U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s first pitch at Fenway Park last year wasn’t as simple as stepping to the mound, throwing the ball and waving to the crowd as she left the baseball diamond.
It took a cadre of senior officials at the agency to plan the event, secure tickets, drive media interest and avoid any ethical no-nos in the process. In the end, EPA brought almost two dozen aides, security guards and family members to the Boston Red Sox’s ballpark to see McCarthy’s ceremonial pitch on Earth Day — a duty that she shared with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
One hundred ninety pages of emails that EPA turned over to Greenwire under a Freedom of Information Act request show how much complex and careful coordination goes into the moving parts that make up a Cabinet-level official’s public appearances.
McCarthy, a Boston native and die-hard Red Sox fan, was there not just to celebrate her team but also to kick off a campaign by the Obama administration to highlight its environmental agenda (Greenwire, April 21, 2014). That agenda has become one of the White House’s top priorities, with McCarthy as its public face since EPA proposed major regulations last year to cut back carbon emissions and smog pollution.
The appearance by McCarthy and Moniz required close attention from the principals’ senior aides. John MacWilliams, a Department of Energy senior adviser, pitched Red Sox executives on Moniz’s own fandom for the team to help secure his spot on the mound, according to documents obtained by Greenwire via FOIA (Greenwire, Oct. 3, 2014).
A similar public records request to EPA took longer to complete but shed more light on what it takes to get a senior administration official before a roaring crowd: drafting tweets, scheduling interviews, pitching graphics for the Jumbotron and finally making sure everyone has a seat to watch the game once the festivities are done.
Liz Purchia, an EPA spokeswoman, said the agency’s push behind McCarthy’s appearance at Fenway was so EPA could garner attention for its mission.
"Administrator McCarthy throwing out the first pitch at Fenway, on Earth Day, as the Red Sox played the Yankees, was a huge opportunity to reach a large and diverse audience to promote EPA’s mission," Purchia said.
"It allowed us to bring attention to recycling, sustainability and reducing energy use, all of which are core principles in EPA’s role of protecting public health and the environment."
EPA and DOE worked together to generate buzz around their chiefs’ appearances at the baseball game.
"What do you want to do?" asked Tom Reynolds, who leads EPA’s Office of Public Affairs, in an April 16, 2014, email to Aoife McCarthy, a senior public affairs aide at DOE, as he laid out a sequence of tweets for McCarthy’s and Moniz’s Twitter accounts. The two would josh about their upcoming Fenway first pitch on the social media site.
Marissa Newhall, DOE’s digital strategy director, would later make some edits to the tweets, saying in an email, "I love everything about this." EPA and DOE officials also scheduled when the tweets would go out the following day to help drive interest in the April 22 event.
The two federal agencies would work with the Boston mayor’s office, as well, to come up with graphics and video for the stadium’s Jumbotron during the game.
Also on April 16, Andra Belknap, a member of EPA’s press office, emailed officials with EPA, DOE and the city mayor about graphics saying how Fenway is "carbon neutral today" and noting that "Boston has cut carbon pollution by X%," according to documents.
The federal officials also worked on scheduling an interview for McCarthy and Moniz with the New England Sports Network (NESN), a cable network jointly owned by the Red Sox and the Boston Bruins hockey team. The two filmed the interview in Red Sox jerseys, sitting in a Fenway Park dugout.
EPA was also working with the Washington Nationals at the same time, according to the emails. The agency was trying to gin up interest and craft Earth Day messaging around then-Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe’s first pitch for an Earth Day game at Nationals Park last year.
EPA officials didn’t always find success as they worked to win press coverage.
Purchia emailed others in EPA about a Red Sox press release the day before the game that didn’t mention McCarthy or Moniz throwing out first pitches.
Instead, the release led with the national championship-winning University of Connecticut men and women’s basketball teams, who also had ceremonial pitch duties for the game, followed by the senior administration officials.
"Wtf? Nancy — any insight here?" Reynolds asked in an April 21 email to Nancy Grantham, public affairs director for EPA Region 1, and Purchia..
"Confirmed that there is more than one first pitch — seems like there are quite a few," Grantham replied.
DOE and EPA aides would also try to secure a mention of their bosses’ time on the mound in the insider newsletter Politico Playbook, written by Mike Allen.
McCarthy at DOE wrote in an April 16 email about cluing Allen in about McCarthy and Moniz’s first pitch. The next day, however, she noted in an email, "Well it wasn’t in Playbook so that is a wrinkle."
"We can get playbook to do something day of and tie in earth day," Reynolds responded.
It seems Allen didn’t play ball, though. A search of Playbook‘s archives around that time didn’t turn up a mention of McCarthy or Moniz, though notice of their first pitch would make it into Politico’s Morning Energy newsletter.
McCarthy’s pitch squared with ethics
First pitch duties at Fenway and Nationals Park also raised ethical questions within the agency.
In a March 27 email, Arian Herckis, EPA’s scheduling and advance director, told the Red Sox that McCarthy couldn’t accept the team’s "gracious offer" of tickets for the administrator and a guest, in accordance with advice from the agency’s Ethics Office.
Roxanne Smith, a senior EPA public affairs aide, would send an April 11 email to Justina Fugh, EPA’s senior ethics counsel, asking for a meeting "to discuss what we can and cannot do" with the Nationals regarding Perciasepe’s first pitch.
Fugh had ethics advice already drafted for Perciasepe’s throwing out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Earth Day 2013, according to one email.
Smith would later email on April 16 that after talking with the Ethics Office, she determined that both McCarthy and Perciasepe would have to pay market value for any "gifts," such as "tickets, parking, hats, shirts, etc."
The Red Sox would later send an invoice to EPA for 23 tickets. Ten of those were to fulfill McCarthy’s personal request, while McCarthy, agency staff for the administrator and those based in Boston got the rest, according to one email.
Purchia confirmed that the agency ticket allotment was for 23, which included seats for family, staff and security. In addition, the tickets were paid for with personal funds, according to Purchia.
DOE had 14 people attend the Red Sox game — including Moniz, his family and department staff — and their tickets were also paid for with personal funds, according to the department.
McCarthy had a jam-packed day when she was in Boston, including a visit to the New England Aquarium with Moniz and then a meeting with the Boston Green Ribbon Commission.
Nevertheless, according to one email that laid out McCarthy’s schedule at Fenway, the EPA administrator was still able to squeeze in a few practice pitches.
In addition, "her jersey [was] ready and waiting for her upon arrival to the stadium," according to the email.
Click here to read the emails that Greenwire obtained under FOIA.