630 Under 30: Aberger, Amo go from White House to State House

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 By Kim Kalunian, WPRO News 

While it’s Governor Gina Raimondo herself who’s typically in the spotlight, behind the scenes a team of people is working hard to make her office tick.

Among them are Marie Aberger and Gabe Amo, two young Rhode Island natives who come to the State House by way of the White House.

Aberger, 27, is the governor’s press secretary. On a daily basis, she deals with members of the media, spreading the governor’s main messages and accompanying her on her public events. She fields questions, issues statements and keeps her cell phone pressed to her palm at all times.

Gabe Amo, also 27, is the governor’s director of public engagement. He said he’s tasked with taking the governor’s message to groups beyond the confines of the news media. When he’s not behind the handsome wooden desk in his cavernous office, he’s meeting with various groups, connecting with business leaders, educators, environmentalists and other constituencies.

Amo, the son of African immigrants, grew up in Pawtucket and went to high school at Moses Brown. He served as the student government president his senior year, and spent time volunteering for local leaders like former Attorney General Patrick Lynch and Congressman Patrick Kennedy. Before he went on to study political science and economics at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, he landed his first job in politics: working for Sheldon Whitehouse’s first U.S. Senate campaign. Amo also went on to study at the University of Oxford as a Marshall Scholar.

“Politics and government have always been the most interesting things to me,” Amo said.  “My path here is a product of being singularly focused on trying to contribute to public service.”

Aberger feels the same way and said public service has always been her passion. Aberger grew up in Cranston and, like the governor, attended La Salle Academy. She studied public policy at Duke University and spent the summer between her junior and senior years interning for Vice President Joe Biden.

“I was lucky enough to get a White House internship,” she said. Her hard work in the press office paid off, and right before her graduation from Duke, her phone rang. It was the White House, and they wanted her to come back and work for the vice president full time.

“I never would have ever thought it would be possible,” Aberger said. She started in May 2010 – a couple of weeks before her graduation – and spent three years at the White House.

But she wasn’t with Biden the whole time. Her boss in Biden’s office was Jay Carney, who before long went on to become President Barack Obama’s press secretary. When he made the transition to the president’s staff, he took her with him.

“Both jobs were incredible,” she said, describing how she got to travel with the president’s press pool to various places around the globe.

But the thing that Aberger describes as “probably the coolest moment that will ever happen in my life” happened right in Washington, D.C.

Aberger was helping the president prepare for his inauguration in 2012, but for some reason, the first lady wasn’t able to attend the “dress rehearsal” of his swearing-in ceremony.

“So I ended up somehow filling in for her,” Aberger said with a laugh. The first lady is tasked with holding the Bible while the president takes his oath of office, so Aberger filled that role. There was just one problem: she couldn’t find a Bible.

“So I had to grab the only book on my desk, which was ‘The Life of Pi,’” she said. “So I practice swore in the president of the United States with the ‘Life of Pi.’”

The moment was caught in a photograph that Aberger proudly displays.

Amo also spent time in presidential politics. He first worked on President Obama’s re-election campaign in Chicago and then went on to work in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

He said he got to experience “everything from natural disasters and sitting in the Situation Room, to hearing the president talk about a strategy on drought and climate change, to handling parts of the Ebola response…to proactive policy pushes.”

“It was sort of a dynamic role,” he said.

Amo said he got a firsthand education on how government works by navigating between multiple agencies.

But within the last year the pull of home drew both Amo and Aberger right back to where everything started. Both of them began working for Raimondo in January (Aberger on the day of the blizzard, Amo about a week later).

Both say it’s a change from the White House.

“It is very special to be back in our home state and to be back in Rhode Island,” Aberger said. “[We] have a chance to still be in public service but give so directly back to the state that we both love and think is the greatest state.”

She said there’s also a lot less travel for her in this job compared to her previous one. Amo describes his work at the State House as “fairly refreshing but also high pressure.”

“The biggest thing for me is the connection to the people’s lives we are affecting,” said Amo. “At the federal level you’re a little further removed; the issues are much bigger.”

As far as downtime, both said the State House doesn’t afford much time for rest and relaxation.

“[The governor] thinks of work-life balance along a continuum over the span of your lifetime,” Amo said with a smile. “So at this point, I’m looking forward to some years from now where I’ll see the other side of the coin.”

In fact, Amo said he’d like make sure he gets some downtime in the near future and would consider working outside of government in his next job.

“People often refer to the ‘learn, earn and serve cycle,’” he said. “And I don’t know where I am in that.”

Aberger is keeping her plans loose, too.

“Every opportunity I’ve had I never would have thought possible or pictured,” she said. “I’m just keeping an open mind and seeing what happens.”

But like the Raimondo administration, Amo and Aberger’s careers are just getting started.  Despite being just five years out of college, both said they don’t let their age stand in their way.

“It’s definitely an asset,” said Amo, who confessed that many times people can’t tell how old he is. “Sometimes the expectations are a bit lower and it’s great to surprise people.”

Aberger agreed: “I think it helps. We have a lot of energy.”

They both also said their ages contribute to the diversity that the governor strives to create in her administration, and their millennial mindsets help broaden the perspective of those working in state government.

For both Amo and Aberger, hard work has been the key to achieving a high level of success at an early age. Amo also credits mentors and advisers he’s had throughout his life, and encourages other young people to reach out to people for help.

“Once you do, it’s a pleasant surprise to see how folks react,” he said.

Aberger said young people shouldn’t be afraid to take risks if they’re passionate about something.

“Just try different things,” she said. “And if you don’t like it, it informs your future just as much as if you did.”




Do you know someone under 30 who is doing big things? If they have ties to Rhode Island, they could be highlighted in our next “630 Under 30!” Tell us about them — email [email protected].

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