Executive director, Maine Democratic Party
As a little girl, Mary-Erin Casale would sometimes sit through Portland City Council meetings and fundraisers with her dad, who was mayor of Portland in the mid-1980s. As a result, Casale couldn’t imagine getting involved in politics – until she took a political science class at Simmons College and loved it.
“Most of my friends did a semester abroad, “ recalls the 1999 Portland High grad. “I did a semester in D.C. at a political consulting firm.”
From that first internship, Casale, 31, has been on a steady course, rising through the ranks of behind-the-scenes campaign workers to her current position as executive director of the Maine Democratic Party. Her job involves all aspects of getting Democrats elected to seats in the state Legislature and the governor’s office.
“I really enjoy the work of getting folks I believe in elected,” she says. “That’s where my skill set is and where I know I can have an impact.”
Casale says she was inspired by her mom, who was a neighborhood organizer when they were living on Munjoy Hill. She also credits Simmons College’s mentorship programs, because of its emphasis on developing leadership skills among female students.
“Being in an environment where you can do it all fosters leaders,” says Casale. “You learn that you do have a voice, and it is equally as valid as a man’s.”
While still at Simmons, in Boston, Casale commuted to Maine two days a week to work on Chellie Pingree’s unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate in 2002, an experience from which she gained valuable experience and many Maine contacts. After graduating from Simmons, Casale moved to Washington, D.C., and worked as the media director for a political consulting firm. She put together TV, radio and web advertising campaigns for progressive candidates all over the country, but, she says, she always knew she’d get back to Maine someday.
“To the point where I would never hang things on the walls of my apartment,” she says.
After the consulting firm downsized in 2009, Casale came home to Portland and began working with the Maine Democratic Party as a regional field director. Six months later, she became the executive director, the post she holds today.
Casale says it has been an exciting time to be working for the Maine Democratic Party. After Democrats lost the Blaine House and the majorities in both the Maine House and the Senate in 2010, she helped the party regroup. Democrats recaptured majorities in both in 2012 – one of only two states able to do so.
“To be able to flip it in two years,” Casale says, “I’m enormously proud of the staff and the work they did.”
Casale also sits on the board of Emerge Maine, a six-month, intensive program for women who want to run for office. While Maine has sent a number of women to the U.S. Congress, Casale would like to see more Maine legislative seats held by women. (Women now make up 29 percent of the House and Senate).
Casale doesn’t rule out the possibility of running for office someday. But she’s focused on getting Mike Michaud elected governor in 2014. Oh, and she’s also planning her wedding for next June.
“I love working for the party. I love the ups and downs of the two-year cycle,” she says. “In politics, it’s about timing and what doors open for you.”