It Started in the Congressman’s Basement

It Started in the Congressman’s Basement

Potomac resident takes time off from college to work on Capitol Hill.

When Peter Dennis of Potomac, now 22, walked into the Dean’s office at Boston College and told them he wanted to take a year off to work on Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s (D-8) campaign after he won the primary election, it was one of the best decisions of his life, he said.

“I never felt so good,” Dennis said.

Dennis started working on the campaign in Van Hollen’s basement the summer after his sophomore year in college, in 2001. He did everything from fundraising to stuffing envelopes to working with the database, he said.

Dennis was the first volunteer on the campaign, Van Hollen said.

He came back to work on the campaign the next summer, after his junior year in college, in a new campaign office, with a new campaign manager. From that point on Dennis acted as the campaign’s Web master, he said.

Dennis went back to Boston College in the Fall of 2002, but flew in for the primary. In the excitement after winning the primary, Dennis decided to stay and help Van Hollen win Maryland’s 8th Congressional District.

Dennis was originally undecided on whether he was going to apply to work on the campaign for Mark Shriver or Van Hollen, he said. But then Van Hollen attended a small, 30-person or so town hall meeting in Bethesda, and Dennis was hooked.

“I knew right then and there that this was the guy I wanted to work for,” Dennis said. “I was really impressed that he was willing to get down on a personal level with the community.”

About a month after Van Hollen won the general election, he called Dennis and asked him to come work in the Congressional office. On Capitol Hill, Dennis continued to act as Webmaster and to help with constituent correspondence.

“He was here to get us off to a great start here on Capitol Hill," Van Hollen said.

“He is our systems administrator and legislative correspondent,” said Van Hollen’s Chief of Staff Kay Casstevens. “What that means is that he is our troubleshooter should anything malfunction or go wrong in terms of the computers and equipment and machinery.”

“He created and maintained our Web site, which is a very important communications tool,” Casstevens said.

Van Hollen’s office gets thousands of letters and faxes from his constituents and Dennis helped manage that flow of correspondence Casstevens said. Dennis also helped draft letters for the Congressman to review and edit.

Dennis is going back to Boston this month to finish his undergraduate degree in history.

“He’s really been an asset to this office and we’re sorry he’s going to go away, but he has to go back to school and we obviously support that,” Casstevens said.

“I can’t tell you enough wonderful things about Peter,” she added. “His work ethic is strong and his spirit is delightful. He’ll do anything and help anyone, and always with a positive attitude.”

Van Hollen’s legislative director Phil Halperson agreed. “Peter was very, very enthusiastic,” he said. “He brought a youthful vigor and exuberance to the office.”

"The thing about Peter is he pitched in whenever we needed him," Van Hollen said. "He was always eager to jump in with a great attitude and a great work ethic."

Dennis, who graduated from Churchill in 1999, is studying history at Boston College as a precursor to law. He plans to attend law school immediately after receiving his undergraduate degree.

“I’d like to do something in terms of public service—I don’t know what yet,” Dennis said. “Maybe just continue to work in D.C. or possibly something in Annapolis.”

“I wouldn’t mind working for Van Hollen again,” he continued. “Out of all the jobs I’ve had, he’s definitely the best boss. I’ve never met anyone who so genuinely just wants to help people.”

"There's always a home for you here," Van Hollen told Dennis. "We're going to make sure we have all his telephone numbers and e-mail addresses in case we get in trouble."

Dennis has worked as a camp counselor in New Hampshire and an administrative assistant for a real estate investment trust in Virginia. He also worked as a paperboy his freshman year of college to earn some money on the side, but the first job he had was mowing lawns, he said.

Before classes start Dennis plans to take a couple of weeks to show his girlfriend around New England, he said. He met Nicole Wynands, a foreign exchange student from Germany, on the campaign. They started dating a couple of weeks before the election and have been dating ever since, he said.