With ten locations in the area, WeWork is one of Washington’s biggest co-working operations, a communal business facility where freelancers can rent space and where camaraderie is often as important as conference calls. It’s a very Silicon Valley concept—and one that might work better in Mountain View than down the street from the Oval Office. At WeWork White House, Republicans and Democrats share quarters, sometimes uncomfortably.
Especially problematic: The offices are fronted by large panes of glass. For all of WeWork’s amenities—free beer on tap, ever-flowing La Colombe coffee, common areas stocked with Scrabble and Monopoly—the offices provide little protection from passersby. This setup can be tricky, given that the location is popular with political operatives. In recent months, the office has been home to journalist Mark Halperin and alums from the Donald Trump and Marco Rubio campaigns, among others.
Not surprisingly, things can get tense. A progressive communications firm called the Pastorum Group, for example, until recently sat next to a direct-mail business run by former Trump campaign staffers. Pastorum cofounder Josh Cohen is careful never to leave sensitive documents out in the open. “There is a Republican presence in this office,” he says. “We do our best to be genial and collegial, but you never know who’s listening.”
Alex Lawson, who runs the liberal advocacy group Social Security Works, is also attuned to the situation: “You know where a lot of vendors from the Republican side are, so you could walk by their office and gloat when Trumpcare 3.0 went down in flames, or talk about some form of disinformation if you want to.”
Others seem less concerned. Alex Conant, cofounder of the Republican consultancy Firehouse Strategies, which until recently operated out of the location, was constantly aware of people walking past, but he never paid much attention. “We’re not working for the CIA,” he says.
To WeWork, it’s all part of the plan. “We build space that creates a sense of community,” says Dave McLaughlin, who oversees WeWork’s East Coast operations. “If companies from different views are working together, we may be playing a small role in helping Washington work together again.”
Indeed, some WeWorkers have embraced the opportunity. Pastorum’s Lia Weintraub made a point of reaching out to employees of the nearby Republican fundraising company Campaign Inbox—part of what she calls her “crusade to show them liberals are okay.” Recently, a Campaign Inbox staffer gave her a cookie he’d baked using his grandmother’s recipe. A small sign, Weintraub says, that “bipartisanship is not dead.”
This article appears in the November 2017 issue of Washingtonian.