Director of special projects for independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler
“I like the idea of achieving things as a group. It’s a really fun feeling.”
But South Portland’s Heather Furman, 25, isn’t just out to have fun. As director of special projects for independent Eliot Cutler’s gubernatorial campaign, she has an election to think about. Cutler, she says, is the one candidate capable of fixing Maine’s “structural, systemic issues.” And she’s doing whatever she can to get him elected – from helping with fundraising to planning events to overseeing overall office operations.
Furman knows a bit about structure and systems. A 2007 Cape Elizabeth High School graduate who went on to earn a degree in government at Harvard University, Furman already has a range of professional experience that is helping her define her career goals. After graduating from Harvard in 2011, Furman stayed in Boston to work for The Parthenon Group, a management consulting firm with offices world-wide. The firm “helps solve large organizational problems,” Furman says. For her that meant “a lot of Excel crunching and a lot of slide-making.”
But because the firm’s client base included large, urban school districts, Furman says she got a close look at the meshing of ideology and pragmatism. It’s an approach similar to Cutler’s, she says. He’s someone who asks “what the data shows,” in addition to looking at “what does the ideology lead us to believe?”
Furman spent a summer working on Cutler’s 2010 campaign – as a full-time volunteer by day who bused tables at a Portland restaurant at night. In the summer of 2013, her dissatisfaction with corporate life led her back to Maine and Cutler.
“I finished my job [in Boston] on a Friday and started work here the next Monday,” she says.
The move has brought a return to the idealism she felt back at Cape Elizabeth High School.
“In high school I had all this idealism and then Harvard pushed me a direction that made me feel like I needed to be part of the corporate rat race,” she says. “I think at times my struggle with working at Parthenon made me realize that working in the corporate world wasn’t for me and then I think how much I’ve loved working on this campaign has made me feel OK about that. Who would think moving home and living with your parents would make you happier than living on your own in Boston and making lots of money, but in fact it has for me. And that’s sort of freeing.”
One common thread in Furman’s path has been the appeal of working collaboratively. In high school, she says, the groups she was part of ranged from math class to mock trial, English class to field hockey. At Harvard, she says, academics took something of a back seat to her 30 hours a week working for Harvard Student Agencies, a multi-million-dollar, student-run company at Harvard that employs more than 500 students. Today she is among those at the hub of Cutler’s statewide operation.
Furman admits she doesn’t know where she’ll land next.
“It’s funny,” she says. “When you’re a kid people say, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ For me it’s a process of elimination.”
Furman says that approach can work: “As long as you’re doing something in the current moment that helps you figure out the future, it’s a great use of time.”
Right now Furman is thinking about Nov. 4. Then she’ll look at her options.
“When Eliot wins and if I get a job then the options are easy,” she says. “If everything doesn’t pan out the way I think it’s going to pan out then you have to cross that bridge when you come to it.
“I’m so focused on Election Day,” she says. “Failure is not an option.”