News & Politics

The “West Wing” Castmember Who Quit Acting and Went Into Politics

Melissa Fitzgerald has a new book that shows how it’s done.

West Wing alums Melissa Fitzgerald, Mary McCormack, Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff, and Dulé Hill in 2016. Photograph of West Wing Cast courtesy of National Association of Drug Court Professionals

Melissa Fitzgerald spent seven seasons acting next to Allison Janney on The West Wing. As Carole Fitzpatrick, the assistant to press secretary C.J. Cregg, she often popped up near Janney for a moment of banter, making her a familiar—albeit minor—presence. So where is Fitzgerald today, almost 15 years after the show ended? When we called her recently, it turned out she was . . . hanging out with Allison Janney. Fitzgerald was staying at Janney’s house while in LA for HBO’s October West Wing reunion.

When she’s not crashing at Janney’s place, Fitzgerald is actually in DC, where she has resided for the last seven years. (She lives near Dupont Circle with former Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning and his husband, Ben Masri Cohen, who are friends of hers.) These days, she has put acting aside to work for the Advancing Justice initiative at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals—not as a celebrity spokesperson but as its director. The group promotes drug-treatment courts, which prioritize recovery over punishment. West Wing star Martin Sheen, a champion of many progressive causes, introduced her to the organization.

Fitzgerald has remained close to her castmates. She’s godmother to the son of Janel Moloney, who played Donna Moss, and she’s an active participant in a running group text among many of the show’s actors. Part of their lingering bond involves activism, with several castmembers involved in lefty causes. Fitzgerald has also spent time on Capitol Hill with the man still known around the world as President Bartlet. “I was walking through the halls of Congress with Martin Sheen and advocating for treatment court,” Fitzgerald said, “and we had meetings in offices on both sides of the aisle. In both offices, there was a young person telling us they were inspired to get into public service because of West Wing.”

Those kinds of interactions have led Fitzgerald to team with fellow West Wing alum Mary McCormack—who played deputy national-security adviser Kate Harper—on a book designed to interest fans in civic life. What’s Next: A Citizen’s Guide to The West Wing is due next year and will feature an intro by the program’s creator, Aaron Sorkin.

So why do people still care so much about that cornily idealistic artifact from a vastly different political moment? “It shows the nobility of public service and that government can be a force for good in people’s lives,” suggested Fitzgerald. “The characters didn’t always agree on how to do things, but the ‘why’ was always the same: to make things better for all people. People go back to it because they are yearning for hope.”

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Amy Moeller
Editor, Washingtonian Weddings

Amy leads Washingtonian Weddings and writes Style Setters for Washingtonian. Prior to joining Washingtonian in March 2016, she was the editor of Capitol File magazine in DC and before that, editor of What’s Up? Weddings in Annapolis.