Public Service Innovators -- Joe Cislowski (MPP 1984): Making Time for Service

March 30, 2001
Lory Hough

For Joe Cislowski, (MPP '84) being a member of the Electoral College during last November's presidential election was an undeniably memorable experience.
"CNN called and I was a guest on a radio talk show in Los Angeles, my hometown," he says, contradicting the usually low-key, unnoticed experience that most members have serving on the college, once dubbed an "obscure animal" by the Baltimore Sun. "The day we voted, there were even about 100 cameras pointed at me."
Despite the unprecedented amount of attention that he and the others received after the Gore-Bush showdown - including calls by politicians and voters to abolish the college and revamp the entire election process - Cislowski surprisingly doesn't view the experience as a bad thing.
"It became a wonderful civic lesson," he says. "That was a positive surprise for me. It was wonderful for people to give attention to the Electoral College, which they normally learn about in junior high civics class and never think about again."
This isn't Cislowski's first foray in the world of public service. Early in his career, he worked in a number of jobs for the California Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Then he realized he wanted his public service work to be more concrete.
"When you're working at the macro level, as I was in Washington, things can be a bit abstract," he says. "I wanted to go back to where the rubber meets the road. I wanted to get back into the community."
This interest in building community wasn't necessarily a new idea for him. It's something he's done throughout his career, he says, but usually "on the side" - talking with a friend over a cup of coffee about ways to get involved, for example. Now, it's what Cislowski does for a living, as executive director of the Southern California Leadership Network, which brings together a diverse group of people each year from the business, government, and nonprofit sectors in an attempt to make them more effective leaders.
He's also found ways to integrate it into his non-work time. There was his involvement with the Electoral College, of course. He's also served as an elected member of the Democratic Central Committee for both Los Angeles county and the state of California and has volunteered on several government commissions and nonprofit boards.
This commitment to public service, stems in part from his days at the Kennedy School, which he says helped him "develop a mindset of public service that has stayed with me to this day." It won't end just because the calls from reporters have mostly stopped or his days are already chock full, he says.
"You can always make time for public service," he says. "You just need to be selective. There are times when I'll prune my activities, like a garden, but there's always time."
For more information about the Southern California Leadership Network, contact Cislowski at JCislowski@aol.com.
Photo: Joe Cislowski being sworn in for the Electoral College


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