Schurr transitions from TV anchor into politics

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Sometimes, when Patrick Schurr accompanies his boss, state Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, to a political gathering, other guests look suspiciously at the senator’s familiar assistant.

“It’s thrown people off. We’re at a meeting, and people think, ‘Why is the media here?'” Schurr said at his Hollidaysburg office. “And I say, ‘Well, I’m not on that side anymore.'”

In November, after 14 years as a reporter and anchor at WTAJ, Schurr left his job at the TV station to take up a post as Eichelberger’s executive assistant. Now the local celebrity researches legislation, takes phone calls and sends press releases to reporters – the same people he once competed with for stories.

“You get over that quickly,” he said, laughing. “But there’s definitely a learning curve to it.”

Schurr is easily recognizable to anyone who’s watched Altoona-area TV news over the last decade. Arriving at WTAJ as a 23-year-old in 1999 after a stint with a smaller West Virginia station, he planned to leave for another city until his 2002 promotion to morning anchor.

Schurr said he’d planned to rise through the ranks as so many broadcast journalists do: putting in time at small markets before earning a job at a major station. He never imagined he’d one day leave the field to work in politics, he said.

“Since high school, I just sort of knew that’s what I wanted to do. I took the classes in high school: TV, radio, journalism, straight through college,” Schurr said.

A desirable job at WTAJ and the beginnings of a family kept him in the area far longer than he’d expected, and he developed a loyal following among viewers.

But last fall, after a management change took Schurr off the anchor desk and returned him to reporting, “the opportunity sort of presented itself” to work as Eichelberger’s executive aide, he said.

“I thought he was always somebody that had personal integrity,” said Eichelberger, whose wife, reporter Charlotte Ames, worked with Schurr at the station. “He speaks well; he writes well. He’s used to dealing with a lot of issues.”

When Schurr posted on his Facebook page that he was leaving WTAJ, hundreds of fans replied.

Among the messages were: “We’ll miss you”; “It’s not going to be the same without you;” “I can’t believe that you are gone.”

“All of the comments, the posts on Facebook, were very gratifying because the viewers – that was what made the job for me,” Schurr said. “You could tell from the comments that people felt like they knew us.”

His new job leaves him largely out of the spotlight, working from the district office and only occasionally traveling with Eichelberger. He’s a sort of jack-of-all-trades at the Hollidaysburg office, learning about upcoming bills and feeding information on the senator’s work to the press.

The job has its pressures, he said, and it’s not always easy to pick up on the legalistic language that lawmakers and their advisers employ when they write legislation.

Schurr sometimes accompanies the senator at town hall gatherings and answers calls from concerned constituents, many of whom instantly recognize his name.

It may take a while for voters to recognize him for his new job, though: Some still ask whether he’s at WTAJ, with a few seeming to think he simultaneously covers the news and works in politics, Schurr said.

Trained in broadcast journalism and long planning to spend his entire career in the field, Schurr said he sometimes misses the work since his unexpected shift to politics. He keeps in touch with his old coworkers, he said, and a framed collage of photos and press clippings they made dominates a wall in his new office.

And fans still greet him in public, he said.

“That’s been the hardest part, too, leaving, because I enjoyed that part of the job so much. So I guess it’s a little bittersweet when I still hear comments,” he said. “But at the same time, I have no regrets.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.