Steve Kerrigan was a vow away from a life as "Brother Aloysius."
All through college he considered a vocation in the Brothers of Saint Francis Xavier, the religious order that ran his high school just outside Boston.
When decision time came, he'd grown comfortable with the vows of poverty and even chastity. Obedience was the deal-breaker.
"One of the things I didn't focus on was obedience," he says. "I like to make decisions for myself."
Kerrigan decided on a vocation in politics. He became a disciple of Ted Kennedy, eventually serving as the late U.S. senator's political director and sometime sailing partner. He even planned his 2009 funeral.
Now he's making decisions that could shape the 2012 presidential campaign as CEO of next year's Democratic convention in Charlotte.
He'll oversee a $37 million budget, a staff of around 200 and an event that will draw more than 35,000 visitors and showcase Charlotte to the world. He's working alongside a host committee led by former Mecklenburg County commissioner Dan Murrey.
Kerrigan won't turn 40 until Sept. 17. But it's not his first time on a big stage.
He was chief of staff of Boston's host committee at the 2004 Democratic convention. Five years later he served as chief of staff for President Barack Obama's inauguration.
People who know him say he's organized, focused and disciplined. Disciplined enough that after a health scare in 2009, he shed 65 pounds from his 5-foot-9 frame and this year ran his first road race - the Boston Marathon.
"He's got the right skill set to be successful in Charlotte," says Julie Burns, who led Boston's host committee. "He's great with people. He certainly understands Washington and how Washington works. He also had the experience of being (on) the host committee so he can understand the city's side."
Thomas Reilly, Massachusetts' former attorney general and a one-time boss, calls Kerrigan "very good at getting things done."
"You could give him a very complex challenge," Reilly says, "and walk away from it knowing that the job would get done."
During college at the University of Maryland, Kerrigan interned for Kennedy and began a 20-year association. After graduating in 1993, and rejecting the religious life, Kerrigan went to work as the senator's scheduler.
In 1996 he became Kennedy's state outreach director and eventually political director, a job he held until becoming Reilly's chief of staff in 2003. He worked there until 2007, taking leave for the 2004 convention.
From there he went into governmental relations, again leaving to join Obama's campaign at Kennedy's request. After the election he worked on the inaugural.
Kerrigan himself has had mixed success in elective politics.
At 25, he was elected to the board of selectmen in his hometown of Lancaster, Mass., in his second try. He'd lost his first attempt by 26 votes. In 2008, he lost a race for the Massachusetts House.
Kerrigan's work with Kennedy took a different track after 9-11.
After the senator had an emotional meeting in Boston with victims' families in late 2001, Kerrigan helped him start the Massachusetts 9-11 Fund. The nonprofit supports the families of victims with ties to the commonwealth.
Later that led to creation of the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, a non-profit started in 2008 to help families of troops who've died on duty since 2001. Kerrigan serves as president. His board includes two 9-11 widows.
"We realized as much as we were hurting, people helped us," says Cindy McGinty, a mother of two who lost her husband in the twin towers. "We could really pay it forward and help those military families out there... we could do for them what people did for us."
Next Sunday, she'll join Kerrigan and others at Boston's Rose Kennedy Greenway as they pack 1,000 care packages for troops overseas.
"In the 10 years I have known Steve, he's somebody who gets things done but doesn't run you over trying to do it," McGinty says. "He's compassionate (and) funny ... I could call him tomorrow and say 'Steve, I'm in trouble, help me.' And he would."
Selling the president
In 2008, Democrats used the Denver convention as an organizational tool. They credit it with helping them carry Colorado and its nine electoral votes. Kerrigan hopes to use Charlotte in the same way, to help sell the president to voters in North Carolina and elsewhere.
He promises "the most open and accessible convention in history." But he's guarded about the release of information.
For example, CATS chief executive Carolyn Flowers told an audience last month that the transit center, across the street from the arena, would have to move for the convention. That caught Kerrigan and his staff by surprise.
"Any comment like that is terribly premature," he says. "There are a lot of rumors out there and what we don't want to do is get information out there that's incomplete....
"One of the hardest parts of my job," he adds, "is making sure we stay on task and focused."
Kerrigan has taken another vow: To avoid the friction that strained relations between national and local organizers at previous conventions.
"We're fully confident we're not going to experience those problems this time," he says. "Having done both allows me to do my part an awful lot better."
-- Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059