Baltimoreans Who Work In Politics
By Maayan Jaffe
In this election season, the cliché “all politics is local” is particularly relevant. When we vote this year we are picking representatives who will help shape such issues as local development and our public schools. For some people, pulling the lever is their way of making a statement. For others, it’s the act of getting involved.
Weeks before the primaries, these political activists, campaign managers and kitchen cabinet volunteers are charged about their candidates’ races. Win or lose, they say, there is nothing as fulfilling and exhilarating as working with the local politicians.
Take Jon Monfred. He was raised in Owings Mills and went to Pikesville High School. When he took a twelfth-grade internship at Del. Jon Cardin’s (D-11) office in Annapolis, he saw it just as a way to get a feel out what it is like to work in politics. He sat in on some committee meetings and helped out with Cardin’s website. Then, Cardin announced his re-election candidacy for the District 11 Maryland House of Delegates. He needed someone young and Internet-savvy to run his campaign. He turned to Monfred. Today, Monfred, a student at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, serves as Cardin’s campaign manager.
Monfred says he oversees Cardin’s schedule, sends out his e-mail blasts and proofs Cardin’s speeches and notes. He also manages the Cardin website and, most important, the Cardin Facebook fan page.
On Facebook, says Monfred, Cardin makes announcements about endorsements and meets his constituents on their own turf.
“Facebook has just exploded and almost every serious candidate has a Facebook page now,” Monfred says. “We are seeing campaigns changing, moving towards heavy use of social media platforms. [Working with Cardin’s campaign] is the perfect job for me!”
Although much of the work was done over the summer, Monfred has been traveling back and forth between Philadelphia, where he is at school, and Baltimore. Now that the primary is over, he will remain at Penn and work from there.
Monfred says what he likes most about working on the campaign is that since Cardin is running as part of a legislative team, he gets to collaborate with the professionals running the campaigns of Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-11), Del. Dan Morhaim (D-11), Del. Dana Stein (D-11) and Democratic County Council candidate Vicki Almond.
Ariel Glasner of Federal Hill got involved in a political campaign largely for the camaraderie. A member of Maryland House of Delegates’ Democratic candidate Luke Clippinger’s kitchen cabinet (District 46), Glasner says he recently moved to Baltimore and was looking for ways to get involved.
“I just moved to Baltimore from Montgomery County, and I was looking to make some connections in Federal Hill,” says Glasner, who has assisted with Clippinger’s messaging, preparing promotional literature and organizing events, among other things. “Working with Luke has been an amazing way to learn about my neighborhood and to meet people in the area. In Federal Hill, people are really engaged in their community, and I wanted to be engaged, too,” he says.
In the process, Glasner says, he has made a very diverse group of friends.
“One way to meet people is through synagogue. I did that. The other way is through politics,” he says.
Glasner adds that he also likes that he can relate to Clippinger. Both he and Clippinger are lawyers who want to give back to their communities in meaningful ways. Though Clippinger is not Jewish, Glasner says he feels that they share similar values and that telling people he supports Clippinger is a positive reflection on who he is.
Like Glasner, Yehuda Sugarman, now living in downtown Silver Spring, says he is drawn to his candidate. Serving as a senior advisor to Lori Albin, Democratic candidate for The State House in Maryland’s 42nd district, he says he personally relates to Albin because she “feels very connected to the Jewish community.”
“Lori’s father is Jewish. Her grandfather was a Jewish World War II veteran. She has a lot of similar concerns to [the Jews]. For example, her commitment to public service is similar to the Jewish sense of social justice and belief in giving back to the community. She looks at protecting the environment and sustainability, and she strongly supports Israel’s right to self-defense and to secure borders,” says Sugarman.
Sugarman has worked on campaigns in the past. This time, however, he was selected to work with Albin by his firm, Fontaine & Company, which Albin hired to assist her in the race.
Running for office is not in Sugarman’s plans at the moment, but he doesn’t rule anything out. “I prefer to work behind the scenes and to let people who have a lot of potential take the reigns and be the public face,” he says.
Stephen Knable of Pikesville says that he’s “always been passionate about politics.” Although he lost when he ran for the House of Delegates in District 11 in 2006, he continues to be involved. Now serving as special assistant to Kevin Kamenetz, Democratic candidate for Baltimore County Executive, Knable says he thinks many young adults today are apathetic to politics. His friends often don’t get his involvement in political races, or don’t care. However, he says, if they were educated about how much of a difference their vote makes, they may act otherwise.
“I am definitely trying to open their eyes,” says Knable, who doesn’t rule out the possibility of running again.
Knable works with Jonny Akchin, Kamenetz’s field director. As field director, Akchin works to recruit and mobilize volunteers and ensures that people who say they want to vote for Kamenetz make it out on voting day. He’s been working in politics since 2002, when he supported Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for Governor. He says he learned a lot from that race, which was considered a failure. And while he admits that many of the folks working on the campaign “messed up big time, as a ship it was pretty well run.”
Akchin got into politics because of his experience at City College High School.
“Every year, we would have to go to the school ward and protest funding cuts,” Akchin says. “I learned pretty quickly that the most basic services are subject to some political process.”
Akchin adds that working with political campaigns is a great way to gain valuable skills, such as the ability to form relationships and the ability to figure out what someone is capable of delivering, what one is willing to deliver, and how to get it all.
“Anyone who works hard and makes friends through a campaign is making a good investment in his career, no matter what he does,” says Akchin. “Campaigns are often full of well-connected, educated activists, people who have seen a lot, have years of on-the-ground experiences and are not shy about sharing it.”
“Local politics is one of those things that gets lost in the local media today. Everything else seems more exciting or sexy. However, local politics affect our daily lives. Local politicians are the ones that deal with questions like whether our schools are funded or our hospitals are built, if social services are cut or expanded,” he says.