From L.I. to the White House

Friends of Schiliro say he maintained that same passion for doing the right thing through the next two-and-a-half decades of his accomplished career in U.S. government — culminating in his appointment as White House liaison to Congress in President-elect Barack Obama’s administration.
Schiliro, who grew up on Wood Park Drive in Baldwin, will begin his new position – officially titled Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs — when President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January. Schiliro will have the tough task of gathering support amongst both the House and Senate for Obama’s vision for the future of America.
A 25-year veteran of U.S. government who once ran unsuccessfully for the 4th Congressional District seat in 1992 and 1994, Schiliro is no stranger to politics, as proven in his record of being involved in some of the most ground-breaking legislation of the past 20 years. Schiliro had an integral role in getting the Clean Air Act passed in 1990; he helped pass legislation that changed the way tobacco companies market their products; and was a strong voice advocate of the federal investigation into steroid use in professional baseball, focusing largely on the negative influence it had on young athletes.
One such bill, however, stands out the most among some Long Islanders. In 2006, Rock and Wrap It Up, an anti-poverty think tank based out of the Five Towns, had conducted a nationwide survey of soup kitchens and shelters — ultimately discovering that much of the food was not reaching those who really needed it. One member, Syd Mandelbaum, a resident of Cedarhurst, felt that a federal bill was needed to encourage federal buildings to donate their surplus food to those agencies that assist the hungry. Mandelbaum reached out to fellow member Pete Sobol, of Inwood, to contact Schiliro, Sobol’s lifelong friend, who was then working as chief of staff to U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
According to Mandelbaum and Sobol, Schiliro “singlehandedly” took the bill, named the Federal Food Donation Act, to Washington, where it passed unanimously in both houses and was signed by President George W. Bush on June 19, 2007.
“It was Phil that really had the vision to understand how important this is,” Mandelbaum said. “During these current economic times, this bill is more important now than any time before. Had it not been passed in the federal government, it would be impossible for Rock and Wrap It Up to follow the mission it does now.”
Sobol, who first met Schiliro when the two worked together at Pathmark in Baldwin, said that the Washington-veteran always stood a little taller than anyone else, preferring to do what was right as opposed to what might have been popular. Sobol says Schiliro works harder than anyone he knows, and still doesn’t know where his friend gets his energy from. He insists that Obama couldn’t have found anyone better for the job.
“No one works harder and no one deserves it more,” said Sobol. “He’s probably one of the most positive people I’ve known in my life. To him, there’s always a way to make things happen. This country is better off with Phil Schiliro that close to the President.”
Sobol said that the entire Schiliro family is full of loving and caring people. Schiliro has a wife, Jodi, and daughter, Kate. Sobol, who is close with the family, said that Schiliro’s parents, Joe and Jean, were also people who “stood a little taller than the rest.”
“Their household was full of love, caring for others, hard work and smiles” said Sobol. “They made us believe that we could accomplish anything we put our minds and hearts to, and in Phil’s case, they were right.”
Waxman said he recognized Schiliro's talent when Schiliro was working for Congressman Tim Wirth of Colorado, at a time when the two congressmen were trying to a prevent a bill from being passed that according to Waxman, would have "gutted" the Clean Air Law. Waxman says it was at Schiliro's urging that Waxman and Wirth seek to win a victory on one part of the legislation, which would ultimately undermine the people supporting the bill. The plan worked, and the bill was defeated. Waxman, chairman of the Health and Environmental Subcommittee at the time, said he was so impressed with Schiliro, that he asked Wirth if he could recruit him to work on his Subcommittee staff.
After a few years working on Waxman's Subcommittee staff, Schiliro was promoted to Chief of Staff, where he oversaw Waxman's legislative and political agenda. According to Waxman, Schiliro was a powerful force behind getting strong clean-air legislation passed in 1990; negotiating an end to the 20-year delay in getting legislation passed to further investigate the threat of pesticide residue in foods; and launching an investigation into the use of steroids by Major League Baseball players. Waxman said the steroid issue not only affected MLB's reputation, but the decision of many young athletes, some who paid the ultimate price, to use steroids to further their own careers. Schiliro, an avid baseball fan, worked tirelessly to ensure that MLB was doing everything possible to fix the problem, and Waxman credits that with a change in attitude toward steroid use in all sports..
Waxman feels that none of these bills would have been possible without the persistence and dedication of Schiliro. Despite losing him after 25 years, Waxman said the two will remain close as they always have, and looks forward to working with Schiliro during Obama's presidency. Waxman says there is no one better to represent the Obama administration in Congress and vice versa than Schiliro.
"The Obama administration is very lucky to have him work for them," Waxman said. "[Schiliro] understands the Congress and the legislative process probably better than anyone else around. He's calm and rational and has a very good perspective on how to get things done.
Mandelbaum went on to describe Schiliro as “a great human being” whom one could trust with important decisions. Looking ahead, Mandelbaum said he is confident that Schiliro is the right man for the job Obama has chosen him for, referencing Schiliro’s 25 years as Waxman’s chief of staff, in which he credits the Congressman’s rise to power largely to Schiliro’s guidance.
“The power behind the throne a lot of times is a smooth, articulate, smart chief of staff,” said Mandelbaum. “[Schiliro] is one of the greatest consensus builders in the history of our Congress. Someone like Phil Schiliro will make sure that the right things get done. Phil is one of the most honorable people I’ve ever met, and I can honestly say, this is good for America.”
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