President Obama’s Campaign Headquarters

Countdown to Election Day 2012

Countdown to Election Day 2012–Photo by Tim Shaunnessey

With intense security presence and protocol, a journalism class of only nine students including the professor slowly made their way into President Obama’s headquarters in the Prudential Plaza Tuesday Oct. 2.

Every volunteer, staff member and intern has an ID badge with their photo that must be swiped in to get into the headquarters’ lobby and then also to get into the main headquarters offices. Looking around at the security protocols and their presence allowed the visitors to realize how important it is to keep spies and unwanted guests out of the headquarters.

The two guides for the tour were Abraham, Abi, Noda, a staff member who focuses on social media outreach and Sheila Solomon, a longtime editor at the Chicago Tribune who is now teaching at Columbia College Chicago and volunteers at the Call Center at the campaign office.

“There are no fewer than 600 paid staff members and volunteers at the headquarters,” both Noda and Solomon said. “There is low headcount in the office today because we’ve been shipping them out daily.”

Within Noda’s department there are roughly 40 software engineers—collecting data and building websites and applications. The Technology Department that Noda works in is a new department.

“We have a lot of the senior [older] personnel’s here in my department,” Noda said talking about the difference in the age groups.

Inside the Digital Center staff members monitor and assess BarackObama.com and reach out to recruit volunteers and donations.

One of the department’s proudest pieces of work is the Dashboard that is used for campaigning. According to the website, “Dashboard is the online organizing network for Obama 2012—and it empowers you to take on a major role in this campaign.”

For those who work in the headquarters, their pay will only be up till Nov. 7. According to Noda the work they have done will transfer to Washington if President Obama wins the election.

“There are a flood of people trying to get jobs in Washington,” Noda said. “It will be interesting to see how that works outs.”

There have been some appearances by the president during the summer. Even his wife the First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden have made trips to Chicago’s headquarter.

“[President] Obama was here a week after his birthday in August,” Noda said.

The call center where Solomon volunteers is tucked away in the back of the headquarters. Previously being two rows of desks for volunteers to call for donations and respond to questions, it currently holds over 10 rows of desks and new equipment.

The call center receives questions relating to the president anywhere to personal dilemmas.

“We are stepping everything up,” Solomon said. “We answer questions via phone or e-mail. [We] try to respond to everything.”

Depending on the issue many people who call about donations or their problems, “[They’re] not that many degrees away from the real people,” said Solomon.

Obama for America West Regional Press Secretary, Ofelia Casillas, has been with the campaign for 17 months help managing reporter’s stories and any inquiries that they would have.

According to Politico’s Mike Allen, “Prior to joining the campaign Casillas was deputy director of communications and foundation relations for the ACLU of Illinois.  She has over a decade of experience writing for news publications including The Miami Herald, People magazine, The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune; social policy writer at the Tribune for nine years.  She has a Bachelor’s degree in English and journalism from the University of Florida. And she is Cuban-American; originally from Miami.”

With her cultural background, being Cuban-American, she feels it is very important to have someone who can speak Spanish at campaign events.

“It is the second most spoken language in America,” Casillas said. “It allows those who speak Spanish to understand what is being offered to them during the campaigns.”

To get a tour inside President Obama’s campaign headquarters was a once-in-a-life-time opportunity for the students of Columbia College Chicago’s Journalism Department. It will be an occasion that might not happen ever again if the elections turn in President Obama’s favor.


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