My Life in Politics

Grace Lin and David LeBreton both entered Chicago Booth after spending a lot of time in politics. The nature of their involvement, however, was a bit different.

Lin, a first-year student in the Full-Time MBA Program, ran in local and national campaigns for the Republican Party. LeBreton, a second-year student, ran campaigns for Democrats. The two described their experiences on May 26 at Harper Center at an event hosted by the student-led Leadership and Influence Group.

Lin, the youngest person to be elected committeeman for Chicago’s 20th Ward, won the post in 2004. She stressed the importance of a vibrant two-party system in a city dominated by one because it keeps candidates from getting apathetic. And despite the city’s history of corruption, people shouldn’t become disillusioned by the system, she said. “During my time, I appointed election judges to ensure ballot integrity and also to appoint people to run for state senate so that people had more choices,” she said.

Lin served as a committeeman for four years. After college, she moved to New York. Missing politics, she answered in 2007 an advertisement seeking candidates. “I started to get that itch again,” Lin said. But because of residency restrictions in most races, she was only eligible for one—U.S. Congress. “It’s the only thing I qualified for,” she said.

At the age of 24, Lin ran for a seat in New York’s 8th Congressional District, sometimes campaigning outside clubs at 2 am. As a Republican in New York, Lin said she had little chance to win but still got 20 percent of the vote—about 35,000 votes.

For LeBreton, the urge to participate in politics came while he was in college when America invaded Iraq, a war he opposed. Looking for a job, he joined Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, moving to Storm Lake, Iowa, to serve as a field worker in 2003 and 2004.

In 2004, LeBreton worked on Obama’s U.S. Senate race, watching as Obama became a national phenomenon. Spending days campaigning with him from town to town, LeBreton said, he never predicted the sensation Obama would become. “It’s tough to recognize the true potential of a person,” he said.

In 2005, he moved to New Jersey in 2005 to work on Michael Luther’s mayoral campaign in Parsippany. His candidate won by 39 votes. He next worked in Illinois on Tammy Duckworth’s unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2006. But win or lose, the campaigns were all worthwhile, he said.

“I think public service yields enormous rewards,” he said. “You get your hands dirty and get to see change in action.”

The Booth Leadership Stories features Booth students who had unique leadership experiences before coming to business school, said Monica Kumar, a first-year MBA student and officer in the group. Speakers have included a former NFL player, Olympic swimmer, Top Gun trainer, and marine who worked in special forces.

—Shane Graber