The stunning upset of Rep. Robert K. Dornan by Democrat Loretta Sanchez not only thrust the congresswoman-elect into the national limelight, it raised the political fortunes of her 32-year-old campaign manager, John Shallman.
A small, wiry man with a red vandyke beard and a hereditary passion for politics, Shallman was a business strategist who also dabbled as a political consultant when he hired on to the Sanchez team in early August.
He kept the campaign focused despite the sort of distractions that would derail many candidates--from a cash crisis in September to the arrest of Sanchez’s husband in late October for destroying several Dornan signs.
“The campaign had all the potential in the world,” said Sam Smoot of EMILY’s List, the political action committee that supports female candidates who favor abortion rights. “John executed things near flawlessly. . . . I do think he did a fabulous job, but everybody did on this campaign.”
Shallman controlled daily access to Sanchez, freeing her to raise money and meet voters. He also handled the media, helped craft some of her direct mail, targeted swing-vote precincts and never tired of recruiting others to his belief that Sanchez actually could win.
It was a fitting triumph for Shallman, who got his start in politics while a high school junior in Rock Island, Ill. He was elected to fill the student seat on the local school board.
There, Shallman got a taste of real politics when he recruited other students to successfully back a school tax that had lost the previous year without student support.
“The importance of it hit me when junior, nontenured teachers came up to me and said, ‘You saved my job,’ ” he recalled.
It made a strong impression on the budding activist, who began to see politics as a way to affect policy and make change.
Some 16 years later, with Sanchez’s surprising win, Shallman has begun to make a larger mark.
“This win means a lot. It is a big thing,” said Gail Kaufman, a well-known political consultant in Sacramento. “Very seasoned veterans said it couldn’t be done and for him to pull it off while no one is paying attention is a terrific win.”
Already Shallman’s phones are ringing. Many are congratulatory calls from colleagues in the profession, and from politicians themselves.
With a wife and two young children, Shallman has spent recent years juggling his passion for politics with his career as a strategic business consultant.
He was deputy campaign manager for the 1993 win by Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and last year assisted the return of the then-Los Angeles Raiders to Oakland. Shallman helped devise a plan to sell season tickets to a skeptical community.
Shallman, who lives in Sherman Oaks, met Sanchez when he called to congratulate her in April after she won the Democratic primary.
He says he recognized the potential of a Latina businesswoman in an increasingly Latino district. “She maybe can beat Bob Dornan,” he remembers thinking. They spoke several times in the ensuing months and he contributed $100 to her campaign.
While the two developed a fondness and kept talking, the chitchat didn’t result in a job offer for some time. Sanchez felt Shallman was too expensive. And Shallman’s obligations to other clients made it impossible for him to break away.
After the primary, Sanchez and her chief backer and political mentor, lawyer Wylie A. Aitken, refined her battle plan with the assistance of nationally known consultants.
By summer though, it had become apparent the Sanchez campaign needed a campaign manager.
“People kept bugging me to hire somebody,” said Sanchez. “I decided I would like this guy John Shallman,” she said in an interview, “and I got him on the phone and turned to Wylie . . . ‘He is going to be expensive.’ And Wylie said, ‘If that is who you want, that is who we will get.’ ”
Those who followed the Sanchez campaign closely for their own organizations--such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List--say the decision to add Shallman was a major factor in Sanchez’s win.
Tight races are nothing new to Shallman. He twice managed the congressional campaigns of Mark Takano, a schoolteacher who ran against now-Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Riverside) in a predominantly Republican district. The first, in 1992, was close enough to require a recount.
Two years later, Shallman was a consultant in a South Bay race that saw Rep. Jane Harman (D-Rolling Hills) win in a recount on the strength of an unusual Democratic tide of absentee voters--a key factor in the Sanchez win.
Other than voting for Riordan, a Republican when he ran in the nonpartisan race for Los Angeles mayor in 1993, Shallman has always voted Democratic. He describes himself as a social progressive and a fiscal moderate who is tough on crime.
In 1994, the urge to affect policy drove him to enter a six-way Assembly primary as a candidate in the district that encompasses the west San Fernando Valley, Malibu and Santa Monica.
“Valley issues were not being addressed” by the other candidates, said Shallman, whose platform included breaking up the Los Angeles Unified School District.
In retrospect, he thinks the effort was flawed and perhaps foolish. “It went nowhere . . . and shows the classic quixotic side of me,” he said. Though the Valley comprised 55% of the district, he finished last in the race won by Democratic Assemblywoman Sheila J. Kuehl.
Shallman also serves as president of the Los Angeles Transportation Commission, a job he was appointed to by Riordan. The board oversees bus service, traffic and parking in the city.
A confessed sports nut, Shallman holds season tickets to the Raiders and the Los Angeles Clippers. And in his spare time, he regularly plays enough pickup basketball to justify spending $120 on patent-leather edged Air Jordans.
The pace of the Sanchez campaign forced him to put aside much of that.
The Shallman family’s penchant for politics created one of the campaign’s novelties when in early October, two brothers arrived to “provide a couple of extra hands” as campaign volunteers.
Dan Shallman, 26, a lawyer with Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher in Los Angeles, and Mort Shallman, 37, joined John in the Sanchez “war room” across the parking lot from the headquarters.
Others in the campaign joked about it, dubbing them the Three Musketeers. Even Dornan couldn’t ignore the trio, calling them “the three Mouseketeers.”
As he looks back on the campaign, including his trip to Washington after the election with Sanchez, Shallman says there is little doubt about his favorite moment. It came shortly after President Clinton stood on the steps of the Old Courthouse in Santa Ana before a crowd of 10,000, and made a plea for Sanchez.
In a private moment last Oct. 17, Shallman remembers, the president wrapped his arm around the candidate’s father, Ignacio Sanchez, and said, “If you win this one, it will be a shot heard around the world.”