back to home  
Home Blog Profiles Press Contact Archive Photogallery Students
Joel Benenson
Democratic Pollster and Political Strategist; founder and CEO of Benenson Strategy Group Read More ...
Stephanie Cutter
Founding Partner, Precision Strategies, and Former Deputy Campaign Manager and Senior Advisor to President Obama Read More ...
U.S. Politics: Locally and Globally
La Pietra Dialougues Read More ...
Political Personalities
Amanda Esteves, Carmen Germaine, Emmanuelle Libelule Wiley, Scott Mullen, Victoria Murray, Ann Schmidt Read More ...
Marketing Politics
Kevin H. Ditzler, NYU Florence Student Read More ...
Inside American Politics
Allison Reid, NYU Florence Student Read More ...
PRESS view all
U.S. Politics, uno sguardo da Firenze verso le elezioni americane del 2012
Nove da Firenze
October 6, 2011
Il guru di Obama svela i suoi segreti
Corriere fiorentino
December 6, 2012
La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
Political Personalities
Amanda Esteves, Carmen Germaine, Emmanuelle Libelule Wiley, Scott Mullen, Victoria Murray, Ann Schmidt
La Pietra Dialogues
November 17, 2012

If asked to describe in one word what her purpose is, journalist Nicole Bacharan would most likely say “bridge.” She considers herself a bridge between the United States and France, but she follows that with a laugh and says, “But I am only a small part” of the connection. Her performance during the NYU La Pietra panels and her widespread involvement in both America and France proves that her role is much greater than she claims. Bacharan was raised in a home where both French and American cultures were prevalent. It is no surprise then that she feels her job “is part of who I am.” She seems to take it as her natural role to explain the United States to those in France who don’t know what America is really like -- and vice versa. 

Today, she says, the United States and Europe have a very good relationship, but ten years ago, with the war in Iraq, there was a threat to that cooperation. This was one of the most important times for Bacharan and her work between France and the United States. She argued, “the alliance doesn’t belong to the politicians but to us [the people].” Her fear at this time was to wake up in a world where the relationship between America and France would be seriously damaged. 

Had Romney won, Bacharan feels Europe would have been concerned and confused. “Romney as President is not explainable to Europeans,” she says. “Obama is cool. He is all about the future. He is in sync with his generation.” Mitt Romney, however, is something of a throw-back to the 1950’s, making this election a “choice between past and future,” in Bacharan’s view. 

Beyond that extreme difference, Bacharan finds trust to be a fundamental aspect of any election. When it comes down to it, the economy is a difficult issue that people don’t actually completely understand. “The bottom line is: who can you trust?” (By Ann Schmidt) 


“I love figuring out what people are really thinking,” Joel Benenson, Obama chief pollster and a senior strategist, said when asked about the favorite job he’s had over the course of his career.

Once a political journalist for the New York Daily News, Benenson has put his communications background to work in many different ways. As a senior adviser for Barack Obama, a position he has held since the beginning of the President’s 2008 campaign, he works to analyze data and determine which demographics the campaign should focus on. Previously, he has worked for other politicians, including President Bill Clinton, was the communications director for the gubernatorial campaign of Mario Cuomo in 1994, the Vice President for the New York ad agency FCB; and, since 2000, the President and CEO of Benenson Strategy Group.

After Benenson left journalism in 1995, he became a pollster, and that has been his primary occupation for the past 18 years.

“I loved being a reporter and telling stories, but I didn’t want to be an objective observer anymore,” Benenson said. “In my heart I knew that there was a bigger difference between Democrats and Republicans than I could let on as a reporter.”

He has since spent his time studying the results of polls to develop communication strategies for political leaders, advocacy organizations such as AARP, Service Employees International Union, and Clean Energy Works, and major businesses such as AOL, Campbell’s Soup Company, ESPN, Hertz, the NFL, Paramount, Procter & Gamble, and Toyota. Benenson has enjoyed his work as a pollster and has often found it to be a satisfying profession.

“We were pretty happy in the end,” Benenson said. “Our poll was only off by 0.1 percent, and that was pretty rewarding.” (By Scott Mullen) 


Late Senator Ted Kennedy gave Democratic strategist Bill Carrick a guiding principle: “Never let perfect be the end of good.” Carrick first discovered his interest in striving for the “good” while working on local political campaigns in his home state of South Carolina. He later continued on to Washington where he met Senator Ted Kennedy, serving closely as his political director.

He is the founder of Carrick Consulting, which focuses on the production and placement of advertising for organizations, political candidates and ballot initiatives. Through his company, Carrick has served both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. In addition, he worked on the campaigns of figures such as President Bill Clinton, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Charles Schumer, Los Angeles Mayors Dick Riordan and James Hahn. Carrick has also made appearances on several major media channels as an on-air political analyst.

Ultimately, however, in a divided nation, the crucial question of concern for Carrick is, “How do we define ourselves as a country?” The answer may lie in the late Senator’s essential advice: an attitude of cooperation and willingness to achieve a greater good -- something that Carrick wishes “was going on now”. (By Emmanuelle Libelule Wiley)


According to Alex Castellanos, a Republican media consultant and strategist, in the most recent election “the most important thing is that the American electorate has changed;” the traditional voting base of the Republican Party was no longer enough to win. Going forward, he says that the GOP needs to “broaden its appeal to a more diverse America… if we are the party of opportunity for everybody, we need to say so.”

Castellanos is co-founder of Purple Strategies, LLC with another conference participant, Steve McMahon. Purple Strategies is “kind of a new idea,” a bi-partisan public affairs firm that is designed to help corporations with various public relations challenges, counseling firms on how to prove they have some social value to their clients and consumers.

Before this work, Castellanos has served as media consultant to seven U.S. presidential campaigns, including the Bush-Cheney 2000 and 2004 campaigns and the John McCain for President Ad Council, and served as a senior strategist for the 2008 Romney for President campaign. He has been named by G.Q. Magazine as one of the 50 Most Powerful People in D.C, and has helped elect nine U.S. Senators, six Governors, and has nearly four decades of political consulting experience.

Social media was another realm in which he felt Republican campaigns needed to invest, as “the Obama campaign’s technical and social media ground game was a leap forward.” In addition to his work with Purple Strategies, he is a CNN contributor and regularly appears on various programs as well as offering political commentary for Politico, the Huffington Post and other publications. (By Carmen Germaine)


  "A hurdle [in the 2012 Obama campaign] was the lack of enthusiasm, or a sense of disappointment", was the analysis of one of Obama´s top strategists explaining the reason why this election was much harder than 2008. Michael Donilon has played an important role in every democratic presidential campaign since 1992 and multiple other state and congressional campaigns.

Donilon grew up in Providence Rhode Island and graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. and a prestigious law degree. He is one of the leading political strategists and media consultants within the Democratic Party. Donilon´s career began when he joined the political consulting firm led by Robert Shrum and David Doak. Since then he has worked on numerous political campaigns including the Clinton/Gore campaign in 1992 where Donilon was credited with successfully portraying Clinton as a candidate who could unify the country and tackle the deteriorating economy. He also worked on President Obama´s 2008 presidential campaign as the travailing advisor to Vice President Joe Biden and was later appointed Biden´s top counselor in the White House.

Donilon appreciates President Obama´s natural ability to generate support says, "it´s in [Obama´s] DNA." He then again worked on the Obama/Biden successful 2012 presidential campaign. Donilon is renown for playing a crucial role within the Democratic Party and will hopefully continue to advise future democratic candidates for years to come. (By Victoria Murray)


At this moment "everyone´s doing an MRI of the Republican Party," GOP operative Kevin Madden stated when asked what went wrong with the campaign. Kevin Madden was the spokesman and senior advisor for Mitt Romney´s 2012 presidential campaign. The forty-year-old Madden spent months traveling with Romney, while his wife and three young sons stayed at home in Washington D.C. He also worked as Romney´s National Press Secretary and Senior Communications Strategist for the 2008 campaign.

The Romney campaign is not the only presidential campaign Madden has worked on. He was also a member of the communications team leading President Bush´s re-election effort in 2004. Madden´s political career began in 1996 when he became the spokesman for John Spencer´s successful mayoral campaign in New York. He then went on to become the Press Secretary for John Boehner, where he was a top communications strategist for the House of Representative´s leadership office.

Now the Executive Vice President of public affairs for JDF Frontline in Washington, D.C. and Charleston, S.C. Madden believes that in order for the Republican Party to move forward they "have to modernize with energetic audiences." His idea of modernization within the Republican Party will hopefully be seen through their next political campaign.

Kevin Madden is known throughout the political community for being a genuinely nice guy who tries to keep the bitterness out of politics while standing firm against opposition. (By Victoria Murray)


Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist and co-founder of Purple Strategies, LLC, a bi-partisan advertising, communications, and public affairs firm that helps companies to earn the trust of their clients and policy makers. Just like politicians, firms, too, are impacted by public opinion, and, as McMahon says, “companies that are trusted are left alone.” He and his associates use their political experience to help companies like Coca-Cola, Mars, McDonalds, and many others to “do the right thing” while navigating the difficult worlds of lobbying, public relations, and social media.

With extensive experience in political advertising, including producing advertising for then-Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, he was particularly impressed this election with the Obama 2012 advertising, finding it “extremely effective in defining Mitt Romney in battleground states… [people] didn’t have an impression of Romney,” and the Obama campaign took advantage of the summer political lull to use advertising to form that impression. More than that, however, he found that the Obama campaign particularly took advantage of organization strategies in order to increase voter turnout. Regarding the increases in advertising and other expenditures by campaigns in recent elections, McMahon felt it was “a trend that will not only continue but accelerate unless Congress does something to stop it.”

In the past, McMahon has worked on the staff of Senator Edward Kennedy, as Assistant Press Secretary and later as Deputy Director of Kennedy’s PAC, the Fund for a Democratic Majority, as well as for the U.S. presidential campaigns of House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt and California Governor Jerry Brown. His firm has also worked as strategic advisors or campaign consultants on three successful national campaigns – in Venezuela for Carlos Andres Peres; in Nicaragua for Violetto Chamarro; and in Greece for Andreas Papandreaou. McMahon also continues to work as a Democratic pundit and strategist, appearing on CNBC, MSNBC, FOX News, and many other networks and programs. (By Carmen Germaine)


Why did Romney lose? Robert Shrum, long time Democratic Party strategist and now NYU Senior Fellow was asked. The answer? “[The Republicans] misunderstood the composition of the electorate.”

He’d be the man to ask. Shrum knows presidential campaigns. A graduate of Georgetown University and Harvard Law School, Shrum began in the political world as a speechwriter, writing for politicians such as New York City Mayor John Lindsay, and South Dakota Senator George McGovern. Shrum later garnered great acclaim for writing Senator Kennedy’s famous 1980 Democratic National Convention speech, “The Dream Shall Never Die”. With Shrum’s guidance, Al Gore and John Kerry both won the Democratic presidential nominations. Shrum explains what was different this time. People were frightened at the specter of voter suppression, which they feared would tip the scales for Romney, Shrum said. So they turned out in unexpectedly large numbers.

In addition to his presidential campaigns, Shrum has produced and developed media and advertising for twenty-six successful U.S Senate campaigns, eight victorious campaigns for Governor, and numerous campaigns for mayor of major cities across The United States. Additionally Shrum is a columnist for The Daily Beast magazine. A more personal work, published in 2007, Shrum’s memoir, No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner, recounts his extensive political experience. Currently teaching classes on domestic policy and presidential debates, Shrum is also a professor at New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. ”. (By Emmanuelle Lbelule Wiley)


Former Chief of Staff and Counsel to Congressman Jose Serrano, current Executive Director of NYU Florence, founder of the La Pietra Dialogues and one of the coordinators of the “U.S. Politics: Election Experts Analyze the Results” conference this year, Ellyn Toscano has been around the block when it comes to politics. Her experience in managing Congressman Serrano’s interaction with the media and press for twenty years has made her invaluable in discussing the elections during this Conference. “Romney had trouble conveying a sense of himself, while Obama was able to be balanced without antagonizing people”, Toscano says when asked about each candidate’s use of media and performance. “Obama hired social scientists to gather and analyze the databases. The President managed to mobilize the base better.”

Indeed, her personal experience in the field of politics, as well as her many years working in cultural institutions such as the Bronx Museum of Art, led her to NYU in Florence in 2004 as Executive Director. Besides her work with La Pietra Dialogues in organizing all sorts of conferences for American students and international speakers, Toscano has also been irreplaceable in encouraging the study and preservation of the Acton Collection housed in Villa La Pietra. This year she has received an award from the Tuscan American Association for contributing to the strengthening of ties between the United States and Tuscany through her efforts at NYU Florence.

In an earlier La Pietra Dialogue – “Student Forum on the U.S. Elections” –, the subject of the effectiveness of the American Presidential system was brought up. After watching the second Presidential debate, many agreed that President Obama improved his performance drastically since the first debate. Toscano is of the opinion that “The results vindicate the method used by both candidates throughout the elections, although Obama has had 4 years to develop databases”. “The dialogues provide an exciting forum,” Toscano said. “It is the mix of top American Consultants and major Italian journalists that provides a unique look at the US Presidential election.” (By Amanda Esteves)

      share print
Students meet U.S. Ambassador to Italy John R. Phillips. Ambassador Phillips was introduced by Lynne P. Brown NYU Senior Vice President for University Relations and Public Affairs and joined by Executive Director of NYU Florence Ellyn ToscanoNYU Florence Executive Director Ellyn Toscano introduces the Inside American Politics conferenceLinda Douglass former ABC News Capitol Hill correspondent moderates the first panel The Media´s Role in Voter Decision-MakingWith David Kochel, Stephanie Cutter, Jonathan Martin, Betsy Fisher Martin, and Todd HarrisAmbassador Phillips and U.S. Consul General Abigail Rupp listen to the morning´s panelNYU Florence sophomore Kevin Ditzler talks to Kevin Madden during the coffee breakSteve McMahon moderates our second panel The Midterm Results: What Can We Learn? with Kiki McLean, Todd Harris, Maria Cino, Stephanie Cutter and Joshua TuckerNYU Florence Professor Bill Klein asks a questionStudents have lunch with Kevin Madden, Partner at Hamilton Place Strategies in Washington D.C., Senior Advisor to Mitt Romney´s 2012 presidential campaignDale Hemmerdinger moderates the panel Money and Messaging in the Wake of the Supreme Court Campaign Finance RulingWith Joel Benenson, Betsy Fischer Martin, David Kochel, Stephanie Cutter and Kevin MaddenMaria Cino asks a questionNYU Florence freshman Opheli Garcia Lawler asks a questionSteve McMahon makes a pointJoe Pichirallo, Chair of undergraduate film and television at NYU´s Tisch School of the ArtsAfter the day´s last panel democratic strategist and public affairs consultant and co-founder of Purple Strategies Steve McMahon talks to students about study away and internship opportunities at NYU´s Washington D.C. campus NYU´s Joshua Tucker, Professor of Politics and co-Director of NYU´s SMaPP lab, moderates the Friday morning panel on ´Issues and Polling: What Will Matter to Voters Between Now and 2016?´
twitter linkedin facebook facebook


NYU Florence
NYU Global
NYU Wagner




Villa La Pietra
Via Bolognese, 120
50139 Florence - Italy




Phone +39 055 5007 557
Fax +39 055 5007 576