Hunkered next to the I-93 overpass, low-slung and surrounded by asphalt and cement, the Charlestown building doesn’t exactly scream Top Tier Presidential Candidate. In fact, there isn’t any outward indication on the vaguely industrial cement facade that Senator Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 campaign operation hums away on the other side of the glass doors.
More than 100 people work at Warren’s campaign HQ, but Warren herself is not often around; she spends most of her time criss-crossing the country, speaking to voters, and taking selfies.
Warren has no assigned office space in Charlestown. Neither do campaign manager Roger Lau or any other top brass. It’s a departure from the typical campaign setup and a deliberate choice aimed at fostering more collaboration.
“I hate closed doors and offices,” says Lau. “Closed doors mean that people are not interacting. . . . We decided that it’s important for people to work together.”
When Warren does come, she spends her time circulating and chatting with staff. Her golden retriever Bailey has stopped by, too, and even had a selfie line.
Meetings that might have otherwise happened in a personal office convene instead in one of nine small conference rooms that ring one half of the office. Staff have given them names plucked from Boston neighborhoods in which they’re located: The Monument, USS Constitution, The Town. Private phone calls can take place in one of five “TalkBox” phone booths — think old-timey phone booth, without the landline, plus a stool and small desk — brought in for that purpose.
It’s not easy to find a perfect spot to house your presidential campaign operation in a city with real estate prices as steep as Boston’s. Affordable is the name of the game, but campaigns also need a lot of space, flexible leases, and a location that is both easy for staff to get to, and is easy for the candidate to get away from — to the airport, specifically, for all that barnstorming around the country.
Warren’s team found the answer in leasing about 10,000 square feet from the Acme Binding, a family-owned business established in 1821, making it the oldest continuously operated book bindery in the world. When Warren’s aides first toured the space in the spring, it was still populated with functional book-binding machines.
The once-industrial space has since been transformed into swaths of beige carpet and gray-painted drywall. It is very open concept. Teams comprising the core functions of the campaign are grouped together in pods made up of white-legged tables, at which staff tap away on their keyboards.
That includes the “advance” team, responsible for the staging of each and every campaign event, and the production team, that makes Warren’s campaign ads, videos, and other media, all of which Warren is doing in-house as opposed to using outside consultants — a big break from the typical presidential campaign playbook.
Instead of walls, various pods are demarked by the unique wall decoration — some functional, a lot of it just fun — hung by the staff that works on that particular team. Above the data team — which crunches numbers behind events, canvassing, text messages, and paid advertising efforts to figure out what is proving the most effective means to reach voters — someone has posted a message in blue painter’s tape and cut-out letters, ransom-letter style: “Want Data? Send Coffee.”
The communications team is arranged around a TV showing a cable news channel, above which hangs a whiteboard that shows the candidate’s current stats, if you will, which as of this reporting stood at: 122 town hall events, 97 media availabilities — not including one-on-one interviews, 547 audience questions taken and answered, and 42,000-plus selfies. Warren prides herself on taking a selfie with anyone who wants one after each of her campaign events.
There are other touches of fun that reflect the youthful skew of this and every other presidential campaign staff: There are a couple of scooters which staff use to speed from one part of the spread-out space to another. Against a back wall leans a pair of dark blue cornhole boards, stenciled with the word “Persist.” It became a motto – or rallying cry — for Warren and her fans, after Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, silenced her on the Senate floor in 2018. A suit of armor stands watch over one of the meeting rooms, discovered by a staff member at a yard sale. It’s been christened “Sir Plans Alot,” a playful reference to Warren’s breakneck pace of producing detailed policy proposals.
Stretched across one section of wall, dozens of letters, notes, and cards hang on display under a hand drawn sign that reads: “Dear EW.” The letter wall contains a sampling of the latest batch of mail sent to Warren from supporters all over the country, at the rate of about 150 to 200 pieces a week, according to Molly Doris-Pierce, Warren’s constituency outreach director.
It was Doris-Pierce who decided to start the letter wall. She came in one day with a pile of mail and started tacking pieces on a blank stretch of wall. Now she sends out all-staff e-mails when she puts new letters up.
“I was reading all this mail, and genuinely getting very emotional because these are people who are buying a bit of their democracy, buying a bit of a movement, making sure their voice is heard,” says Doris-Pierce. Small donations are the campaign’s lifeblood, because Warren has sworn off private high-dollar fund-raisers with millionaires.
“This is why we’re here, this is why we’re doing it,” says Doris-Pierce about the letter wall.
“You are all doing a good job,” says one handwritten note scrawled on a sheet of a real estate company’s stationary.
“Not much but use as needed, even for donuts!” reads one small paper square, which came with $5.
“I wasn’t going to send you this homemade card,” begins the typed note inside a handmade birthday card. “My wife said I absolutely should. I pointed out to her that, with your heavy schedule, you probably wouldn’t have time to read the birthday wishes of every supporter.”
“Nevertheless, she persisted. So here it is,” the note concludes.
Staffers have put together a lending library, complete with a handwritten inventory and checkout system on colored construction paper. It’s another small touch that makes the office feel a bit like a home away from home for many of them.