The Boston Globe, April 26, 2004
Reality TV pushes Kerry's 'chief of stuff' into limelight.
Marvin Nicholson Jr., the senator's assistant, is amused by Staffers fame
By Bruce Kluger, Globe Correspondent
despite his efforts, Marvin Nicholson Jr. is becoming
As the personal assistant and closest aide to
presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John
Kerry, Nicholson is charged with a daily battery of
dawn-to-dusk duties designed to keep the senator
fed, focused, and on task. (In campaign argot, this
stuff.") Ordinarily such tasks would keep him in the shadows of the campaign. But
these days, Nicholson, 32, is experiencing regular jolts of Warholesque fame
courtesy of Staffers,' the new political reality show that profiles the unsung, behind-
the-podium personalities of Campaign 2004. The series airs every third Tuesday at
9 p.m. on the Discovery Times Channel; the next episode airs tomorrow night.
doppelgangers on the Dean and Clark campaigns during primary season; now that
Kerry has a lock on the nomination, the native Canadian has become a series
favorite. His name and photo lead the opening credits; in a recent episode, he was
featured at full tilt—working the rope lines with Kerry, escorting him to stump
speeches, and sating his regular cravings for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
"Marvin is funny, smart, and engaged," says Staffers director Steve Rosenbaum,
"but more importantly, through him we get to see a side of John Kerry, the person,
that would never make it into the mainstream media. No, making a sandwich for a
candidate is not newsworthy. But it is fabulously human."
Born in Toronto and raised in Victoria, British Columbia, Nicholson found his way to
the States after college, following a girlfriend to Massachusetts. Like many other
postgrads, he bounced among odd jobs—bartending, lots of golf course gigs—
eventually landing in a Boston surf and ski shop in 1998, where he tried to sell
Kerry windsurfing equipment. The two men hit it off, and since then Nicholson has
been a permanent fixture in the Kerry camp.
Refreshingly modest despite his newfound celebrity (this is, after all, a man who at
6 feet 8 inches is four inches taller than Kerry, but frequently slouches to give the
senator the altitudinal edge), Nicholson talked to the Globe about his
unconventional role in the Kerry campaign.
Q. The concept behind Staffers is that you can judge a guy by the people
he surrounds himself with. In other words, viewers can learn about a
candidate by getting to know his staffers. Would you say that's true in the
case of you and Senator Kerry?
A. Well, you have to remember that this is man I met in a snowboarding shop, so we
have a very unusual relationship. I've been his driver and his caddy. I'm the first
person he sees when he gets up in the morning and the last person he sees before
he goes to sleep. We're more like friends than anything else. So, yes, if you're
going to judge the candidate by his staff, you can say that John Kerry likes to
surround himself with all kinds of people. There are career politicians, there are
experts, there are academics. And then there's me.
Q. On the show, you make an effort to play a regular guy whose job is
strictly apolitical. But here you are at the heart of a major campaign. Do you
care about politics at all?
A. I like to say, " don't do the politics; I just make the sandwiches." But, yes, I
certainly care more about politics than I ever did before. Remember, I spend my
days around people who are constantly talking about all these important issues -
education, the environment, jobs—and while I'm not there to be a politician, I do
hear all the conversations. That kind of access has educated me. It's funny: I used
to b.s. my way through cocktail party conversations. Now I can sometimes actually
have real discussions.
Q. Word has it you possess a Saturday Night Live sense of humor. Does
Senator Kerry appreciate that?
A. I would hope so. I sometimes think that's the whole reason I'm around: to lighten
things up a bit. Like if the day is going rough and everyone's tense, I'll wind up
spilling a milkshake on myself, and that will make the senator smile. I don't do this
stuff on purpose—it just happens.
Q. Staffers has featured clips of one particular sport that takes place on
the campaign plane: the orange-rolling competition. Once and for all,
what's that all about?
A. I'm not sure when it started—I think it was around the time of the Iowa caucuses—
but now it's grown into this whole big tournament. The idea is to see who can roll an
orange down the aisle of the plane the furthest without it banging into a seat. The
senator's gotten pretty good at it, but I'd have to say the reigning champ is our
press wrangler, Jim Loftus, who consistently gets it all the way to the back wall. He
employs this whole reading-the-green strategy, like in golf. He definitely has finesse.
Q. You've often said you work eight days a week, 18 hours a day. What do
you miss the most about your old life?
A. Going out with my girlfriend. Going to the movies. And sleeping! I used to be a
professional sleeper—I could go 10 hours straight without waking up. These days if
I grab four hours, I wake up feeling like I've had a full night's sleep.
Q. If John Kerry wins the presidency, how do you envision your role in the
A. I'll tell you how I explained it to my mother. I said, ``You know that guy on The
West Wing, that character Charlie [Dule Hill] who's always there whenever the
president needs him? Well, that's what I'll be in the White House. I'll be John Kerry's