LI Grad Interview: Rugby Coach, Politico, Syracuse Native

Meet Leadership Institute grad Maureen McInerney, and learn how she got interested in politics, her advice for candidates, and even more.

Q: Can you tell me a little about yourself? 

My name is Maureen McInerney, and I am currently the Director of Development at Women's Public Leadership Network (WPLN). WPLN's mission is to educate, organize, and inspire center- and right-leaning women to enter public office across the United States.

Before joining WPLN, I worked for the ReflectUS coalition and Republican political campaigns in Massachusetts at the local, Congressional, and state level. Prior to politics, I worked in public affairs for MassINC, a Boston-based think tank focused on state and local policy impacting Gateway Cities, k-12 education, and the criminal justice system.

I am a Syracuse, NY native (Go Orange!), and an alumna of Northeastern University in Boston, and currently live in Alexandria, VA. I have three sisters, two of whom are in high school, and I have played and coached rugby for almost eight years. 

Q: What got you interested in politics? 

I didn't know anything about politics until late in my senior year of high school in Syracuse, NY. Through an Intro to Public Affairs class, I met elected officials at the local, county, and state levels and began to form my own opinions on policy.

Though I originally went to college to study graphic design, I began to transition into studying communications more broadly and eventually graduated with a degree in Political Science and Communications (with a minor in art).

My internships in college for Governor Charlie Baker gave me the opportunity to see the inside of government and to appreciate qualified, conservative leaders who work to be good stewards of our tax dollars.

I began working in policy and advocacy, specifically focused on economic opportunity for Massachusetts' 26 Gateway Cities. When the opportunity came up to work on a Congressional race for the first time to represent Massachusetts' 9th CD (Cape Cod, the South Coast, and South Shore), I took it! 

Q: What issues are important to you, and why?  

My top issue is always protecting our small businesses, which support our local economies and enrich our communities. As I've often heard, "Amazon isn't sponsoring your little league team."

Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the importance (and in some places lack) of business-friendly leadership and the need to have policies set at the local level that can be responsive to each community. 

Another niche issue I have grown to care deeply about is water quality - specifically stormwater and wastewater management. I briefly worked at a wastewater treatment plant in Syracuse, and it was a great experience. We worked to clean up our waterways and lakes by mitigating stormwater runoff through "green infrastructure".

As folks see the effects of climate change, they jump to call for a "Green New Deal," when many communities are falling behind on the most basic infrastructure improvements which can transform our cities into more beautiful, sustainable places and mitigate flooding and pollution. 

Q: You currently are the Director of Development for the Women's Public Leadership Network. How did you get involved in the network, and what does your position involve?

Women's Public Leadership Network (WPLN) is a great organization working to train women to run for office and create a network of support across the country. We specifically outreach to center- and right-leaning women who are underrepresented in office and within other women's political organizations.

It's our hope to not only help women on the right who are already in politics engage with and support one another, but to bring women on the right into the fold by partnering with professional associations and community groups. We want women to recognize how qualified they are to serve their communities in public office. 

I began engaging with WPLN while working as a campaign manager on a Boston City Council race for a Republican woman candidate. We saw firsthand how women voters expressed their own fiscally conservative views but didn't know there were other women out there like them. I see working at WPLN as a way to change that.

As Director of Development, I work to engage donors, sponsors, foundations, and potential partners to support our work and reach new audiences. We are a nonprofit, and I am extremely proud of the work we have accomplished in just over a year. 

Q: As a former campaign manager, what do you think is the most important factor in your campaign that helps your candidate win? Or, if your candidate didn't win, what are the lessons you have learned when working on a campaign?

The message and the motivations of the candidate are so important. If you are trying to convince your candidate to be passionate about the issues, it's an uphill battle.

I have been fortunate that the women candidates I have worked with are driven and know why they want to serve in public office, and they could answer that question from any angle. As a former communications director, that's a huge relief! 

In the Boston race, we had an incredible coalition of moms come out and support us as volunteers, donors, and voters. Even though we were not successful in our runoff election, getting there proved that voters care more about your passion and ties to the community than your party affiliation.

In any campaign, there are countless lessons to be learned. I am always amazed by how many members of the community feel unheard by their elected officials - and I think the best way to ask them to support you is to show up for them, listen and understand their issues, and take action.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is considering entering the political arena? Since your organization focuses on recruiting women to run, any advice for women specifically?

I think the most important advice I can offer is to stay organized. Get all of your contacts into an Excel sheet before you run. Your Christmas Card list is the first place you should turn to for donors and volunteers, but then spend some time each week dumping the business cards you collect into that sheet as well. 

Especially when juggling family and professional commitments, keeping a calendar is so critical. That calendar should include the time you need to cheer on your kids at their soccer games and go to their recitals, too. Don't let your campaign-self become too different from the woman who decided to run.

Q: How has the Leadership Institute helped you during your time in public service? 

I can't say enough good things about the Leadership Institute. I think every operative should regularly take their training, especially since the digital communications landscape is always changing.

I have also had campaign interns of mine sign up for LI trainings to get their vocabulary and understanding up to speed so they can support me and give me new ideas! LI has also been a great partner to WPLN, and I look forward to continuing to collaborate and support women candidates, appointees, and operatives at all levels.

Q: Many people seem disillusioned with the country's current political climate. What would you say to them to encourage them to get involved?   

Start working to improve your community outside of politics - it will really start to break down your cynicism. Start small! I recently began coaching a youth rugby team to give back a bit to my community, and I have not had one discussion about politics.

The coaches, administrators, and parents are all working together to create a safe and healthy environment for their children to develop athletic and personal skills. Those relationships - which are built on things other than partisanship - are stronger in the face of disagreements than the volatile relationships you form on Twitter.

If a problem arises in your community, step up and be willing to work with anyone else to address it - the overuse of litmus tests and cancel culture are going to isolate us more and more. 

This interview is from the Leadership Institute's Political and Fundraising Monthly Newsletter. When you sign up for this newsletter, you get articles on the latest in politics, interviews like this one, and you'll be the first to know about LI's political and fundraising training opportunities.