Boston native Annie Tomasini, with a ‘letting Biden be Biden’ approach, to be a top staffer in his White House

By Liz Goodwin Globe Staff, December 12, 2020

During the toughest moments of the Democratic presidential racelast winter, when neither polls nor primaries were going his way, Joe Biden always had at least one thing to look forward to.

Nearly every day, his traveling chief of staff, West Roxbury native Annie Tomasini, would bring in a close friend or family member to surprise him on the campaign bus or plane. Whether it was his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, one day, a grandchild or two the next, or his former personal aide Fran Person, someone would be there to boost his spirits during the difficult stretch of setbacks before his first victory in South Carolina.

“She always had a plan to make the campaign trail go better,” said Bruce Reed, the president-elect’s former chief of staff. “In part that was to make the long, hard grind more fun for him, but it was also because [Biden] really wanted to share the experience with them.”

Now, Tomasini, a 41-year-old former Boston Latin and Boston University basketball star, is taking her Biden-whispering skills to the White House — skills that were further tested when she became one of just a handful of aides to see Biden in person in the early days of the pandemic. She will be director of Oval Office operations in the Biden White House — a crucial behind-the-scenes job that traditionally involves ferociously guarding the president’s time while simultaneously trying to keep the leader of the free world roughly on schedule each day.

In some ways, it’s tough to imagine a harder job than being a gatekeeper for Biden. He lives for the boundary-less ropeline after events: grinning for every imaginable selfie, asking for phone numbers, and urging voters to call a loved one who couldn’t be there so he can say “hi” to them on Facetime. (This is all pre-COVID, of course.) Senator Lindsay Graham once joked to Politico that Biden’s former personal assistant’s greatest skill was in “gently persuading the vice president it was time to end the meeting.”

But Tomasini, who first began working for Biden when he launched his second presidential bid almost 15 years ago, leans into his gregariousness, and sees her job more as connecting him with the right people instead of keeping people away, according to those who’ve worked with her.

“She’s a big believer in letting Biden be Biden,” said Reed. “Annie helped make sure that those people not only had a few minutes with him but stayed part of his life.”

Those interactions may have contributed to Biden’s chronic lateness on the trail, but they also boosted the candidate’s mood — and have their political advantages. For example, a spontaneous stemwinder of a conversation with a young fan named Brayden Harrington who saw Biden speak in New Hampshire in February led to a bond between the two over Harrington’s stutter — an impediment Biden also struggled with as a boy. The 13-year-old eventually delivered a speech at the Democratic National Convention in August about overcoming his stutter that became a highlight of the event.

“We find a way to balance these things but we also find a way to prioritize these things,” Tomasini said in an interview with The Boston Globe, referencing Biden’s many spontaneous connections with people. “They’re amazing to see, they really are.”

Being the traveling chief of staff to a presidential candidate by definition involves a breakneck pace, an endless string of events, meetings, and decisions, with anonymous hotel rooms and suspect road food thrown in for good measure.

But in the unusual and at-times soul crushing year of 2020, Tomasini spent many weeks not aboard a campaign jet, but in Wilmington, Del., where the pandemic had grounded Biden in early spring.

She became one of just a handful of aides who was allowed in his home, and circumstances forced her to take on the jobs of others in the army of staffers who would normally assist a presidential candidate. Every Zoom appearance, TV interview, or important phone call required Tomasini, with the help of Biden’s personal aide Stephen Goepfert, to do the prep work that would normally be handled by a larger staff.

“Get your visual of the most important person in the world and get a picture of their office and think about how many people are outside his or her office,” said former US senator Ted Kaufman, a longtime Biden friend and adviser. “In this visual, it’s Annie.”

The pressure is still on Tomasini to perform multiple roles even during the transition, which Biden has spent in Wilmington with the pandemic still raging. Wielding a phone and an iPad, she is responsible for running traffic control on the many important people attempting to reach Biden all day, and has to make countless snap decisions on who should get through and who can wait. (The only clear rule? Family always gets through first.) If Biden needs to reach a world leader, or a governor, that often falls to Tomasini.

To read the full article on The Boston Globe’s website, click here.