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2013 Winter Issue 5 (February 15, 2013)

Secretary of the Treasury Nominee a Former Knight, Carletonian Writer

February 15, 2013
By J.M. Hanley

Jack Lew has undoubtedly come across more than his share of crawling parasites in Washington, but he might have seen even more in his year on second Musser.  Obama’s nominee for Secretary of the Treasury and former chief of staff attended Carleton during his freshman year, from 1972 to 1973.

Lew is a forty-year Washington veteran who began his career inside the Beltway after his year at Carleton. 

Lew served as a staffer to a succession of Democratic congressmen, including speaker Tip O’Neill, eventually becoming director of the Office of Management and Budget under Bill Clinton. President Obama re-appointed him to this post in 2009 before making him Chief of Staff a year later.

Friends and acquaintances from Lew’s nine months in Northfield depict a quiet and diligent young man deeply interested in social justice.

As a senior at Forest Hills High School in Queens, Lew’s first-choice college was Harvard University, but he was waitlisted. According to roommate Mark Lofstrom ’76, this experience colored his experience at Carleton.

“After he got to Carleton, he had his mind on getting into Harvard as a transfer student or making them sorry they didn’t accept him in the first place,” Lofstrom said.  His motives, Lofstrom explained, were partly personal: Lew’s then-girlfriend, whom he later married, had been admitted to Harvard, and Lew hoped to join her.

To that end, he kept up a punishing pace of academics and extracurricular activities that meant “socializing with people wasn’t a big emphasis – he mainly had his nose to the grindstone,” said Lofstrom.

Lew was substantially involved with the Carletonian.  He began contributing weekly as a staff writer in October and was promoted to news editor in April.

His most notable reportorial triumph came in securing an interview with Linda Jenness, the 1972 presidential candidate of the Socialist Worker’s Party.  Lew’s queries to Jenness addressed a host of contemporary liberal concerns, from busing to Vietnam to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

He also participated in KARL (the precursor to KRLX), the yearbook, stage crew, and the Vegetarian Club, according to the Carleton archives.

In academics, Lew’s interest in politics seems equally apparent.  He was inspired by a political science class taught by Paul Wellstone, Lofstrom said, and he petitioned for self-designed off-campus studies program on Capitol Hill, with Wellstone serving as his OCS advisor.

Ultimately, it was that off-campus experience that prompted him to leave Carleton.  After working in the office of his congresswoman, “Battling Bella” Abzug, in fall term of his sophomore year, Lew remained in Washington and served as a staffer to Massachusetts Representative Joe Moakley from 1974 to 1975.  By that point, he was no longer listed in the Carleton directory.  He eventually obtained his bachelor’s degree from Harvard.

In an odd twist of fate, Lew’s confirmation will be voted upon by Senate veteran Max Baucus, who also attended Carleton for a year before completing his degree at Stanford University.  Perhaps that adds further credence to Lofstrom’s reflections on his freshman-year roommate.

“You just never know where Carleton students are going to end up,” he said, “I want people there to know that stuff like this really does happen.”

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