Jewish campaign workers connect with candidates, campaigns, communities

Jewish campaign workers connect with candidates, campaigns, communities

Brad Kastan (right) with John Kasich in Borough Park.

Photo courtesy of Brad Kastan
Brad Kastan (right) with John Kasich in Borough Park. Photo courtesy of Brad Kastan

This cycle’s overexposure of presidential candidates has fostered innate familiarity with the remaining choices. Less apparent to many voters are myriad volunteers supporting each campaign. Jewish volunteers from both John Kasich’s and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns shared details not only on what it is like to volunteer on a presidential campaign, but also the rationale for doing so. (The Chronicle made requests to all of the campaigns; only Sanders’ and Kasich’s replied).

“I’ve known Gov. Kasich since I was in college and have literally worked on every one of his campaigns, and I am proud to call him a friend,” said Brad Kastan, an Ohio native.

Despite lacking an official title, Kastan handles major responsibilities within Kasich’s campaign.

“I am probably the chief nudge; I do whatever I can do to be helpful,” he said.

This means traveling throughout the country, engaging with Jewish communities and often speaking on the governor’s behalf.

One of Kastan’s highlights was recently visiting Borough Park, Brooklyn with Kasich.

“It was a thrill. I hadn’t been to Borough Park since I was a child,” he said. “It has become the center of Jewish life in New York. I grew up in Ashland, Ohio, where there were two or maybe three Jewish families, so this was quite a different experience for me.”

Mostly, Kastan’s efforts have been to raise awareness — “to let people in our community know who John Kasich is.”

Though Kastan is not new to political volunteering, certain elements within this go-around are unique.

“I have been involved in politics most of my life,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve been doing this with someone who I call a friend, so it’s been very rewarding. My kids and my wife, we’ve all grown up with John. He’s somebody I’m proud to be supporting. He’s a mensch, so I’m proud to have my kids see me associated with someone like that.”

Greg Schaffer is a “grassroots organizer” who joined the Sanders campaign in August.

“The organization has grown and grown and grown,” he said.

Schaffer’s efforts to enlarge the campaign have included planning events such as the March for Bernie in Market Square, collecting signatures to ensure Sanders’ Pennsylvania ballot inclusion, and hosting numerous debate-watching parties.

“The biggest one had 350 to 400 people,” he said.

Like Kastan, Schaffer has also traveled on his favored candidate’s behalf. “I led a group of 20 canvassers to Michigan and 50 to Ohio,” both of which he described as great because they allowed him to establish “relationships with other grassroots organizers in different states.”

Prior to August, Schaffer said that he had “never really been involved in a political campaign.”  The plunge into political volunteering stemmed from the candidate himself and his campaign’s decisions.

Sanders hasn’t “taken money, [and he’s] been consistently right throughout [his] 40-year career,” Schaffer said. “That consistency, that integrity, it’s very direct and honest. And he represents a lot of the best qualities that a candidate can have.

“He watches Israel with a critical eye, and I think that’s the right way to do things,” he continued. “Of course, he thinks that Israel has a right to exist, but he’s also concerned for the well-being of Palestinians, and he doesn’t think you can talk about the well-being of Israel without talking about the well-being of Palestinians.”

Schaffer is pleased so far with what the campaign experience has afforded him.

“I’m doing something that matters. To do the work I believe in, that matters.”

Like Schaffer, Ivan Frank is volunteering for the Sanders campaign.

Frank’s main involvement has been canvassing Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

“I generally canvas in poorer neighborhoods,” he said, “because it’s important for poorer people to vote. It’s called a democracy, but poorer people tend to vote less.”

Frank said that he has already canvassed in Hazelwood, Homestead and Homewood.

“Part of my reason for canvassing in those neighborhoods is that I am familiar with them,” he said.

Through different professional and community-service ventures, Frank has developed an affinity with the areas that he has canvassed. He also believes that it is necessary to reach particular demographics.

“Poorer people tend to feel that their interests aren’t going to be met,” he said. “The person who is canvassing [needs to] convince them to vote, because it’s in their best interest to do so.”

For some, volunteering in a presidential campaign is an attempt for later employment. Not for Frank, who is retired.

“It’s not like I’m 25 years old or I’m a political science major,” he said. “There are a lot of interns who do the canvassing [because] they eventually want to work for the candidate and get a job in politics. I don’t need any experience. I’m doing it because it’s important, because I believe in the candidate.”

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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