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Re-election is her Ambition

Desiree Peterkin Bell ’00 Uses her Passion for Service to Fuel Her Quest for a Blue State

By Carrie Compton


Desiree Peterkin Bell ‘00 oversees a Philadelphia press conference for the Obama campaign. Photos by Laurence Kesterson.

Desiree Peterkin Bell ’00 has a critical delivery to make—whether or not she’s able to pull it off may ultimately affect the entire nation, perhaps the world. She has until Nov. 6 to help deliver the battleground state of Pennsylvania into the hands of President Barack Obama.

In June, Peterkin Bell was named Pennsylvania’s senior adviser for communications for the Chicago-based Obama for America campaign. She manages the statewide communications staff and advises the campaign on communications strategy— keeping voters informed about the president’s record and what it means to Pennsylvania.

“I took this position for a couple of reasons: One, in my life, this is a prime time for me to do this,” explains Peterkin Bell. “Two, I don’t know if another opportunity [like this] will come again or present itself to me; and three, this election is extremely important to me. I am passionate about public service, I believe in this president, and I can’t just sit on the sidelines and not play an active role.”

She’s been on the public service fast track since shortly after graduating from the National Urban Fellows program with a master’s degree in public policy. Her track record would indicate that she is well qualified to be entrusted with such a key component of President Obama’s re-election effort in the swing state of Pennsylvania.

Having graduated from Swarthmore with a degree in public policy and education, Peterkin Bell landed her first job in public policy with former Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson in 2001.

She cites Swarthmore’s commitment to social responsibility as being a pivotal factor behind her career direction. “I’m driven by my passion to serve, and that’s something that I definitely honed at Swarthmore College,” she says.

Peterkin Bell left that job in Indiana after 9/11. A native New Yorker, she felt compelled to help rebuild the city, and worked with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration as a supervising legislative representative, clarifying the administration’s positions to the 51-member city council. Later, she worked at the city’s municipal marketing agency, NYC Marketing Development Corp., partnering with commercial endeavors to generate positive buzz.

During that tenure, an incident occurred that fortified her love for public service.

“I was at city hall when James Davis, a city councilman, was shot,” she says. “I decided then that I still wanted to be involved in politics and government, and I would not allow some unfortunate incidents to dissuade me from my passion.”

Since leaving her position in New York, she’s helped Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s administration rebrand and revitalize that city’s public image, building a complex system of communication to better serve the public via social networking and technology.

Before being tapped by the Obama campaign, she worked for Michael Nutter, mayor of Philadelphia, her new home base. She built a strong foundation of regional and national media and crafted the city’s social media strategy, which increased followers and heightened community engagement. Under her direction, the city of Philadelphia was nationally recognized as the fifth-most savvy social media city hall in the country.

Nowadays, you’ll most likely find Peterkin Bell glued to her Blackberry, but she’s not catching up with old friends on Facebook. The communication guru says she spends all but four hours of the day on her mobile devices strategizing, managing press conferences, coordinating, and driving messages for the Obama campaign.

When asked what her first move after the campaign will be, Peterkin Bell says, “A beach. A beach with nice water and an adult beverage.”

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