Written by Marc Tracy
The better Chris Malloy does his job, the less people will notice him. In fact, they might only know he had been there if things had gone terribly wrong.
Malloy runs a small events business in Rochester, New Hampshire, near the seacoast. Most of the time, his business is busy producing corporate dinners in Nashua, weeknight fundraisers in Manchester and the occasional wedding; the week before the New Hampshire primary was different.
Malloy’s business has all but cornered the market on producing political rallies here for Democratic presidential candidates. The eyes of the nation are on town halls and rallies predominantly produced by Malloy’s company, Malloy Events.
Anyone who followed the bungled Iowa caucuses would know that things in the early states could go south, and that when they did the consequences reverberated. “If the event goes flawlessly and it’s on TV, it just kind of meets expectations,” Malloy said. “There’s a lot of downside if something goes wrong.”
From a town-hall-style meeting for Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts last Tuesday morning in Keene to several election night parties scheduled for Tuesday night, Malloy Events will have built stages and audience risers, set up chairs and lights, wired microphones and speakers and assembled press filing areas for more than 60 presidential campaign events featuring Warren, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and entrepreneur Andrew Yang (plus an election night party for businessman Tom Steyer).
Malloy Events produced dozens of events throughout the past 12 months for those candidates plus former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and former candidates Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
Few things better illustrate the distinctiveness — advocates might call it charm and detractors, absurdity — of the New Hampshire primary than the fact that this all-important contest is decided in a state so small that one determined small business can handle most of the events work during the busiest week in the year.
Which is not to say this stretch is without challenges for Malloy Events. The company has roughly 15 full-time employees, Malloy said, but will have closer to 100 in the run-up to the primary, including temporary workers and daily union laborers.
For Malloy, 39, a longtime New Hampshire resident and devout “West Wing” fan, these several days in the spotlight are not primarily about the bottom line. “I wouldn’t do it if we weren’t making money — it’s certainly business-related,” he said in a north-of-Boston accent. “But it’s my personal favorite of all events.”
Last Tuesday, a team led by Malloy had just a few hours, following morning tennis, to turn a cavernous field house at Hampshire Hills Athletic Club in Milford into a site for Sanders’ first rally since the Iowa caucuses had concluded (so to speak) the night before.
A stage, press and audience risers, tables, stanchions and bike racks (for creating a barrier between the stage and the crowd), speakers and subwoofers, 150 folding chairs and more were loaded off two 26-foot trucks, wheeled or carried through back hallways and, with the help of a campaign advance team, set up across three empty tennis courts.
Working off the campaign’s proposed layout, drapes were strategically hung. The campaign used its own podium; Malloy had two spares just in case.
The breakneck assembly process culminated several hours later in a rally that the campaign said had attracted more than 1,300 — its biggest crowd in the state to date.
“Advance people want predictability, and they want to know that somebody is going to do a great job,” said Doug Landry, the national advance lead for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 primary campaign, who has largely stayed out of this cycle. (Advance people are campaign staffers who are generally responsible for planning and executing events.)
This is Malloy’s second primary cycle producing a plethora of presidential events, after working for both Sanders’ and Clinton’s campaigns leading up to the 2016 primary. The company is nonpartisan, but Malloy is a former Democratic state representative and has connections in the party.
His experience creates a network effect in which the more events he does, the more he is trusted to have mastered the state and its venues. “If you consistently perform well, they will call you over and over again,” Landry said.
Malloy knows which halls already have adequate lighting and which he will need to supplement, and which fire marshals are sticklers for neat rows of chairs. He packs chalk to get out stains; ibuprofen for headaches and portable cellphone chargers to prevent them; and a portable printer that has proved handy to candidates at the last minute. Malloy Events owns $25,000 worth of flags, Malloy estimated; a VFW brochure on proper flag protocol sits on his pickup truck’s dashboard. (“The blue unit has to be in the top left,” he said.)
Though Chris Malloy was elected to a lone term as state representative of his hometown, Pelham, in 2002, he was bitten by the political-events bug about a decade later. He had a small events business in southern New Hampshire, and he was the go-to audiovisual contractor for the Radisson Hotel in Nashua. One morning, in January 2012, he worked a Chamber of Commerce breakfast there featuring Mitt Romney. It changed Malloy’s life — and not because of Romney’s infamous gaffe that day, when the former Massachusetts governor said, “I like being able to fire people.”
“This was the day before the New Hampshire primary,” Malloy said. “There were a hundred members of the media there. To see how everyone managed that was eye-opening.”
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