President Barack Obama walks with David Simas, Aide to Senior Advisor David Axelrod, and introduces him to Portuguese TV, at the NATO Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, Nov. 20, 2010.  Simas is of Portuguese descent. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Winter 2017

From Humble Beginnings, a Meteoric Rise

David Simas ’95, a valued advisor to President Barack Obama on the campaign trail and in the White House, has been rewarded for his loyalty—and strategic acumen—with the job of CEO of the Obama Foundation.

A first-generation Portuguese-American from Taunton, Massachusetts, Simas knew the struggles of an immigrant family trying to make it in America. Having never made it past fourth grade, his parents were factory workers. His mother lost two fingers when a malfunctioning iron press crushed her hand. But he was also well loved and along the way acquired mentors who put him on his path to civic involvement.

In 2014, the New York Times described him as a key behind-the-scenes force at the White House thanks to his qualities of being “driven, data-obsessed, and a relentless salesman,” while friends and colleagues have praised him for his uncanny political instincts and natural, personal touch. Among them is former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who appointed Simas as his deputy chief of staff in 2006.

In Obama’s re-election campaign, Simas played a pivotal role as Director of Opinion Research. “David oversaw more data and more information during the 2012 campaign than probably anybody else ever has,” Dan Balz, chief political reporter of the Washington Post and author of a major book on the race, said in a Summer 2014 article in BC Law Magazine. “He was overseeing a huge research operation that was looking at every piece of data they possibly could, and he was a central cog in that whole operation. He was the traffic cop.” Simas said he had never focused on data and polling until he saw its tremendous importance in telling the human stories crucial to the campaign.

Most recently Simas was Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach.

Simas’ next career move takes him to Chicago. “In the year ahead, the Obama Foundation will continue the important work of creating a Presidential Center that inspires citizens and communities to take on big challenges,” he said in a statement announcing his appointment. “I am honored to be serving the President and First Lady and thrilled to be a part of working to fulfill this mission.”

Simas has visited BC Law several times in recent years. He gave the commencement address in 2015 and the keynote speech at the Alumni Assembly  last November. He said then that together with the cultural shifts that have occurred because of economic dislocation—resulting in some of the pushback against immigrants and the “silo-ing” of certain populations during the lead-up to the last election season—the nation needs good lawyers more than ever.

“We have a responsibility, given our training and commitment to service, to bridge that divide,” Simas told the gathering. ”If there’s ever a time to engage in civil life…it is now.”

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