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Dynamic Duo

Dynamic DuoTufts graduates U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and his chief of staff Jason Gross form a "Jumbo Combo" on Capitol Hill.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.27.08] When U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) first started working with political advisor Jason Gross in 2002, he was unaware that they shared not just a passion for politics but an alma mater.

When Courtney (A'75) won election to Congress in 2006, he named Gross (A'91) his chief of staff. Dubbed the "Jumbo Combo" by the Washington, D.C., political publication Roll Call, the two Tufts graduates form a partnership grounded in the shared values they both forged on the Hill.

The Tufts connection "further cemented our bond of shared experience," says Gross, particularly as it relates to political involvement. "There was a definite breeding ground for that up at Tufts," says Gross. "Joe is an embodiment of that, a Jumbo who got himself into Congress."

While at Tufts, Courtney volunteered for both congressional races back home as well as political efforts in Boston. He served in the Connecticut state legislature and worked as an attorney before first running for Congress in 2002. That effort was unsuccessful, but he ran again in 2006, this time winning by a razor-thin 83-vote margin that prompted the joking nickname "Landslide Joe."

"Running as a challenger against an incumbent is like crawling over broken glass," says Courtney. But the stories he heard from people who made it a point to cast their ballots on Election Day-including one man who left the hospital against doctor's orders-helped make it worthwhile. "It was such a validating experience," he says.

He also credits his victory in part to students from Tufts, as well as University of Connecticut and other local schools, who came and volunteered for his campaign. He calls the volunteer effort "breathtaking."

"There are people who are going to be engaged in politics for the rest of their lives because of the election," he says.

His experiences with those students helped motivate Courtney to join the Higher Education Subcommittee in the House Education and Labor Committee, where he has worked on issues relating to the GI Bill, student loan protections and affordable education.

"Student support is really a key thing," says Gross. "This really informed his commitment to issues in higher education."

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President Lawrence S. Bacow, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (A'75) and Chief of Staff Jason Gross (A'91)

Courtney has sustained his connection to Tufts, whether it's finding common ground with fellow Tufts graduate Jeff Kindler, CEO of Pfizer, which has a research and development facility in New London, Conn., or finding ways to get recent graduates and current students opportunities to work or intern in D.C.

The Tufts connection also comes up in his legislative work, as he helped secure federal funding for the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine to develop a sustainable agriculture program for the regions' farmers to help connect them to local consumers.He was the keynote speaker at the opening of the new home for the Tufts Ambulatory Service in Woodstock, Conn., the largest large animal veterinary practice in southern New England.

Of his right-hand man, Courtney says "There's no question it increases the comfort level" to share an alma mater with Gross. "You just know that this is a totally qualified person for the ultimate multitasking job."

For his part, Gross got his start in politics on campus as a member of Tufts Democrats, chairing the Tufts for Dukakis campaign in 1988 and editing a student political publication.

His interest in foreign policy, however, was born on his first day at Tufts, when former Provost Sol Gittleman handed an atlas and a gazetteer (a geographical dictionary) to every student. For Gross, this cemented "the importance of foreign policy" in his mind. He later got his master's degree at the London School of Economics and went on to become a political advisor on foreign policy.

Prior to working for Courtney, he worked on the international relations committee for former U.S. Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.), who held Courtney's current seat until 2001. In 1996, he worked on foreign policy issues with the Clinton-Gore re-election bid, and he has also worked with the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign.

Courtney lauds Gross for excelling in a challenging role.

"It's a tough job, and he's been great," says Courtney. "He has shortened the learning curve for me in terms of understanding the somewhat Byzantine ways of Capitol Hill."

Gross calls his current job "intense but rewarding."

"[Courtney's] such a good guy," he says. "He has such a command of the issues. He knows how to maximize his staff and have us really help him out."

With Election Day coming up, Gross is hopeful that Courtney will be re-elected and the "Jumbo Combo" will be in action for another term.

By Georgiana Cohen, Web Communications.

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