Alumni Spotlights

Jennifer Hibit, '01: Working to Make Her Community a Better Place

January 30, 2012 by Lisa McMahon, MA'09

Jennifer Hibit, '01, is not one to seek the spotlight. “You won't see my name in the press very often,” she laughs.

Nevertheless, she wants to make positive change for her community. And as Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz's chief of staff, she is in the right position to do just that.

Growing up in Depew, the only child of an engineer and a data entry clerk, Jen's early career aspiration was to become a doctor. Although she had always found politics and American history fascinating, she didn't know if that interest would lead to a job. So when she enrolled at Niagara, it was as a bio/premed major. It took only one semester for her to realize her true calling was in political science. When she graduated in 2001, she still was not sure where her degree would take her, but she was certain it would lead her to the right career.

“Everyone who has a political science major hears, ”˜What do you do with a political science degree?' but there are actually a lot of directions to go in,” Jen notes.

Jen's path led her to Chicago, where she worked on the Illinois governor's race, then to campaigns in Denver and Michigan. She came back to her Buffalo, N.Y., home in 2003 when she accepted the position of political coordinator for 1199 Service Employees International Union, a healthcare union representing approximately 300,000 workers in New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.

As political coordinator, Jen worked with union members to educate them on the political issues that affected them and to involve them in local campaigns. She would also often help with the campaigns of political candidates endorsed by the union.

When Jen learned that Mark Poloncarz was running for Erie County executive and needed a campaign manager, she took a leave from her job and worked full time for the Poloncarz campaign for about eight months. She had done some work on his previous campaign for county comptroller, which he won in 2005 and again in 2009. But this campaign would be more challenging. Poloncarz was facing off against incumbent Erie County Executive Chris Collins, an entrenched, well-financed opponent. Poloncarz's win was one of the state's biggest upsets, and he became the first county comptroller to win the county executive's seat in its 51-year history.

“The win was huge. Through the whole campaign, all we heard was Mark couldn't win and that this race was unwinnable, and so, on election night when the results came in and we did, it was pretty incredible,” Jen says. And as rewarding as that was for her, she notes that she equally enjoyed the opportunity to build the campaign team that helped Poloncarz achieve his victory. “The campaign team was just phenomenal and kept going when things were tough, and did the work that needed to be done to put us where we are today.”

Jen's work on the campaign earned her the position of chief of staff for Poloncarz, a job she took on in January. At the time of this interview, she was still learning the ins and outs of her new role.

“It's been really exciting and really crazy,” she says. “It's just learning county government, learning how things go. A typical day is spending a lot of time in meetings, talking about our agenda and the issues we want to see go forward, making sure that we're all on the same page and getting things done, and providing the services that Erie County citizens want. During a campaign you're constantly fighting to say why you're the best candidate. Now, it's about actually doing the work.”

Although she's doesn't know exactly what her future holds, she plans to spend the next four years working with Poloncarz to make sure his policies and ideas are put into action.

“It's exciting to implement a plan and see it completed and actually do something for not only yourself but your entire community,” she says.