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Abby Witt named new DPI executive director

Tuesday, Apr 27, 2021 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Subscribers had a heads-up about this today…

The Democratic Party of Illinois (DPI) today named Abby Witt as its new Executive Director. An Evanston native, Witt has spent nearly two decades working with progressive campaigns and causes, building programs that successfully bring more people into the political process to advance Democratic values.

“Abby has a proven track record of building inclusive organizations, has established solid relationships throughout the state, and has the vision to lead our party as its Executive Director,” said Congresswoman Robin Kelly, DPI Chairwoman. “As DPI looks to the future, especially the 2022 election, Abby’s ability to work with Democratic elected officials, candidates, donors, stakeholders and the grassroots community will be a valuable asset.”

Witt comes to DPI from Arena, a national organization dedicated to training and supporting the next generation of candidates and campaign staff. As a partner at Arena, Witt helped create and scale the organization’s ability to train more than 1,200 aspiring campaign staffers, place more than 500 of them in campaign roles, and support 130 candidates at the congressional, statewide, and state legislative levels, the majority of which were women and people of color.

“Chairwoman Kelly has never shied away from a challenge, and I’m honored to join her in this one: to build a new, inclusive Democratic Party of Illinois,” said Witt. “We have a generational opportunity to transform our Party, to rebuild trust with voters, and to elect Democratic candidates, beginning with re-electing Gov. JB Pritzker and Sen. Tammy Duckworth in 2022. I’m excited to get to work.”

Witt also played several key roles in the Obama presidential campaigns and administration, including as the Associate Director for the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, and as the Director of Political Operations for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Following the President’s re-election, Witt was a founding member and Managing Director of Organization for Action, a national organization dedicated to advancing a progressive agenda through grassroots mobilization and training. At OFA, Abby was part of the core team who harnessed the power of the grassroots movement that twice elected Barack Obama as president, and converted it into 154 trained, active, and empowered volunteer chapters across the country, which exist as lasting grassroots muscle to make an impact in their communities and in D.C.

“In 2018, I was a first-time candidate trying to unseat a four-term Republican in Illinois’ 14th Congressional District,” said Rep. Lauren Underwood (IL-14). “When others wouldn’t, Arena supported me and was instrumental in my victory by providing training and strategic support throughout my campaign. Abby helped Arena expand on that work to provide the same game-changing support to candidates across the country. I’m thrilled that Abby is bringing her experience home to Illinois, and joining my friend, Chairwoman Robin Kelly, to lead our Party.”

“We are all committed to a new direction for the Democratic Party of Illinois, one that is inclusive and uses the experience and expertise of the state central committee and elected officials, candidates, and activists across the state,” said Democratic State Central Committeewoman and DPI Transition Co-Chair Iris Martinez. “I’m so excited to have Chairwoman Robin Kelly and now Abby Witt as Executive Director leading our work. Abby is the right choice to build a party that doesn’t just keep our state blue, but does the work to grow our party, and elect more Democrats up and down the ticket.”

“In all of her roles, Abby played a key role in making President Obama’s goals a reality,” said Michael Strautmanis, a longtime Obama senior aide and advisor. “A trusted colleague and leader, Abby was always placed in the middle of the action. Whether it was in the field or at the White House, she embodied the President’s organizing values to navigate a wide variety of stakeholders and deliver. With Chairwoman Kelly and Abby, the Democratic Party of Illinois couldn’t be in better hands.”

“Working for Abby, I saw firsthand her ability to lead and bring people together,” said state Sen. Robert Peters. “Abby has the talent and values to lead the work needed to build a Party that will be progressive, inclusive and win. We need true transformational change to bring about true safety and justice for all, and Abby is a perfect fit to build a Party that can bring about that change.”

Witt has also served multiple roles on campaigns up and down the ballot, including leading Daniel Biss’ 2018 Illinois gubernatorial campaign. In addition, she’s also helped drive political engagement at organizations like the Center for American Progress, the Common Purpose Project, and the Chicago Public Schools.

Witt replaces Mary Morrissey, who has served as Executive Director of DPI since February 2019.

“Mary has led the party through some tough challenges, including running our victorious 2020 coordinated operation during the pandemic, and she has been a valuable partner to me since I became chair in early March,” Kelly said. “This has been a smooth transition, due in large part to Mary’s hard work and professionalism. I cannot thank her enough.”

She’ll be paid with federal funds. [This sentence was based on a conversation with Witt earlier this morning. It appears, however, that the funds to pay her will be split with state funds.]

Arena is an interesting organization and her experience there should help her now.


  1. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Apr 27, 21 @ 9:49 am:

    === Chairwoman Kelly has never shied away from a challenge…”===

    Gotta be honest, Kelly can shy away or not shy away all she wants, but isn’t it disingenuous at this juncture to call Kelly “Chairwoman” when in reality this month she’s “Food and Beverage” Chairwoman and not listed at all as the Chairwoman of DPI.

    Also, my best to Abby Witt. Good luck.

  2. - Boy Blunder - Tuesday, Apr 27, 21 @ 10:00 am:

    Abby is awesome, such a good hire for DPI.

  3. - Candy Dogood - Tuesday, Apr 27, 21 @ 10:10 am:

    ===Arena is an interesting organization and her experience there should help her now. ===

    I have different thoughts on the topic, but I’ve never really been an OFA fan in any of it’s versions. The Obama Administration occurred simultaneously with repeated set backs in congress, governors mansions, and state houses.

    So, I hope whatever experience she’s bringing with her from Arena is better than being able to win a congressional campaign in a D+7 district. Especially since if 500 out of 1200 were an employment statistic coming from a law school or university, we’d be shutting them down.

    Best of luck to you, Abby. I hope you’re able to recognize how tough of a job you’ve got ahead of you.

  4. - Back to the Future - Tuesday, Apr 27, 21 @ 12:02 pm:

    Very impressive hire.
    Best wishes to Abby and Dr. Kelly.
    Good to see the Party going in a new direction.

  5. - Dan Johnson - Tuesday, Apr 27, 21 @ 12:09 pm:

    I went to a couple of Arena events. They were really well done.

  6. - EarlyAndOften - Tuesday, Apr 27, 21 @ 1:08 pm:

    ===So, I hope whatever experience she’s bringing with her from Arena is better than being able to win a congressional campaign in a D+7 district. Especially since if 500 out of 1200 were an employment statistic coming from a law school or university, we’d be shutting them down.===

    As an Arena alum: it’s a 4-5 day bootcamp with tuition of ~$300 that’s subsidized or waived for many students. Takes people interested in campaigns, offers training, plugs them into a network/career coaching, and adds new staff to a campaign pipeline that needs more talent and diversity.

    Useful and valuable training, but it serves a very different purpose from a three-year, six-figure degree program. I don’t know Arena’s KPIs, so hard to say what their metrics are like. The trainings are well run.

    Direct support for campaigns (a la Underwood) is a pretty small part of their work AFAIK, but I don’t know enough details to have an opinion on that side of things.

  7. - Juvenal - Tuesday, Apr 27, 21 @ 1:26 pm:

    === Arena is an interesting organization ===

    According to OpenSecrets, almost all of their money in 2018 came from four sources:

    Dan Tierney

    Depending on who you ask, Tierney is either a cannabis visionary or just another venture capitalist.

    Either way, funding is funding and if it’s all for a great cause, then great.

    Arena claims to have trained over 4000 progressive candidates and staffers, but won only 31 races at the local, state or federal level. That’s a 0.0007 win rate.

    Hopefully Abby will prove herself in time, Biss ran a great campaign so hopes are high. Democrats will need a better ROI than the .07% that Arena 527 saw.

  8. - Practical Politics - Tuesday, Apr 27, 21 @ 2:04 pm:

    “Biss ran a great campaign” — He narrowly finished second and trailed Pritzker by more than 18 percentage points.

  9. - Joe Bidenopolous - Tuesday, Apr 27, 21 @ 2:25 pm:

    ===Biss ran a great campaign so hopes are high===

    I’m not sure that’s ever been said about someone who lost a *primary* with only 27% of the *primary* vote and only won two counties. But hey, you do you

  10. - Shytown - Tuesday, Apr 27, 21 @ 3:20 pm:

    Biss ran a great campaign?



  11. - Now I’m down in it - Tuesday, Apr 27, 21 @ 4:35 pm:

    To the two above, you do know Dan Biss is the new mayor of Evanston now, right? Keep up.

  12. - Pizza Man - Tuesday, Apr 27, 21 @ 7:03 pm:

    This concludes the Madigan apparatus w Morrissey in any way with DPI; a thorough cleansing

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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