Kevin Hagan never dreamed of being president. His goals were always bigger. “My early to mid-childhood was all about basketball – all day, every day. I dreamed of being Magic Johnson, but I’m about a foot and change off.”
The Lakers legend topped off at 6 foot 9. For Hagan, the scrappy, determined utility player from Roselle, Plan B would take more time to materialize. There were more years left in the chase. While he never made it on to the Lakers court, his journey did lead him to the halls of Princeton Public Affairs Group (PPAG).
“Joining PPAG was an opportunity to join a team that I highly respected, and were independently viewed as the best,” Hagan says of his move to Trenton’s powerhouse government affairs firm. “I’ve had the amazing fortune to work for and learn from some of the brightest, most passionate people in politics, Republican and Democrat. If I can use that experience to help others that really makes it worthwhile.”
The product of an Irish–Polish union, he remembers his early years as “happy and positive,” due in part to the solid, steadying presence of his parents and grandparents, and the rigors of a Catholic education capped off by three years of public high school. Being the youngest of three and one of twenty plus grandkids always had its challenges. But the lessons of family prepared him for what lay ahead.
For the aspiring basketball pro, life was enveloped by a ring of inspiration. Hagan’s paternal grandfather, Leroy, holds a spot in the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame and his godfather persevered through a twenty-seven-year high school coaching career. Surrounded by the game, Hagan’s chosen path was unmistakably straight. “Basketball ran the world.”
As to whether he had obvious or necessary talent to go further, the answer he offers mixes humility with some retrospective realism. “I always played harder than I was good.” Hagan’s work ethic, however, was enough to land a spot on the King’s College squad his freshman year and the remaining three years playing ball for Drew University. Hagan soon recalibrated his goals to a career in coaching.
An Unlikely Career Start
Although Kevin Hagan could never imagine the coming future he’d find in the political world of the New Jersey Democratic Party, an unusual event in 9th grade uncovered a natural knack for the political field of play.
When administrators stunned the student body with dual firings of beloved teachers, it was Hagan and a few friends who organized a school-day walkout protest. Exhausting every ounce of persuasive charm and relying on the pre-Twitter phone tree, hundreds of students marched on cue to the baseball field at the sound of the morning’s first bell. The effort failed to win reinstatement for the teachers, but Hagan discovered a rival passion that would one day outlast his basketball hopes.
“It was then that I learned that if there’s something worth fighting for, then you’ve got to go all in,” he says of the moment. “When I talk to kids in school, I tell them that the outcomes don’t always come the way you want them to, but that doesn’t mean that the fight wasn’t worth it.”
Making New Jersey’s Political Big Leagues
“We can drink for free!” That’s how a fellow teammate successfully lured Hagan to put on his suit and attend a political event on the last day of classes at Drew. It would be the first of hundreds. The invite was for late Ewing Township Mayor Al Bridges’ re-election campaign and a galaxy of Democratic stars and up and comers were present including New Jersey’s future governor, Jim McGreevy and Rush Holt, who would stun observers that year with primary and general election wins for Congress.
Hagan left the fundraiser after pocketing a few good job offers. He’d sign up to work for the hard charging McGreevy who would promote him from driver to an eventual assignment as deputy-chief-of-staff in the governor’s office.
In less than a year, Hagan’s fast political emersion convinced him that “I didn’t want to work sixteen hours a day, seven days a week.” He’d need to set his own pace. But it’s a balance with work and family that’s constantly tested in the caffeinated, full-court press of state politics.
In 2001, Hagan would help steer McGreevy’s lopsided campaign victory, and the following year would lead the surprise, post-retirement return of Senator Frank Lautenberg. The pair of spectacular wins would propel and keep him in the top tier of the state’s political and policy advisors. After a successful stint as the CEO of the Democratic State Committee, Hagan would prove equally agile in the private sector launching and building his own lobbying firm before returning to government to serve New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney and then joining PPAG in 2012.
“Kevin is invaluable to our team because he sees the “whole court” which is critical in the game of politics,” says his colleague Dale Florio. Among public affairs professionals in New Jersey, Kevin Hagan is at the top of his game with plenty of room to grow.
Kevin and his wife Darcy have three young children ages 10, 8 and 2. He balances work in Trenton with a passion for family, coaching and their two pit bulls.