Alex Friedman has big plans for Baltimore City. At 17, the soft-spoken, humble and articulate Cheswolde resident is working to build bonds across lines of neighborhoods, race and class to unite residents.
Friedman, who was sworn in as the first Orthodox commissioner on the Baltimore City Youth Commission June 12, said he strongly believes that turning things around for the city starts with youth.
In his newly appointed position representing Democratic Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer’s 5th District, Friedman believes he is in prime position to help bring about that change.
“The great thing about the Youth Commission is that our influence is as much as we want it to be,” said Friedman, who noted he loves to wear his yarmulke around City Hall. “We could just sit back, walk around and showcase that we’re commissioners, and that’s all it would be. But we’re the ones who really want to take leadership and ownership of our roles, make a difference and be a credible voice in City Hall for all youth.”
Friedman sees himself connecting youth and city officials on complicated city policies, ranging from violence and homicides to health care, recreational activities and education and mentoring.
Appointed by the mayor and City Council president, the commission is comprised of 17 voting members and 14 non-voting members between the ages of 14 and 25. The voting members include one person from each of the 14 council districts and three at-large seats, while the non-voting members represent various community and city agencies.
“What I have seen from Alex in terms of his commitment to the 5th District, there’s no question he was the perfect fit for this position,” Schleifer said.
Friedman, a voting member, said he is focused on working to address widespread problems faced by city youths, including poverty, inadequate education and a high rate of incarceration. Initiatives such as YouthWorks, the city’s five-week summer jobs program for 14- to- 21-year-olds, and the recent $115 million Enoch Pratt Free Library Central Branch renovation project, he pointed out, are a major step in the right direction.
“We need more programs like those, which is what I want to fight for with my fellow commissioners,” Friedman said. “Seeing what’s gone on in our city for so long, I’ve been chomping at the bit to finally get a chance to be in a position like this to influence real change.”
From a young age, Friedman always seemed destined to foray into public service, given his family’s political background, his deep-rooted interest in the subject and his love for the community.
“I’ve always felt a responsibility to be involved with my community in any way possible,” said Friedman, who also interns for House Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) on Capitol Hill. “I have to give a lot of credit to my parents for instilling that in me.”
Friedman’s mother, Chaya, a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge, cites her husband, Howard, as one of their son’s biggest influences.
Howard Friedman was president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) from 2006 to 2009, making him the first Orthodox president of the pro-Israel lobby group. Locally, he has served as chairman of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and as president of the Baltimore Jewish Council.
“We’ve always had a lot of politicians at our house,” Chaya Friedman said. “Alex was always the only one of my four kids who actually wanted to be around these people and ask questions and soak up everything he could.”
Chaya recalls that Friedman was first bitten by the political bug when, at the age of 5, he memorized the name of every president and rattled off facts on each one. After each new election, he would get a book containing the names and background information of all 535 members Congress members and do his best to memorize it from cover to cover.
Now, Friedman is putting his institutional knowledge to use through his involvement at various neighborhood community association meetings and events, his mother said. He holds a seat on the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association’s board as youth observer.
“My son tends to have friends who are significantly older than him,” Chaya said with a chuckle. “I think he’s gotten to be interested in things that most 17-year-old boys are not interested in. He’s very secure in who he is and what his principles are.”
Officials have come to know and praise Friedman for his volunteer and civic efforts throughout his district.
Schleifer, 28, a freshman council member, said it’s refreshing to see someone as young as Friedman have so much pride in the city. Schleifer added he hopes Friedman continues to carry that upbeat attitude with him for the remainder of his life.
“He is somebody who has demonstrated tremendous interest in the whole community,” said Schleifer, who made Friedman his campaign manager in last November’s general election. “Having a high school student so engaged, I thought it would be great to bring him into what I’m doing and take that engagement to the next level.”
A former student at Talmudical Academy and current rising senior at the private Jemicy School in Owings Mills, Friedman harbors dreams of potentially running for office one day.
He said he plans to study political science in college and then possibly pursue law school “but has a lot to think about before making any decision.”
For now, Friedman is determined to use his platform to advocate for city youth to voice their opinions. He said he wishes to inspire others to follow his lead.
“Whatever I think we can do to do a better job to serve our community and people, that’s my dedication,” said Friedman, whose term expires after Mayor Catherine Pugh’s first term ends in December 2020.