Dan Johnson and Cindy Clark will staff U.S. Rep. Richard Neal's Pittsfield office.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire's newest congressman, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, may call the federal office his but it is really Cindy Clark's.
Clark has been anchoring the congressional office since 1986, working for three different congressmen — Silvio O. Conte, John Olver and now Neal. While politics and personalities have changed, her job is staying the same.
"It's all constituent services. If someone has a problem with a federal or even a state agency they call us," Clark said on Thursday, when she joined Neal and a large group of the county's leaders to announce the opening of the office. "They call us in desperation ... We act as a liaison between an individual who has a problem and the agency they are they are having problems with."
In more than 25 years, Clark has navigated a lot of agencies and has heard a lot of opinions about hot-button issues.
The phones ring now more than ever, she said. "I believe more people are aware that there is a congressmen's office here."
While the days can be hectic and not everyone she meets is cordial, she says she loves the job when she can help others. But it isn't her only way to help people in need.
When Conte was ill (he died 22 years ago Friday at age 69), Clark wasn't sure how much longer she'd have a job so she went back to school and earned her nursing degree. Now, she spends her weekends working part time in the maternity ward at Berkshire Medical Center.
Neal hired Clark because of the "institutional knowledge" she's gained over the years and says her role in constituent services is the most important to congressmen.
"This is the life bread of congressional work," Neal said, adding that it isn't a "glamorous" position. "Cindy is going to anchor the office."
Neal said he prides himself on being accessible to the residents and while a lot of his work is on the road, the office creates an easy way for residents to get in contact with him.
"Washington is 375, 380 miles from here and people think it is hard to talk to you," Neal said, but he likes "shaking your hand and looking you in the eye."
Also staffing the office full time is city native Dan Johnson, who went from an insurance salesmen just a year ago to a member of the Neal's staff.
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal vowed to be as accessible as possible.
Johnson, who holds a political science degree from Hartwick College, said he liked Neal's platform so much that he volunteered to help with the campaign. He began as the field organizer for Berkshire and Franklin counties.
"I've always had an interest in government," said the 2004 Pittsfield High graduate.
Neal cruised to victory in the election but he didn't want Johnson's work to be over, so he hired him to staff the office as well.
Neal is also hoping for "steady flow of interns" from Berkshire Community College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, which will help provide full-time service and possibly jump start careers. On Thursday, Neal told stories of former interns and staffers who went onto good careers — like the man who introduced him.
"The opening of this office is the physical example of what we see in our day-to-day work," said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, who started his career as one of Neal's interns. "He has been a presence in this region in every sense of the word."
The office is on the second floor of the Silvio O. Conte Federal Building on Center Street.