Government service lures many Fordham Law alumni to the nation’s capital.
The 225 miles that separate New York City and Washington, D.C., can seem more like a thousand if you hit rush-hour traffic on I-95. Fortunately, the Fordham Law pipeline from the Big Apple to the nation’s capital is absent of gridlock. For generations, scores of Law School alumni have traded the Hudson for the Potomac to work in fields as diverse as intelligence, diplomacy, and politics. The career highway is relatively wide and fast due to the specialized training Fordham Law graduates receive and the School’s numerous connections in Washington.
Those connections will become only stronger as Dean Matthew Diller lays out his plan to reinvigorate the School’s presence in public service careers, particularly those located in the nation’s capital. “Fordham Law is a service-oriented school, and Washington is a service-oriented city, so it’s only natural that we strengthen our impact there,” he says.
Here’s a look at how five Fordham Law alumni are making their own impact inside the beltway.
Jacqueline Barkett ’15
Department of Justice
Netflix’s House of Cards may be the show that comes to mind for many when recent popular portrayals of D.C. life are mentioned.
For Fordham Law graduate Jacqueline Barkett, however, her experiences abroad in Lebanon and Rome have led friends and acquaintances to nickname her after a different award-winning drama.
“Everybody calls me ‘Homeland,’” the 27-year-old says, referring to the Showtime CIA drama starring Claire Danes. “They say, ‘I don’t understand your job. Is it like Homeland?’”
Barkett recently joined the Department of Justice’s Honors Program and is working within the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section. Through investigation and prevention, the section assists in preventing and disrupting acts of terrorism anywhere in the world that impact United States interests. She will spend her first year receiving training as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney in the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Barkett, who grew up in southern California, came to Fordham Law School to study with Karen Greenberg, the Director of Fordham’s Center on National Security. The Center provides practical knowledge on diplomacy and national security issues beyond mere theory.
“Karen has done a great job of putting the Center and national security issues on people’s radar,” says Barkett. She adds that Greenberg has invited to Fordham many Law School alumni who are now involved in the intelligence community. These alumni connections have created multiple opportunities for Fordham students, and the many forums and research projects have brought some of the world’s national security leaders to the School.
“Everybody wants to do national security in D.C.,” Barkett says. “It’s great Fordham has a program that separates itself and gives it more prestige in New York.”
One day, she predicts, she might even find herself back in the Big Apple. “D.C.’s inspiring,” she says. “It’s full of vibrant, young people who are trying to contribute in some way. But I will definitely miss New York, and I am sure I will return at some point because I don’t think I am done with that city yet.”
Dan Donovan ’88
Dan Donovan’s “Welcome to Congress” moment happened five minutes after he took his oath earlier this year.
Donovan, a Republican from Staten Island, took his congressional oath at 6:45 p.m. on May 12. At 6:50, he cosponsored a bill to re-authorize the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, providing health monitoring for people who lived or worked near Ground Zero and health coverage for the thousands suffering from illnesses associated with breathing toxic air linked to the site.
Just a week prior, Donovan won a special election to replace outgoing Rep. Michael Grimm in New York’s 11th congressional district.
“The public has an impression that nothing gets done in Congress,” Donovan says. “A lot gets done in Congress, and a lot gets done at a very fast pace. Every day we’re casting votes on legislation that affects millions of people’s lives.”
Donovan served as Richmond County’s district attorney for 12 years prior to running for Congress. He considered running in 2008 but felt he had work left as district attorney, he says. The highlight of his career, he notes, is making Staten Island the “safest borough in the safest big city in the nation.”
As district attorney, Donovan’s decisions were the final word in his office. In Congress, it is quite different.
“When I was district attorney I was one of one, and I made all decisions that affected my office,” Donovan reflects. “Now, being a member of a legislative body with 435 members, you need consensus. You have to show your legislative colleagues why this is important to you, important to them, and important to the country.”
That’s true whether fighting for the Zadroga Act or taking action to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Donovan also aims to create a national prescription drug database like the one New York has. He insists such a database would help slow our nationwide prescription drug epidemic.
Donovan says his unwavering focus is his district’s best interests. He points to three issues where he went against his party as proof: voting against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, $250 million in cuts to Amtrak, and penalties against sanctuary cities like New York City. The TPP will cost New York jobs, Amtrak provides valuable transportation to many New Yorkers (including Donovan himself), and the sanctuary cities legislation would have cut the funds the NYPD uses to purchase bulletproof vests, he explains.
Donovan attributes his night classes at Fordham Law School for providing him the base needed to make difficult decisions and stand behind them.
Fordham Law taught me how to think differently,” he says. “It taught me how to question and how to analyze.”
He will need to use these attributes often in Congress.
“Washington is a place where incredible decisions are made for our nation, for our world,” he says. “It’s a remarkable place to be.”
As of September, Donovan has not publicly announced a 2016 congressional run. He has no plans to cut short his stay in D.C. though. “If you’re a betting man, don’t bet against it,” he says, of a future run to keep his House seat.
Tracey McNeil ’99
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
On a daily basis, Tracey McNeil aids individual investors in identifying available options and resources for their problems and concerns. Sometimes that means sorting through their time line of events to determine how the SEC can help them. Other times, it means collaborating with colleagues across the agency to address investor issues.
“A lot of investors are very surprised when, as they say, a ‘real person’ answers the phone or replies to their e-mail,” McNeil explains. “I am very proud to be that person and to serve the investing public in that capacity.”
In September 2014, McNeil became the first ombudsman at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The Dodd-Frank Act created the position to act as a liaison in resolving problems retail investors have with the SEC or with the self-regulatory organizations the SEC oversees. As such, she spent much of her first year working to establish her office’s foundation. In year two, she aims to “get out more and interact with retail investors.”
“I want to meet them and hear from them directly,” McNeil says. “And I want them to know that they have me as an additional resource at the SEC to assist them.”
McNeil counts her background in securities law and capital markets as essential to her ability to provide information on her agency and guidance on investor issues.
Ironically, she enrolled at Fordham Law with “no plans to ever practice law.” At the time, McNeil had already obtained a master’s in urban planning from Columbia University and worked in the New York City Housing Authority. A housing authority commissioner encouraged her to attend law school, a fortuitous recommendation. Once enrolled, she became interested in corporate law after taking classes on contracts and corporations. Then, a position as a summer associate in the capital markets group of a large international law firm piqued her interest in capital markets.
At Fordham, McNeil served as a notes and articles editor of the Fordham Urban Law Journal, and she also won the Dean’s Award.
After graduation, McNeil worked for a large international law firm in New York City, then went in-house at a global financial services corporation before moving to Washington, D.C., for a position on a structured finance team at another large law firm. She has worked at the SEC for seven years.
New York and Washington, D.C., are “vastly different” cities, but Fordham Law’s imprint in the nation’s capital is a strong one, McNeil notes. She credits Fordham Law alumnus and veteran D.C. lawyer Mark Tuohey for plugging her in to alumni events when she first arrived in her new city.
“There is a great Fordham Law alumni network in D.C.—I would call it a family, really—and I am proud to be a part of it,” she says.
Sean K. O’Neill ’98
Department of State
On September 10, 2001, a Foreign Service class started without Sean O’Neill. He had passed the exams needed to enter the Service but ultimately turned down enrolling. At the time, O’Neill, a capital markets associate working in Tokyo for a New York-based firm, intended to continue paying down student debt and pursue public service at a later date. That later date turned out to be the very next day.
He contacted the Foreign Service soon after the 9/11 terror attacks, and because of a need for officers, he gained admittance to the next class.
“Next thing I knew, I was in Washington and then off to my first overseas post,” says O’Neill, a Staten Island native, who’s served in five overseas postings since joining the Department of State in 2002. “So it all came down to a sense that I wanted to serve, some luck, and fate.”
Today, O’Neill leads a team of officers who cover political developments and promote American interests in Hong Kong and Macau. These officers often represent the United States in dealings and negotiations with the Hong Kong government.
Prior to his current duties, O’Neill served a year in Afghanistan as a coordinator for Provincial Reconstruction Teams, the U.S. civil-military units throughout the country. He describes Afghanistan as “kind of like Mars” in that it’s “a million miles from home, barren, and you need special gear to safely walk around outside.”
O’Neill has also served in Burma, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Pakistan in various diplomatic roles. He’s also served at the Department of State’s Operations Center in D.C.
Each posting includes its own specialized training, explains O’Neill, who has studied Thai, Bengali, Burmese, and Chinese. The analytical and advocacy skills he learned at Fordham Law School have been “invaluable” in his career, he says.
Fordham implants in its students a desire to “use our skills to give back when we can,” he adds, citing former Dean John Feerick as someone he and many others admire.
“Each of the posts I’ve served in has been quite different: Burma is pretty different from Afghanistan and neither of them is anything like Hong Kong,” O’Neill notes. “And, of course, Washington is its own animal.
“But, as a Foreign Service Officer, your basic objective in each post is the same: represent and defend U.S. interests. Applying the skills I learned at Fordham Law to spot the issues, analyze the situation, and always keep my client’s objective in mind has definitely helped me meet the different challenges I’ve faced in each of my posts.”
By his own admission, O’Neill resisted liking D.C. for a long time, but now says the capital is “more user friendly” to newcomers than New York City, for finding a place to live, navigating the city, and getting plugged in to what’s happening.
“A lot of folks who aren’t from New York think I’m crazy for saying that, but I think the New Yorkers out there know what I mean,” he says. “But in the end, I’ll always be from New York.”
Mark Tuohey ’73
Office of Mayor’s Counsel
A few years ago, Mark Tuohey kicked around the idea of serving in government again. His name appeared as a candidate, albeit briefly, for both U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and D.C.’s new attorney general. His transition back into government ultimately came through soccer, or rather Mayor Muriel Bowser’s request for him to complete the city’s deal for a new stadium.
Months later, Bowser asked Tuohey, the former president of the D.C. Bar, to step in as Director of the Office of Mayor’s Counsel, a new position ratified by voters.
In this capacity, Tuohey advises Bowser on a wide swath of issues involving law enforcement, environment, health and safety, education, energy, and economic development issues, as well as short-term and long-term approaches to problem solving and crisis situations. He also provides legal advice to the District’s agencies.
“It’s a fascinating job,” the 69-year-old says. “Every day is different.”
Tuohey and his wife left New York City—“a city I love dearly”—when he received an offer to work as a U.S. Attorney after graduating from Fordham Law School. He had been planning to join the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office post-law school when a call from a high school friend changed his course.
“When I came to Washington, it was culturally a very different city than today,” he remarks. “It has grown and expanded socially and in regard to the maturity of the home-rule government.”
The city has also become less transient and more business friendly, and offers more in the way of cultural, sporting, and nightlife options, Tuohey says. It also offers plenty of opportunity for law school graduates.
“Washington, D.C., is one of the most exciting cities in the country to practice law, both in terms of government practice and private practice,” he says.
Tuohey credits the education, experience, and friendships Fordham Law School provided him as the foundation for his legal success. He has served as president of the Fordham Law Alumni Association and is a Trustee Fellow of the University.
“The Law School education really did train my mind in terms of analytical skills, judgment, and practical skills,” he says. “It really prepared me to go into the courtroom early in my career and start trying cases.”
Tuohey estimates he has tried more than 100 jury trials and argued between 30 and 40 cases in the courts of appeals. His storied career has taken him to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Department of Justice, and the private sector as a defense attorney, and in 1995, Tuohey was named a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Every step of the way, he has encountered Fordham Law graduates.
“Fordham lawyers have a very rich and respected tradition in Washington over the last 40 or 50 years,” Tuohey says.