The lights are out and the doors are locked again in the vacant 360 S. Washington St. office building in downtown Falls Church, as it awaits demolition.
It’s hard to imagine that earlier this month, the ground floor space of the old structure was teeming with life and activity, the temporary Falls Church headquarters of the Obama for President campaign.
One Falls Church city councilman said the space, because of its vitality and success in contributing to the election of Obama, should be revered as “hallowed ground” as a future, new affordable housing project will eventually occupy it.
The office space may be shut down, but the mild-mannered, seemingly unassuming young man who commandeered the hundreds of volunteers who worked out of it is just getting started.
Kyle Lierman is only 21, slender and with a year and a half still to go before finishing college. But in the minds of the many who worked at the campaign office he directed, he’d be a prime candidate for a marble statue, straddling a horse, wearing a fancy hat, with a sword hoisted in the air. He’s a champion.
But he’s hardly resting on his laurels. The George Washington University student who got started during his winter break last January when he drove to South Carolina to volunteer for Obama’s primary campaign, is now a paid member of the Obama transition team, and very possibly has elective office in his future.
Returning from South Carolina to resume his studies following his winter break, Lierman told the News-Press in an interview that he was back for only a week when he decided he couldn’t return to academic life as usual.
“I notified the right people that I was dropping out for the time being, and devoting my full time volunteering for the Obama campaign,” he said. His talents immediately evident to campaign leaders in South Carolina, after the Jan. 26 primary there, he drove to Maryland to work on the Feb. 12 primary there, and he then went on to a paid position heading a campaign office in downtown Houston, Texas.
He slept on the couch in the dorm room of a friend going to Rice University, and had to organize for both a primary and caucuses under Texas rules. “I had to sleep in the office for two nights when we lost the key and couldn’t leave it unattended,” Lierman recalled.
Lierman joined a staff of six other young organizers who divvied up Northern Virginia under the direction of regional field director Luke McGowan, each setting up an office. In the case of Falls Church, members of the local Democratic committee who knew the lay of the land was able to find the abandoned office space, which was huge and rented out at a very reasonable price.
The office quickly became legendary, the subject of numerous News-Press articles and at least one major Internet feature. Its reputation was not lost on the Smithsonian Institution, which dispatched a team two days after the Nov. 4 election to collect as much memorabilia as it could to preserve, and display in some future exhibit.
Lierman’s story, of a young, idealistic college student taking a hiatus in his studies to volunteer tirelessly for Obama, is not unique. There are countless similar cases across the U.S., some cases very similar to Lierman’s being documented by Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein recently. They included Lierman’s office manager, Ed Gerwin, and Falls Church’s Richard Rogers and Patrick Boland. Rogers spent a month working for Obama in Virginia Beach and Boland did the same volunteering full time in the Falls Church office.
Cell phones, e-mail, texting and other forms of instant, portable communication not only made campaign coordination easier, but also put millions of Obama sympathizers in touch with news updates, event reminders and ammunition to combat whatever new charges might have surfaced from the opposition, all done in virtual real time.
Tech-savvy youth, exemplied by Lierman, came into the process knowing how to exploit the potentials of the newest technologies, and they did. They ran circles around seasoned, savvy political organizers even only 10 years their elder.
Truth be told, Lierman’s had an interest in politics for a long time. It’s comes as no surprise, because his father, Terry Lierman, is the past president of the Maryland Democratic Party and now chief of staff to Rep. Steny Hoyer.
A graduate of Bethesda’s Whitman High School, Lierman followed in the footsteps of his older sister, who first told him about Obama in 2004. His sister, eight years his elder, volunteered for Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary in Nevada, including chauffeuring Chelsea Clinton at one point, came to the Falls Church office to help her brother win for Obama last month.
Kyle Lierman spent his free time in high school and at George Washington University interning for Sen. Ted Kennedy and Sen. Joe Biden before jumping into Obama’s historic campaign with both feet last January.
For the many people who met and admired him in Falls Church the last few months, they’ll be able to say at some future point, “I knew him when….”