If you were to pass him on the street, you’d probably never know it. With his furrowed brow and determined attitude, Nate Kleinman, 29, seems like any other pensive, forward-thinking Joe Shmoe, appearing to require only a moment’s glance to size him up.
But what sets him apart from the crowd is something intangible, something you can’t even see: Kleinman is running for Congress.
And, if anything, his casual appearance works to his benefit; he’s approachable and personable. Perhaps Kleinman deserves a longer, more thoughtful second glance. After all, these aren’t traits normally associated with every congressional candidate. An active member of Occupy Philly and the larger Occupy Wall Street movement, he’s been acknowledged as the first ‘Occupy candidate’ running for office. He’s emerged as an agent of change in the political sphere.
Kleinman served most recently as legislative assistant to former state Rep. Josh Shapiro. Prior to that position, he was an adviser to former Congressman Joe Sestak while he was running for the Senate in 2010, as well as serving as a field staffer for President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Also a graduate from Georgetown University, Kleinman humbly recalls his classes with political greats such as Madeline Albright, who served as the first female Secretary of State and Donna Brazile, a renowned political analyst affiliated with the Democratic Party.
“I think having some of the professors that I had demystified the political process for me,” Kleinman said. “Where I used to think that people like Madeleine Albright were distant, amazing people, I came to realize that they’re just real, normal people.”
Kleinman’s own demystification of the political sphere gives credence to how he presents himself, not as a distant, stoic politico, but as a fellow citizen whose voice is clamoring for change in endorsement of the common good.
Running for the 13th congressional district in Pennsylvania, Kleinman faces substantial opposition by the likes of Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who’s currently serving her fourth term representing the district. In the grand scheme of the approaching election, Kleinman acknowledges his own futility.
“I’m running as a write-in candidate,” Kleinman explained. “My chances are really bad of actually winning. But you’ve got to start somewhere. And I’m trying hard anyway. I’m going to have volunteers out there on election day handing out my materials and we’re doing everything we can to get as many votes as possible.”
Kleinman’s write-in status means that his name doesn’t appear directly on the ballot. This wasn’t his original intent, of course. Schwartz’s campaign contested his bid to be included on the ballot, calling into question precisely 504 signatures of the 1,500 that he collected from potential voters; Schwartz’s contest succeeded due to Kleinman’s deputy campaign manager, Patrick Morgioni, failing to register as a voting Democrat until four days after he began petitioning for the signatures. As exactly 1,000 signatures were required for Kleinman’s name to appear on the ballot, he was left with four short of 1,000. Schwartz was able to reduce his candidacy to write-in status.
“I think in a lot of ways, I’ve already won,” Kleinman said optimistically. “The messages got out there. A lot of people who didn’t know about Occupy Philly know about it now because of the added coverage that [my] running gave to the movement.”
With this perspective in mind, it’s important to remember the context under which Kleinman is running. As a member of the Occupy movement, a lot of his time is dedicated to direct advocacy and activism. His work first and foremost concerns the people, whereas other politicians traditionally concern themselves only with whomever is scheduled to meet with them next.
“I think my passion for advocacy and activism comes most directly from my family, from my parents and my grandparents,” Kleinman explained. “My grandparents were activists 50, 60, 70 years ago. And I grew up learning about the kinds of struggles they were engaged in. My grandfather went to the March on Washington when he was a teenager.”
“One of the formative moments was when I was about 12 and the headmaster of my school asked my family if we would host two Bosnian students for a year during the war in Bosnia,” Kleinman explained. “And we all agreed that we absolutely should do that. So the experience of having two young people, one my age and one my older sister’s age, brother and sister themselves, living with us for an entire year, coming from a war-torn country. Suddenly, these issues of human rights were much less abstract for me.”
Voting for the representative of the 13th congressional district will take place on Tuesday, April 24.
Now more than ever it’s essential to realize the options open to us are not always endorsed in official print.