Raised in politics, Lowell native now side by side with Sanders

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LOWELL, MASS.— How many high-school girls were excited to register to vote 25 years ago?

There definitely wasn't a line out the door, recalls Clarissa Samuels, who taught U.S. history at the Academy of Notre Dame in Tyngsboro, an all-girls high school.

But then there was Michaeleen Earle.

In the Academy of Notre Dame yearbook from the early 1990s, it reads "When I'm President" next to her name.

"She would say, 'I could be the first woman president of the United States,' " remembered Samuels, who taught Crowell during her junior year.

Earle, now Michaeleen Crowell, is playing the role of the possible first female president.

Crowell is not campaigning but testing her boss, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

As his chief of staff, Crowell portrays Hillary Clinton during mock debates, down to Clinton's delivery and brightly colored pantsuits.

"I've watched her videos, read all her statements," said Crowell, who grew up on 10th Street in Centralville. "I try to make it as realistic as possible to get him ready for the debates."

So far, so good. Sanders has performed well in the debates, and he's surging in the polls in the days before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

"People are hungry for authenticity, for someone who's not scripted," Crowell said. "People are hungry for a candidate who will tell it straight. He has real ideas and a real vision for leading the country.

Signals in high school

It's no surprise that Crowell is in the middle of the 2016 presidential race, according to those who knew her at the Academy of Notre Dame.

Samuels remembers her winning the class president race and "taking the bull by the horns."

"She had excellent leadership skills, was poised and well-spoken," said Samuels, now the director of bus transportation at the academy.

"For a 17-year-old student, she was always having adult conversations about the economy and elections," she added.

"She was hell-bent that she was going to be involved in politics."

It was easy to pick out Crowell as a leader at the academy, according to then-President Kathryn McGuiggan. Crowell was always involved in many activities within the school, and knew how to act with adults, she said.

"She was very much respected by those in the community and outside the community," McGuiggan said. "If we needed somebody to represent the school, we would never hesitate and try to get her as the representative."

Hilary Ives, who met Crowell on the first day of sixth grade at the academy, said Crowell was her first friend to become involved with politics. It's impressive that she never wavered from the dream, Ives said.

"It blows my mind because so many people change the direction of their career nowadays, but she has stayed with this," said Ives, originally from Tyngsboro. "It's very rare to find someone with the conviction and belief and strength to follow up on that."

Political influence

When Ives visited Crowell's house in their middle-school years, she remembers dozens of photos of the Kennedy family. Ives recalls asking about the photos, and Crowell's parents discussed their political activism.

"They essentially said they wanted to work to change the world," Ives said. "From a very early age, she latched onto that and really pursued that."

Crowell "grew up in campaign headquarters," she said.

It goes back to her great-grandfather, John Molloy, who was a union organizer and strike coordinator in the Lowell mills.

"It's in her genes," said Crowell's father, Michael Earle, who still lives in the same Centralville house with his wife, Eileen.

Earle met U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy in the early 1970s and then became his campaign coordinator for northern Middlesex County. Crowell ended up attending many Democratic state conventions and Democratic City Committee meetings with her family.

When Crowell was in high school, Kennedy visited Lowell for a field hearing about the economy and paying for college. Crowell spoke at the hearing, and afterward Kennedy told her to apply for a Washington, D.C. internship in his office, which she later did while attending Boston University.

"I worked on health-care legislation that was unsuccessful at the time, but it spurred my interest in health-care policy," Crowell said. "It later worked out, though, when I joined Rep. (John) Lewis' staff."

Sanders' chief of staff

After receiving her law degree from Boston University, she was living in Georgia and couldn't stay away from politics, Crowell said. She became the legislative director for Rep. Denise Majette.

Crowell then moved over to Lewis' staff after Majette lost a Senate election.

"It was great to be able to work on health-care policy again, and to get to work again with Sen. Kennedy," Crowell said.

Eight years after joining Lewis, she felt it was the right time to apply for a Senate position. Crowell blindly applied for a legislative director job for a "progressive Northeast senator."

After a few months, she became Sanders' chief of staff.

"At the time (three years ago), there wasn't even much conversation about a presidential run," she said. "Then he started talking about it, decided to run, and here we are."

On a day-to-day basis, Crowell deals with legislation in Washington as well as issues that may arise in Vermont, "making sure the operations run smoothly."

In her "down time" as chief of staff, she's role-playing as Clinton and involved in the presidential campaign.

"She's loving every minute of it," said Earle, now a staff representative for the United Teachers of Lowell.

"We're exceedingly proud of her," added her father, who was a biology teacher at Lowell High School for 36 years. "She's wanted this her whole life."

Crowell, who's married with two kids, ages 8 and 11, and lives in Washington, makes it back to her roots a couple times each year.

More than any place she's ever lived, Lowell is at the top of the list for "politically active communities," she said.

"I miss Lowell," said Crowell, who fondly remembers sledding on a 6th Street hill. "The residents there are very astute politically. They understand the value of good representation.

"What I'm doing now is what I've always wanted to do since I grew up there," she added. "I can't see myself getting too far from politics."

Crowell as the first female president? If her candidate can pull off the upset, that yearbook prophecy would remain on the table.


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