Where she is now: Special Assistant to the Director at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Appointments. Before working for Mayor de Blasio, Celi, a 2013 Brown University graduate, was operations coordinator for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
What led you to a career in municipal government?
At Brown, I studied international relations & Africana studies, which led me to a summer internship in Washington D.C. at the Embassy of the Gabonese Republic. During my internship, I participated in forums at the State Department that were focused on the U.S. strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa. The big takeaway for me was actually the way the policies affected the U.S. partners. I discovered that international policies like these could have a large impact on American trade and U.S. stakeholders. I realized that I didn’t have to go abroad, per se, to engage in and have an impact on international issues.
Your first job after graduating from Brown was with Governor Deval Patrick, primarily working on his operations team. What was that like?
I was his Operations Coordinator. In the role, I processed the 100+ meeting requests and invitations that we received from constituents on a weekly basis, assessing which ones would be worthwhile and presenting a condensed list to his staff.
Any memorable moments that stand out?
Yes, in October 2013 President Obama came to Massachusetts to rally support for affordable health care with Governor Patrick. It was memorable to witness two progressive leaders bringing attention to the roll out of the historic health care law at Faneuil Hall, where, in 2006, former Governor Romney signed the state's health care reform bill. I also took a lot away from Governor Patrick’s commitment to international trade missions. In my role as operations coordinator, I prepared for many of the trips, including one he took to Mexico and Panama that focused on clean energy and transportation.
If a governor’s role is focused on the state, why are international trips like these important?
Beyond increasing trade, the trips are about building partnerships abroad. Often times the solutions we find for issues we’re experiencing locally provide unique links abroad. For example, Mayor de Blasio shared his environmental plan for New York City, OneNYC, with Italian leaders during a speech he made at the Vatican. International trips also encourage our local leaders to be forward thinking by exposing them to ways countries are thinking outside the box.
Sounds like a ‘progressive’ way to see the world. Did your upbringing as a student at a progressive school shape how you view political leaders?
Yes. The most effective leaders, in my experience, ask the best (and toughest) questions. As an LREI student I was encouraged and challenged to ask questions rather than just come up with answers. There was an emphasis on the steps you took to get to a solution. That mindset has been so important in my job as I push myself to come up with the best questions.
Describe the work in mayor’s Office of Appointments.
My team helps Mayor de Blasio research and find leaders to appoint to the city’s boards. It’s more than about appointing people though. We’re driving the idea that city government should reflect the people it serves. In many ways, that means diversity. The mayor has taken a very strong stance on creating a workforce that represents all people of New York City.
What teachers and courses at LREI sparked your interest in government?
Tom’s (Tom Murphy, HS history teacher and tenth grade dean) classes inspired me to study political economy. I was fascinated by his ability to bring big economic theories down to a high school level. Also, I remember Sarvjit’s (Sarvjit Moonga, high school vice principal) organic chemistry class having an impact. I never thought of myself as a science and math person, but he took his time with me so that I wouldn’t feel intimidated by such an intimidating subject. Aside from those smaller moments, Nick O’Han (LREI’s school historian) was one of my greatest mentors at LREI. If anyone drove me and inspired me to get engaged in government it was him and his appreciation and energy for community service. Nick was so passionate about New York City and building community from the ground up. I joined a community service group he started at a garden in Brooklyn called East New York Farms. I would leave there feeling fulfilled. The idea of service as a way to see and experience what people are doing in their communities gave me a sense of purpose.
You’ve gained experience in some different levels of the public sector. Do you see a continued career in government service in your future?
I am considering multiple future career avenues that advance my goal of giving back to society. I am interested in pairing my public sector experience with private sector experience because I see a connection between them and recognize how they can both have a social and economic impact.
You started LREI as a ninth grader. Any words of wisdom for incoming freshmen?
When I started LREI I was very focused on grades and making sure that I got into college. I wish I had spent less time blanketed by my anxieties and more time focused on the process of learning. I would tell any LREI student to embrace the process! Be bold and don’t be afraid to be different. Be excited about having unique opinions and share them.