MASTERMIND: Jake Suski


Modern men don't need resumes. Why bother when there's LinkedIn.com?

Jake Suski is nothing if not linked in – in every sense. The 26-year-old communications director for Rick (Snyder) for Michigan lives downtown, half a block west of Main. This political animal's range is the five blocks surrounding his abode and his office – the Snyder-for-governor campaign headquarters at the southwest corner of Washington Street and Fourth Avenue.

A preacher's kid, Suski was raised in a northern California town of 7,000 souls. He began looking for ways to sell his own soul by majoring in political science at the University of California, Davis, graduating in 2005. His education continued in earnest when he signed on to Arnold Schwarzenegger's re-election campaign, John McCain's presidential campaign and still later 'The Governator's' second administration as deputy communications director.

California may be home now, but Suski lived in Connecticut, New Jersey and Washington, DC before landing in Ann Arbor last May. "Michigan was not a place I was looking to move to from California. I was enjoying my job with the Schwarzenegger administration. Michigan was not high on my list," Suski says. "This was an opportunity to work on the campaign of a candidate who will be transformative – I couldn't see passing that up."

His new gig is 180 degrees from working on Arnie's re-election campaign.

"You had one of the most well-known people on the planet – and an incumbent. I think (being) an incumbent is (tarnished) right now. He had low poll numbers – in the 30s – when I came on. We had to illustrate that he was governing, that California was leading the country on the environment and other issues.

In contrast, Snyder isn't well known outside of Ann Arbor. There's also Michigan's media handicap - how to get the word out about his candidate in a state with few newspapers? "People are getting their information from so many different places. It provides a challenge to get Rick's message across" he admits. "This is a marathon, not a sprint. It's still ten months to the primary."

Suski thinks Snyder's campaign can make shock waves (his term) by focusing on innovation and a positive vision for the state. He'll cultivate bloggers and commentators as the campaign develops.

When he decided to join Snyder's campaign, his friends asked, "Are you crazy?" One close friend – a Buckeye fan – told him, "You're going to hate Michigan."  

"That was sports rivalry talking," Suski says.

Peer scorn aside, Suski says he's enjoying Ann Arbor and the Big Mitten. Before this, he hadn't even driven through the state. Recently he toured Grand Traverse Bay and its wineries with his girlfriend.

"I talk to people who haven't heard about the coast up there – I'd compare it to the coast of Oregon – without saltwater – or Central California. I love the whitefish," he says.

He likes Ann Arbor's tremendous cultural opportunities, its diversity and its strong entrepreneurial spirit. "When I said I was moving to Michigan, everybody asked where. Ann Arbor – oh good, at least you'll have fun," he recalls.

The demands of his job make it tough to have a social life, let alone a relationship. "The long distance thing is hard. My girlfriend loved the arts scene here. She's from San Diego. Mostly I socialize with the campaign staff, head for The Arena after work for a drink and watch sports," he says.

Going home doesn't mean leaving work, he notes – just switching on the laptop while watching a little TV – any time between 6 and 10 pm.

"The food and restaurant scene here is great. I love Marnee Thai, I like Kai Garden, even the Parthenon. I love college sports. I'm really enjoying living in a college town."

Suski is an Oregon fan and a big college football fan in general. This fall, he witnessed two of the best games he's ever seen in his life – Michigan versus Notre Dame and Michigan against MSU.
"It's a way to attract my friends here. This job makes it very difficult to keep in touch with friends. Sometimes I go for a year without talking to some of them. Luckily we can pick up right where we left off," he says.

"If only we could make Michigan 30 degrees warmer in winter. Since we can't do much about the climate, I think the best thing that could be done to improve Ann Arbor is probably to repair Michigan's business climate and overall image so that talented young people will want to look for opportunities in the state as a whole and find opportunities in Ann Arbor," Suski says.

"Although I love the historic feel and small-town atmosphere to downtown and wouldn't want to harm that, I could certainly see a benefit to having additional affordable modern apartment, loft or live-work communities geared towards young professionals, separate from the student housing that currently exists."

As long as Ann Arbor can stay fresh, edgy, youthful, artistic and affordable, it will continue to attract talent and ideas, he says. "When I compare Ann Arbor to other towns, it reminds me of some neighborhoods in DC – Adams Morgan, for example – with nightlife, culture, shopping. When you walk around at 9, 10, 11 o'clock at night, you see people and feel safe," Suski says.

What's next for the peripatetic politico? "I would never rule out living in Michigan," he says coyly.

Does that mean working in a Snyder/Michigan administration?  

"I've got a primary to get through first," he says. "Campaigns for me are addictive – like competing in sports. I've got Wall Street Journal Mobile Reader on my Blackberry and a million RSS feeds. You have to be a junkie. It's a little different in Michigan."

Constance Crump is an Ann Arbor writer whose work has appeared in Crain's Detroit Business, The Ann Arbor News, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard Magazine.  Her previous article was Healing Arts. Send feedback here.


All Photos by Dave Lewinski

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