now helping to keep Weprin's Broadway
office functioning is Christine Falbe, a confirmed lover of
the city who arrived from Cincinnati at age 17 to study jewelry
design. Restless after earning her Fashion Institute degree
in that field, Christine moved on to Baruch College, where
she is a junior majoring in Finance and Investment. She has
clearly landed in the right office.
Weprin has also just gained a second Rogowsky intern, one
of the pioneers from BMCC, Damion Noel. Damion, who arrived
from Trinidad just eight months ago, is a Business Management
student on the Chambers Street campus. His prospective area
of interest is finance: he, too, has clearly landed in the
Just completing an internship with Weprin is yet another Rogowsky
intern, Hemraj Singh, a native of Guyana who is graduating
this June in Political Science from York College. Singh, who
plans to work after graduation and then hit the law books,
earlier interned with Queens State Assemblyman Michael Cohen.
Falbe and Noel are among the approximately
50 CUNY students working for City Councilmen this spring.
In addition, the Internship Program placed CUNY students with
each of the five Borough Presidents, as well as the office
of Betsy Gotbaum, New York City's new Public Advocate.