It was an August evening 18 years ago that I came back to my dorm from cross-country practice and saw a flier on my door advertising internships with the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign for future Governor Ed Rendell and Congressional nominee Ed O’Brien. Motivated by my anti-war, pro-union, pro-environmental views of the day, I called the number the next day, and was on board within the week. I did not know at the time that my sports career, which had been ongoing since I was five, was days away from being ended by mono, or that I’d still be doing campaigns 18 years later (which was definitely not my intention at the time). In hindsight though, the transition makes sense and meant the world for me, as politics both replaced my competitive needs, and made me grow in ways I did not suspect it would at the time.
To be clear, 18 years later I could (and plan to) write a book about all the ways I think our political process sucks, and is broken. I often find myself feeling contempt for every part of the system, even as I would say without a second thought that this same broken system has made me a better person, and taught me to empathize with people I would not have had much in common with them. Politics is complicated though, so it’s fitting for me that I’m standing here all these years later observing that my own relationship to it is extremely complicated too. Ultimately though, it has been rewarding.
I can’t say I’ve ever had a bigger reward than the one I’ll celebrate this week: national Delegate. Thanks to the Biden campaign selecting me, about 300 people signing my petition, Joe Biden winning PA-7, and slightly over 50,000 people voting for me, I have the honor of a lifetime this week. Yes, it’s a weird year and convention, and I would be lying if I didn’t express my disappointment with not being in Milwaukee this week, but don’t mistake that for me being disappointed in the moment. I’ve spent my entire career working with a chip on my shoulder, that I’ve been passed over or underestimated by people in this industry for varying reasons. This week I can quietly and proudly tell myself I’m good enough, and for the nominee, no less. This is first line in your obituary type of shit here.
To be honest, I kind of thought this moment in my political life would happen four years ago, for Secretary Clinton and her campaign. I was an alum of her 2008 campaign, the convention was in my adoptive city of Philadelphia, I was raising money for her campaign and “Ready for Hillary” very early on, and I had friends and allies in close enough contact to them that I was pretty sure my call was coming. I received only small offers early on though and got passed over to be any kind of delegate for Hillary. It was personally and professionally very disappointing, and left me questioning many of my decisions. I got that my fairly extreme lack of diversity (white, straight, Catholic, male, geographically outside of the big cities) was a drawback, but why did it seem like I had nothing to offer a candidate that I admired like none other? The disappointment made me look in other directions, but ultimately I did stick with Hillary, and after the 2016 convention, they suddenly needed me to parachute into Northeast North Carolina to fix a messed up region for them, for which the honor will forever be mine. I made great friends there, and our hard work as a team gave the Tar Heel State a Governor and Attorney General that have improved so many lives. Ultimately though, even that experience left me and so many others feeling empty when Hillary came up short. It was devastating.
The last three years have been a whirlwind, and the experience has changed me politically like it has for so many of you. That all came to a head just two days before Thanksgiving, when I text an old friend who was Vice-President Biden’s head guy in Iowa after reading about him in an article. It would take until nearly Christmas, and I very nearly went in another direction, but I was offered to come to Omaha, Nebraska and join the Biden team as the out-of-state organizer there, and I accepted. I left the day after Christmas, ultimately spending 40 nights in the Midwest, fighting for Joe in Iowa. My role expanded to handling paid canvassing in Southwest Iowa and working with endorsers to fill our precinct captain team out, and it’s fair to say I was kept busy. I would not change it for the world though. Friends of mine, from Senator Casey’s political director to friends from past campaigns, and even people I met on twitter or knew from back home in Easton came out to volunteer for us. The personal highlight of all highlights was when my first major political boss, Senator Chris Dodd came to campaign with us over the last weekend in Council Bluffs (and his caucus day “good luck” call was awesome too). The whole experience was amazing, and during that time period I was informed that I had been selected to be a delegate (with a gigantic assist from Senator Casey’s political director, again). Honestly, even seeing that things weren’t looking great, I had prepared myself for a tough caucus night, and likely being laid off the day after. I got the tough caucus night, and handled it as best I could. Then I got the shocking call that I was being re-assigned to Philadelphia. For the next month, I don’t know if I was only lucky, somewhat good, or some combination, but I could not miss. I woke up every morning on Broad Street of my favorite city in the world, got my Friday night cheesesteaks, got visits from old, close friends I hadn’t seen in years, and oh yeah- things got better. To be honest, I have no idea how I got assigned to digital organizing, it was literally something I had never done in my career (maybe the only thing), but the success was there. My biggest two wins were Oklahoma and Tennessee on Super Tuesday, but the wins continued to just pile up in states I was organizing in- Massachusetts, Idaho, Wyoming, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, and Delaware- all states I either organized in on the digital team, or later on the Mid-Atlantic “Pod.” Obviously Covid-19 struck about a month after I arrived in Philadelphia, the primaries came to a conclusion earlier than expected, and I was re-assigned eventually full time to Pennsylvania, but there was so much winning- and that was a great feeling. None of that was better than being elected to the convention on June 2nd though, so here we are.
From an identity standpoint, obviously Joe Biden is the best fit to me politically that I’ve probably ever had. It’s a lot more complicated than that though. In 2007 I passed on an interview with his campaign, which was offered to me just two days after I had accepted an offer from Senator Dodd. In 2015, I had the contract in hand to go to New Hampshire for the Draft Biden movement, and ultimately life events gave me second thoughts that kept me with Hillary. Even now, I can’t say this campaign has gone according to script. I also can’t say the similarities I share with Biden are what actually even draws me to him either- his Pennsylvania roots, his Catholicism, his “working class” politics- none of that gets me. I think it’s just how real of a person Joe is. He’s achieved great things, but his life has been far from perfect. He’s suffered personal loss. He’s made damaging gaffes. The “smart” people have consistently dismissed his politics and some even have called him dumb. This is part of what I love about Joe- he’s smarter than the “know it all” types, because he can relate to normal people, he keeps a broad, open tent, and he lets his opponents keep their dignity (which is why they’re opponents and not enemies). When this is over, and it’s 1/20/21 and I’m telling you “I told you so,” remember this is why- the country desperately wants to have a normal human being be it’s leader, someone that can wind down the permanent culture wars we’ve been fighting since Newt Gingrich decided to make all politics as nasty and personal as he could. Joe Biden is genuine, he is decent, and he is a bigger man than the rest of Washington, and I’m only so thrilled that he and I both hung around the business long enough that I could say yes to his campaign, finally.
Tomorrow will begin my third convention I have attended, my first as a delegate. My father and I drove up to Boston for the first two days of the 2004 Convention, and met this former State Senator from Illinois that you may have heard of named Barack Obama on Boston Harbor, speaking at a League of Conservation voters event the morning of his far more famous convention speech. In 2016 I spent the Philadelphia Convention outside of the hall as well, instead attending the parties and happy hours where you meet everyone. I would be an unequivocal liar if I said I’m not disappointed that I’m in Easton and not Milwaukee right now. There is zero doubt that I would have done anything possible to have the full delegate experience. Unfortunately life dictated otherwise though, so we’re going to do our best to enjoy the moment. I’ll attend the Pennsylvania delegation’s events, watch all the speeches, and attend the Labor caucus meetings (and any other caucus meetings I belong at). I voted for Joe Biden, our platform, and to continue under the post 2016 unity rules. Hopefully we delegates will get to register our support for Senator Harris with some form of vote, for history’s sake. I’m going to treat this convention seriously, because I waited a long f**king time for this. 18 years to be exact. And while no one is owed the opportunity to do what I get to do here, I earned it as much as anyone. I survived all that time, and the 9th position on the ballot in a low information race, for this. So yeah, I’m spiking the football just a bit.
Like our nominee I’ve got plenty of flaws, but also like him I’ve tried to not forget where I came from. I’m really proud to take part in this process and nominate a President we can really be proud of as a person again. I’m fortunate to be here, and fortunate to work for this man, and be a delegate. I remind myself that my immigrant great-grandfather walked across a railroad bridge from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to work in a cement factory with a bunch of other immigrants, then did it again the next day. I get to work for the 46th President of the United States, and represent the Democratic voters of Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District to vote for him at the Democratic National Convention. I’m thankful for the moment.