From the Halls of UW to Seattle's City Hall

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Alumni Spotlight: Chris Gregorich

On the seventh floor of City Hall, the Mayor’s office vibrates with activity. The phone on the reception desk rings incessantly. A news crew films an interview on the balcony overlooking Puget Sound and the Smith Tower. Elevator doors burst open, delivering a steady stream of people to meetings -- all to do with the business of running Seattle.

At the center of the action is Chris Gregorich, Mayor Ed Murray’s Chief of Staff and a 2001 alumnus of the UW Spanish Department.

Gregorich’s interest in politics began early in his life. He grew up in central Washington, where, in the 1980’s his mother began the first ESL program in the Kennewick school district, exposing him to the migrant Mexican population.

“I grew up in a family of union workers and teachers who cared deeply about underserved populations,” said Gregorich, “and politics dominated our dinner conversations.” Raised by UW graduates and Democrats, but living amongst Cougars and Republicans, Gregorich learned at a young age to talk the talk and back up his political and social beliefs.

After briefly pursuing a Biology major, Gregorich switched to Spanish. “Republican Party policies affected my community negatively,” explained Gregorich who planned to be a political organizer in Central Washington. “I wanted to be a voice for people who didn’t have one, specifically the Mexican migrant population.”

Gregorich’s first campaign job was the result of a UW job fair. “Patty Murray’s people were there and I did an internship during the spring of  ’98,” he said. “During fall quarter I took time off from school to run Murray’s Central Washington campaign, using my mediocre Spanish skills.” In 2000, Gregorich again took a break from school to work on the Washington State Gore/Lieberman campaign. Immediately after graduation, he was tapped to work on Greg Nickels’ Mayoral campaign.

Gregorich is grateful for his education at UW, particularly for the exposure to diversity and the lifelong friends he made. “Having grown up with mostly Caucasians and Mexicans, the diversity of UW and Seattle was eye opening,” he said. “The Spanish Department professors were engaging and very supportive.”

Gregorich studied abroad in Cadiz, SPS’s successful Study Abroad program run by Professor, Suzanne Petersen. “Those six months solidified my Spanish and allowed me to connect deeply with Spain,” said Gregorich. “Tony Geist, who led the trip, encouraged us to embrace the Spanish way of doing things,” he said, adding, that the Geists hosted gatherings at their home, providing a sense of family to the sometimes-homesick students.

Despite the demands of working in the Mayor’s Office, Gregorich loves his job. “I am proud of our accomplishments so far,” he said. “We have passed major pieces of legislation that are leading the country.” Of his own political aspirations, Gregorich is content to be “the man behind the man - or the woman,” as he has been for so many in his career thus far: Christine Gregoire, Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, Lisa Brown (former Senate Majority Leader), Greg Nickels and Derek Kilmer.

Gregorich advises students to be open to unexpected opportunities. “For instance, I never thought I’d be in Seattle, working in the Mayor’s Office,” he said. “Don’t be shy about reaching out and making connections. Call someone in city government, or a lawyer, or anyone in a field that interests you, and ask to meet for a cup of coffee. People are happy to share things they are passionate about.”

Article by Irene Hopkins.

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