CONVERSATIONS WITH HJM: SHAINA HERNANDEZ
“The most exciting thing is having this opportunity to impact positive change for people all across the State of Maryland. I think it’s really cool to be able to work with him and with all of the amazing people who are in this administration. It’s a very diverse group in terms of experiences and background, and everyone is constantly bringing something different to the table so it’s just all around a very exciting place to be.”
Prior to her appointment as one of Governor Wes Moore’s deputy chiefs of staff, Shaina Hernandez already boasted an extensive and impressive public and social sector background. Most recently, Hernandez served as Howard County Executive Calvin Ball’s (D) senior policy advisor for his first term. There, she managed the Ellicott City Safe and Sound Plan, a flood mitigation plan for the Old Ellicott City area. Growing up in New Jersey, Hernandez moved to Maryland to attend the University of Maryland, College Park, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in 2005. Soon after, she joined the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), where she spent significant time assisting with the restoration following Hurricane Katrina. During her various deployments, she worked closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the St. Bernard Parish Government, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Habitat for Humanity. This experience inspired Hernandez to think seriously about a public service career. “I got to see, firsthand, the government working through a crisis and working through recovery, which just really sparked something in me. That was an important experience on my path,” Hernandez says.
Later, Hernandez entered the political world, serving in former Governor Martin O’Malley’s (D) administration. She held multiple positions during her four years with the administration, one of them being special assistant to O’Malley’s then-chief of staff, Matt Gallagher. While serving as Gallagher’s special assistant, she developed valuable thinking and problem-solving skills that have served her well as Governor Moore’s deputy chief of staff, where she is responsible for managing nine different agencies. “I have to be able to move easily between different issues on any given day,” Hernandez explains. Leaving the O’Malley administration in 2013 to work with the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), Hernandez spent a lot of time working on issues in Baltimore City, as the director of local government affairs and strategic initiatives.
Despite her busy schedule, Shaina Hernandez found time to tell me how she became deputy chief of staff to Governor Moore and what Marylanders can anticipate from the Moore-Miller administration as they work toward one of their top priorities: creating an efficient and equitable transportation system.
Can you talk about your background? What ultimately brought you to where you are today as the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Moore-Miller administration?
I was born in New York City and raised in New Jersey. I initially came to Maryland to go to the University of Maryland, College Park and pretty much never left after that. I’ve spent a little bit of time in other places, but for the most part, I’ve been in the DMV since 2001. After college, I served as a member of the AmeriCorps NCCC, where I spent ten months mostly doing cleanup after Hurricane Katrina. This was 2005 into 2006, so I spent a lot of time in St. Bernard Parish and Slidell in Louisiana and Mississippi. I did a lot of house gutting where they would drop us off, and we would gut the houses that the hurricane had destroyed and take them down to the studs. So, it was a really good experience, and that was probably the first time I started thinking about public service more seriously. I got to see firsthand, the government working through a crisis and working through recovery, which just really sparked something in me. That was an important experience on my path.
My career in politics started somewhat randomly. I had a chance to meet with members of Governor O’Malley’s press team, which led to a job in the press office. While there, I was a press aide, so I answered the phones, did press clips, managed interns, and wrote a lot of briefings. Then, I ended up serving the O’Malley administration for four years in a few different positions–one of which was special assistant to O’Malley’s Chief of Staff at the time, Matt Gallagher. After I left the O’Malley administration in 2013, I went to work at the Greater Baltimore Committee under Don Fry, who was the president at the time. I worked at the GBC for five years, which allowed me to spend a lot of time working on Baltimore city issues, business issues, and doing work around employment for returning citizens, which I really enjoyed.
When Calvin Ball won his election in 2018, he recruited me to come work for him, so I went down to Howard County and served as his senior advisor for policy for the entirety of his first term. In that role, I managed the Ellicott City Safe and Sound Plan, a flood mitigation plan for Ellicott City. Ellicott City had three really bad floods in 2011, 2016, and 2018–the last two floods essentially wiped out the town twice in those two years. We developed a plan from the ground up to build seven large capital projects, including a tunnel stretching about 5,000 feet underground to alleviate the flooding in Ellicott City. We got two projects completely done, and the others are on their way, so that’s work that I’m incredibly proud of. I’ve been truly honored to work for some pretty amazing people. And then, a few years later, I got a call from Fagan Harris, and here I am!
Given your extensive background, how did you approach your new position when joining the Moore-Miller administration? What about it most surprised you?
I think the thing that surprised me most was the pace. I knew it would be busy, but I didn’t know how many different directions I would be pulled in every single day and how often I would be putting out fires and jumping from one thing to another. Just the number of meetings I’m doing on any given day ranges anywhere from 8 to 12. It’s a lot, so I think that was the thing I had to get used to the most.
In terms of approach, although I have a lot of experience, every job is different. So, I tried to approach this from a place of listening and learning, trying to understand the current state of things, what was broken, how to fix it, and just building relationships. Building relationships here on the second floor with members of the Governor’s office and with the agencies is essential because these jobs are really hard.
Can you tell us about how this administration compares to the previous work that you have done at the state and local levels? How do those experiences affect your work now?
I feel like this job is a culmination of all the experiences that I have had previously. While working for Matt Gallagher, I learned to work on many different things simultaneously. Every day was different, so I learned to be flexible in my thinking and pivot quickly between issues. That idea of being a generalist is a lot of what this job is because now I oversee nine agencies, so I have to be able to move easily between the different issues on any given day. I think that my time working for Matt really strengthened that skill. Then, when I worked for County Executive Ball, that was like a crash course in project management because I was thrown into this massive process of trying to get these seven capital projects off the ground. Before I started working for Howard County, I didn’t know much about flood mitigation, so I gained a ton of experience in securing funding, federal loan programs, hydrology, and hydraulics, and essentially just managing massive projects and teams of highly technical people. I think that all of that meshes with what I’m doing now in the Governor’s office.
Knowing that the transportation department is in your portfolio, could you talk about equity and transportation expansion as one of the Governor’s top priorities?
The Governor understands that transportation infrastructure is critical to the overall success of our state and the success of the people who live here. It’s an economic engine. It connects people with jobs, education, nutritional food, and cultural opportunities. However, it has to be done in a way that benefits everybody, not just a select few. Not everybody has a car, so a lot of people rely on public transit to get from place to place, which is why it’s so important that we are investing in our roads, bridges, and public transit to ensure that everyone can access jobs and opportunities across the State. That’s something that’s near and dear to the Governor’s heart. He talked a lot about the Red Line on the campaign trail and we have already relaunched the new Red Line. We’re looking at many other things, like the American Legion Memorial Bridge (I-270). We know that there’s a lot of work that’s needed there. People can’t improve their lives if they can’t get to their jobs, which they cannot do without reliable public transportation. Our administration is very focused on how we can lift people up, and transportation is a critical part of that.
What has been the most exciting part about working for the Moore-Miller administration so far?
This is such a hard question to answer because I don’t want to give the standard obvious answer, which is the Governor himself. But he’s really amazing as a person and as a leader. He is so optimistic and bullish on everything that we can accomplish. He makes impossibilities seem possible. So, I think the most exciting thing is having this opportunity to impact positive change for people all across the State of Maryland. I think it’s really cool to be able to work with him and with all of the amazing people who are in this administration. It’s a very diverse group in terms of experiences and background, and everyone is constantly bringing something different to the table.
By: Valerie Skvirsky, Government Relations Associate