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MS doesn't keep Ohio congressman's chief of staff from making mark

Stacy Barton

Stacy Barton was 35 and a rising star on Capitol Hill when reality crashed down on her.

While chief of staff for Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, she'd been having numbness and weakness,puzzling symptoms that made it difficult to walk. At night, she'd pull herself up the stairs of her house, dragging her legs. There were times when her co-workers or even Turner had to lend an elbow to help her walk across Capitol Hill.

Then came a devastating diagnosis: Barton had multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system.

Beyond having a demanding job and a chronic disease, Barton also had two children. Her older daughter is autistic and requires special care.

Any one of those problems would've been enough, but Barton pressed on until she was forced to make a tough but necessary decision. She left Capitol Hill to take care of her health.

Ten years later, she's back, this time as the chief of staff for Rep. Steve Chabot,R-Cincinnati.

In hiring her a year ago, Chabot found a veteran aide who got her start lobbying for the city of Dayton in Washington.

'She's never let me down,' said Chabot. 'And I'm absolutely confident she never will.'

Barton is a rarity in Washington: one of the few African-American women who serves as chief of staff for a Republican congressman.

She has become used to living with multiple sclerosis. And her daughter, now 18, faces another big moment. She will soon be too old to be schooled, and Barton and her husband must figure out how to help her transition to adult life.

'If she is not superwoman, I don't know who is,' said Andy Bloom, a former press aide to Turner.'She is an absolutely amazing woman.'

The job, he said, 'is one of the most demanding," but Barton handled both trivial and important matters with competence, efficiency and an eye for the big picture.

Barton, a native of southern Maryland, fell into politics by accident. She attended St. Mary'sCollege and went to graduate school at the University of Delaware, studying sociology and psychology. However, she found Delaware to be a tough fit.

On a whim, she applied for a fellowship with the Congressional Black Caucus. She was accepted and went to work for Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat representing the District of Columbia.Norton's chief of staff was Donna Brazile, who later went on to become a top aide to President BillClinton.

Barton knew little about public policy, but Norton and Brazile were demanding bosses, and Barton was a quick study.

'I didn't have a firm understanding of my own political views,' she said. 'But the energy was just so potent.'

After the fellowship, she went on to work as a lobbyist. When the firm she worked for closed,she started her own, keeping prior clients such as Gary, Indiana. Then she approached Dayton,asking to represent the city.

Turner, then the mayor of Dayton, said no. However, the city manager at the time, ValerieLemmie, urged him to give Barton a chance. He did, and was pleased enough with the results to hire her after he was elected to Congress in 2002.

'She was a go-getter,' Turner said. 'She knew our community, she knew the Ohio delegation and she knew Washington, D.C.'

Turner said Barton instinctively knew how to help him represent an urban area near a military base. She and Turner agitated for him to be given a spot on the House Armed Services Committee.From that position, he was better able to fight for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base during the 2005round of base closures.

Barton also was at his side when he fought the Army's decision to dump a treated toxin into a local river.

But her health was deteriorating and, as she learned to live with her disease, she knew she would have to give something up. She left Capitol Hill and worked for a brief time at the Society for Neuroscience.

But Capitol Hill needed her. In 2010, Jon Runyan, a moderate New Jersey Republican, recruited her to run his D.C. office, where she worked until he retired from Congress four years later.

Barton then applied to be Chabot's chief of staff with Turner's glowing recommendation. One year later, Chabot said he is thrilled with his choice.

'She's been absolutely tremendous,' he said. 'She has all the qualities that are necessary to be successful in a very stressful and very important position.'

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by TIMESREPORTER
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length


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