First Person Singular

(D.A. Peterson)

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Sunday, September 9, 2007

As an intern for [Howard] Metzenbaum in college, I was impressed by the diligence of the senator -- and other senators -- in responding to constituents. Every letter had to be answered, and in a timely manner. They had concerns about Ohio, the Social Security Administration, the postal office -- things with federal agencies that weren't moving fast enough. I drafted letters, responded to some phone calls and helped the lawyers with legal research. It was my first exposure to constituent service.

I grew up working in my parents' retail establishment [Fleet Feet Sports in Adams Morgan], and that's definitely constituent service -- one-on-one, very retail, very personal. We had customers from young teenagers on track teams to Supreme Court justices and Cabinet members. I sold shoes to Ted Kennedy. I learned there about inventory and accountability and elasticity you have to have. Every customer has to be treated right. I visited a deli in my neighborhood then, and the guy at the counter said, "Do you know right away whether a customer is going to buy or not?" I told him I don't think about it that way. You have to give the same service to everyone, the same quality service. It's the same in politics.

I worked there since I was 14 years old, through college, a bit in law school. I draw on that all the time. Much of it is subliminal, subconscious. When my parents' store was in its infancy, in its first three years or so, they made a really critical error on inventory; they over-ordered. They had to make a tough decision to get rid of it as soon as possible in any way. You learn from that: First, mistakes happen. Second, try not to let it happen again. And third, you move on as quickly as possible. I've made mistakes on the council, in my campaign and as mayor, but I follow those lessons. There are a lot of other issues to address. You get on with it.

Interview by Ellen Ryan


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