The Decade That Was- the Twenty-Teens

I want to go back to 2010 and tell myself about this decade- the 2010 version of me would be way more excited and shocked. An Eagles championship? Donald Trump as President? No way. It was a decade where we managed to repeatedly top ourselves, where we took the momentum humanity built up in 2008 and 2009, and kind of squander it on stupid, trivial, and hilarious things. But well, it was still probably the most comfortable time to be alive in our history.

To celebrate the end of our decade, I wanted to give you my personal list of the most memorable events. Admittedly, you should not read this list “in order,” and you should read it from the perspective of my personal biases. Hopefully though, you just enjoy it.

  1. The Eagles win Super Bowl 52. I go to the parade. I never thought I’d see the day. When the football hit the ground and the clock struck zero on Super Bowl 52, I think I was mostly in shock. It really didn’t set in for me that the Eagles until about 30 minutes later when my uncle came out the garage leaving and said to me “well I guess you got one, Rich.” (He’s a Vikings fan) I put my beer down then and realized the Eagles had won the Super Bowl. The parade was just pure euphoria and celebration, and something I’m really glad I went and saw, as I didn’t get to go to the 2008 Phillies parade because it was so close to the election (I did go to a game though). The Eagles won the Super Bowl. It really happened! And they did it with Nick Foles. I honestly can say I said keep the faith when he took over. I also have to acknowledge that I said in 2013 that Foles would never lead a title run. Oh well, glad I was wrong.
  2. Hurricane Sandy pounds New Jersey while I’m running Central Jersey for Senator Menendez’s 2012 re-election. Sometimes you’ve done everything right, but fate has other plans. Sometimes by fate, we mean a hurricane. Senator Menendez ran a masterful campaign in 2012, and ended up with the largest victory in New Jersey since Bill Bradley’s 1984 win, but we still had a real moment of doubt late in the 2012 race. Superstorm Sandy crashed into New Jersey in late October, leaving unprecedented damage and suffering in it’s wake. I will never get the things I saw as I first drove back into Long Branch out of my mind. It was horrible. Once the situation stabilized, we had to put back together a get-out-the-vote program in the face of destruction, and it was a challenge. We succeeded though. And New Jersey has recovered quite nicely, thank you.
  3. The Rolling Stones do a U.S. Tour in 2019 that I go see with my family in the Meadowlands. Back in 1994, I saw my first concert at Giants Stadium- The Rolling Stones, with the Counting Crows as the warm-up band. A quarter century later, I was across the Meadowlands lot, seeing the Stones again. While you could see their ages, they sounded great. This time my mom and sister joined us (my mom was pregnant with her in ’94, opening up a ticket for me). My aunt even joined us, along with her neighbor. I knew a lot more of the songs this time too.
  4. I attend President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address on 1/21/2013. On Monday, January 21st, 2013, the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, held his second public swearing-in. It was not held on the 20th, though he was sworn in that day, because it was Sunday. President Obama delivered the most progressive, uplifting inaugural address in American history that day, in the bitter cold. Thanks to long-time friend John Callahan randomly walking into me on the Hill, I got to upgrade to a red ticket. It was a memorable day.
  5. Bryce Harper signs a record breaking deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. For months, Philadelphia talk radio debated it- was Philly good enough to land the biggest star in his sport? (Not necessarily the best player, but…) Then I got the text from my Dad, while sitting in Saxby’s in Bethlehem. Then the Score App alert. Then I read the reports. Thirteen year. $330 million. Philly got the guy I wanted.
  6. The 2016 Election and my time in Northeast North Carolina for Hillary Clinton. I spent a big chunk of my adult life trying to elect Hillary Clinton, even laying the groundwork to get on for 2016, and it all culminated in Elizabeth City, NC, in a hotel room, watching Donald Trump give his victory speech. In between I got to see unforgettably beautiful beaches in the Outer Banks, work with local pastors to turn out the vote, see Klan members rallying, and staff a Chelsea Clinton event. A lot of people involved in 2016 express regrets, and I guess I wish we had won, but I wouldn’t give back the experience. I saw some amazing stuff on that campaign, and I wouldn’t have any other way.
  7. My cousin and I go see Jay Z’s final show opening the Barclays Center, with special guest Beyoncé. Jay Z may or may not be the greatest rapper of all-time, but he is certainly it’s first billionaire and biggest star. He played a role in moving the Nets to his native Brooklyn, and his reward was playing a Springsteen-esque run of shows to open the new arena. My cousin Evan and I went to the final night, and his special guest that night was his wife Beyoncé. The show was amazing, and paid homage to Brooklyn’s amazing hip-hop history. I’m really glad I bought those tickets from my friend Melissa.
  8. The Sixers “Process.” From 2013-14 through 2016-17 season, Philadelphia basketball fans were treated to something called “the Process”- and it wasn’t much of Joel Embiid playing. The team put forward a controversially bad roster that lost a ton of games and amassed four top three picks over four seasons in the draft. The 2015-16 team was so bad that they won 10 games- one better than the all-time worst 82 game NBA team. All that losing eventually got the NBA to step in and force GM Sam Hinkie our the door, but not until after laying the framework for the current team that has won over 50 games the last two seasons, while winning two playoff series. It was a weird time.
  9. Moving to Omaha for Joe Biden and the 2020 Iowa Caucus. There’s not much to write here. I got here on Friday, for what should be the first significant chapter of the next decade. Once again in the Iowa Caucus mix, trying to elect the next President. So far, it’s pretty cool.
  10. The 2011 Phillies break the team record for wins, lose in the NLDS to the Cardinals. They were the best team in franchise history, with three top five Cy Young finishers, and 102 wins. If they had only thrown a game in the Atlanta series to finish the series (or two?), the damn stinkin’ Cardinals never get in. Roy Halladay doesn’t lose his last great start 1-0. Utley doesn’t miss a game tying homer by a foot. And maybe we never watch Ryan Howard struggling in pain on the ground, with a torn achilles, as the season ends. Or maybe we do. We’ll never really know. A Summer of autopilot wins, fueled by an unbeatable pitching staff, the season was still a lot of fun. Maybe it was just too good to be true.
  11. Going to see The Rolling Stones on their 2015 tour at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. In 2015, the Stones decided to eschew the big markets like New York and Philly, and do a North American tour that hit the mid-sized cities. So I bought tickets for their Pittsburgh show for my Dad and I as a Father’s Day gift. We sat in the far end zone and watched the most famous rock band in the world play for hours against the backdrop of Mount Washington. One of the most memorable moments at any concert I’ve ever seen came when the Penn State Women’s choir came out and did “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with the Stones. The whole show was incredible though, and I’m kind of glad I saw it in Pittsburgh.
  12. Moving to Charlotte to work for the North Carolina Democrats on the 2018 Mid-Terms. As I contemplated what I wanted to do after a disappointing 2018 primary, it took me until August to decide I wanted to do another campaign. When I did, I started considering multiple states. Then I got a call about coming back to North Carolina, to Charlotte. Just like 2016, I was being asked to “fix” a problematic region. Part of me still thinks I should have said no. The other part of me (the majority) is glad I did it. Charlotte is an up and coming, exciting place. The city looks cool, has cool stuff to do, is politically changing, and lacks nothing in culture or food. The campaigns we worked on were exciting, and we flipped all of our state legislative targets. It’s also a job that has the distinction of having the only election ever officially stolen that I was involved in (NC-9’s Congressional result was officially thrown out because the Republicans tampered with paper ballots). The experience was 90% amazing. Two or three people did make it exhausting though. I met some awesome people though, from my supporter housing, to my organizers, and the locals. I’d recommend Charlotte to anyone.
  13. The 2010 Flyers lose in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Chicago Blackhawks, setting off the worst decade in team history. Who would have thought that a fairly young hockey team losing in the Stanley Cup Finals to start the decade would be a sign of failure to come? The Flyers Cinderella run in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs came to an end in game six at the Wells-Fargo Center on a weird goal that didn’t seem possible when watching on TV. The assumption then was that the Flyers would be back plenty. Instead the team would be blown up in under 24 months, and they wouldn’t make it past the second round more than twice the rest of the decade. It’s a shame, because I do think a Flyers parade down Broad Street would be the most bizarre, happy, and satisfying event humanly possible.
  14. I turned 30. Milestone birthdays are less awesome after 21. On May 11th, 2013 though, I still turned 30. My family and I had dinner in Manhattan, then they dropped me at CHT when we got back. I hung out there then all night and drank one or two good ones.
  15. Seeing the Foo Fighters at Citi Field in 2015. In the post 1970’s world, Dave Grohl is a top five rock star. I don’t say that lightly, but it’s true. In 2015, his Foo Fighters decided to go on touring, even with his broken leg. What ensued was a great tour, one where we stood twenty or thirty yards from him in the Queens outfield and watched him put on an amazing show. The Foo Fighters, over two decades later, continue to put on an amazing show. On that Summer night, we saw one of their best.
  16. Serving as Field Director for Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman in NJ-12 during the 2014 mid-term. One of the great honors in my professional career was serving as Field Director for Bonnie Watson Coleman. Not only was she a long time leader in New Jersey politics, she made history as the Garden State’s first African-American woman in Congress, and she’s done nothing but make me proud in the seat. The team I worked with was great, the locals were ready to fight for her, and the win was impressive. I’m really proud I was a part of that.
  17. Spring Training 2011 in Clearwater. To say there were high hopes for the 2011 Phillies is an understatement. I went to Clearwater for the first time that year, as my dad and I were moving furniture in for our friends and season ticket holding neighbors. I remember getting all worked up at the first game because Cliff Lee looked rusty, and everyone around me laughing that I even cared. Spring training is leisurely and fun, for the players and fans. That took me a bit to get.
  18. The Eagles beat the Bears in the 2018 NFL Playoffs (in 2019) on the “double doink.” I have to admit, I wasn’t sure if I was sure the Eagles would win or not. After winning the Super Bowl, anything seemed possible, but the Bears had been a better team all year, and were home. So I went up to CHT, took a seat middle bar, and watched as the whole game came down to one kick, which hit the goal post not once, but twice. There’s a great video of me leaping out of my seat when it happened.
  19. Seeing Springsteen at Citizens Bank Park on Labor Day 2012. Bbbbbbbrrrrrrruuuuuuccccceeeee! The guy doesn’t even have a warm-up act. The world owes Jersey a thank you for this one. My friend Erica and I were in centerfield, watching Bruce from just a few feet away. The man is a legend.
  20. Meeting Bill Clinton in 2013. Despite working for Hillary twice, and being at events with both her and Bill, I had never been in a private audience with either before. My friend David Fried changed that. He had worked in the Clinton White House, so President Clinton came over to do a fundraiser for his Rockland County Executive run. Since I worked for David, he got me a minute to take a picture and talk to the Nation’s 42nd President. He’s still the only President I’ve ever met.
  21. Grandma turned 90. I’m not a big fan of milestones, but my grandmother turned 90 in 2018. For that matter, her sister did in 2015 too. I can’t imagine living that long, can you?
  22. The 2010 Phillies have baseball’s best record, fall in the NLCS to the Giants. After winning the 2008 World Series and 2009 National League title, the 2010 Phillies won a league best 97 games. Unfortunately there wouldn’t be a third straight Fall Classic in Philly. The season was a lot of fun, with Roy Halladay throwing a perfect game and playoff no-hitter on the way to his second Cy Young. Ultimately they lost the NLCS in six games to San Francisco.
  23. Managing the PA House Majority Leader through the nightmare 2010 mid-terms in PA Coal Country. In 2008, I was at the PAHDCC as Field Director the last time Pennsylvania Democrats won a majority in either house of the legislature. In 2010, my reward was managing the House Majority Leader’s very difficult re-election. The re-alignment that has made Luzerne County “red” had already begun in the southern part of the county, with much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric we are hearing today. It was a tough year to be a Democrat, particularly in the Coal region, especially if you were on the wrong side of former Congressman Lou Barletta, and evening more so if you had any problems politically of your own. We would go on to lose Congressman Kanjorski, the Leader’s seat, and the Speaker’s seat at once. Even so, the experience of leading a $900,000 race, dealing with statewide stakeholders, and leading an operation on the ground of that size was worth it. I am eternally grateful to Todd Eachus for taking the chance on me.
  24. Roy Halladay arrives in Philly, makes history, dies, and is elected to Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame. Roy “Doc” Halladay came into Philadelphia like a tornado. His first two years could be the greatest the franchise ever saw. He threw a perfect game, a playoff no-hitter, won a Cy Young, and finished second for another. While his last two seasons were injury plagued, he did manage to win his 200th game. After retirement, he was taken too soon from us in an airplane crash in Florida. In 2019, he was elected to Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame.
  25. Seeing the Dropkick Murphys at Terminal 5 in New York City. If you ever get the opportunity to see the Dropkick Murphys live, do it. If you ever get the chance to go to Terminal Five for a concert, do it. If you get to do both together, and just days before St. Patrick’s Day, do it. Other than the “Flyers suck” chant, Cousin Michael and I had a great time (that didn’t bother him). From the crowd kicking bad peoples’ asses to great, high energy music, the show was awesome.
  26. My sister graduates from Temple University. Eleven years after me, my younger sister graduated from Temple University. At least I know I’m not the only smart kid in the household.
  27. Spring Training 2019 in Clearwater. My second trip to Clearwater of the decade checked off all the boxes. Harper shirsey, check. Time on the beach, check. Three baseball games, check. Seeing some prospects in minor league camp, check. Great food, check. It was a really awesome trip.
  28. The Sixers lose to the Raptors in the 2019 NBA Conference Semi-Finals on “quadruple-doink.” I didn’t have high hopes at the start of the 2019 Eastern Conference semi-finals, as the Toronto Raptors and Kawhi Leonard has absolutely dominated the Sixers for a while. Looking back though, the Sixers could have put them away in game four, up 2-1 and at home, leading with five minutes to go. Instead the series went the bitter distance, with Kawhi hitting a last second shot, after it had bounced off the rim four times. I really hate that weird man.
  29. Cliff Lee chooses Philadelphia. Merry Cliffmas. Just days before Christmas, Cliff Lee turned down more raw dollars in New York, and a return to Texas, to join the Phillies. His return set off pride across the region, as free agency’s big fish said he wanted to be in Philly.
  30. The Phantoms move to Allentown. The crown jewel of Allentown’s re-development was the PPL Center, and the arena was viable because the Flyers were willing to move their AHL affiliate, the Phantoms, to Allentown. For local sports fans, it’s been great. Even for folks who like concerts, it’s been great. Hockey live is incredible to watch, and Phantoms games have been fun.
  31. My second Iowa stint in 2014. It seems like every five or six years, I end up in the Hawkeye state, somehow. In 2014, I ended up in Waterloo for the second time for my friend Anesa’s Congressional run in the 1st District. Despite her credentials as a refugee and State Representative, we lost the money war badly, and had to try to run a very grassroots campaign. Cobbling together the votes of labor members, the Bosnian community, and people in Black Hawk County, we managed a decent showing. I met some really amazing people on that campaign.
  32. The 2010 Sixers make the playoffs, I see them lose game three to LeBron’s Heat. It was almost a joke when my uncle and I said we’d get a ten game season ticket plan for the Sixers in 2009-10. It ended up that we had playoff tickets for games three and four. He took game four and took his boys, I took game three. I took Pfen and Matty Panto, and we sat upstairs. The Sixers lead throughout, but lost at the end. The next day they won their lone game of the series. Of course we didn’t renew the tickets, and the Sixers went back to the playoffs and beat the Bulls in the first round.
  33. My parents turned 60. There’s not too much to this. In 2017 and 2018, my parents kicked off the New Year by turning 60. It wasn’t something we over celebrated, but it was significant.
  34. Working the first ACA push in 2014 for OFA. In the Spring of 2014 I was hired on by OFA NJ. It was my second Obama job, and I was just thrilled at the opportunity. While I worked on climate action and gun violence prevention, the main issue that got me worked up was the Affordable Care Act roll out in North Jersey. Getting people access to health insurance they hadn’t had was life changing. I’m grateful for the opportunity.
  35. Moving to DC for SEIU in 2011. When you work in politics, you expect to eventually have to live in DC. In 2011, I faced that reality. While I today love being in DC, my 28 year old self hated everything about DC. It was too expensive. It felt segregated. It really isn’t a “sports town.” I struggle to connect with “Beltways” and “Ivies.” Mostly though, if I’m honest, I was holding it up against New York and Philadelphia, which wasn’t fair. I also hated my job and the mentally abusive boss we all hated. And it just wasn’t Easton. If I lived there today, I’d be fine. But that was not fun. Don’t get me wrong, there were great moments like the night Bin Laden got killed, or when I met up with friends and went to a July 4th weekend Pirates-Nats game, or even just my weekly dinners with the crew- those moments saved it.
  36. “Chip Ball” fails in Philly. When the Eagles hired Chip Kelly, I called it a mistake. It certainly didn’t fail on that front. It took the supposed genius three years to decimate the Eagles roster and get fired. He gave away superstars, wrecked the team’s media relations, disrespected players, and managed to prove once again that “time of possession” actually matters in football. By the end, people questioned even if he was a racist. At least he was terrible enough that the team didn’t have to trade up as far to get Carson Wentz. He’s tanked San Francisco and UCLA since leaving.
  37. Cousin Evan graduates college, moves off to “the big city.” In May of 2014, my cousin Evan graduated from Millersville University. This is an achievement in his life, but what he’s done since is even better. After a stint interning at Lafayette College’s Athletic Department, he moved off to Jersey City, got a job in marketing, and has been doing well ever since. Today he’s working at an agency on the Boston Brewing Company, and doing quite well. He had a good decade.
  38. The 2017 Election in the Lehigh Valley. After the disappointment of 2016, the 2017 election felt like a new day. After a brief stint in New Jersey, I ended up at home in the Lehigh Valley, running several campaigns at once. In the end I ended up with a couple of County Executives, two statewide judges, and a bunch of new council people. It was way more rewarding to win at home, especially in the Trump era.
  39. Cousin Brad wins the Easton-Phillipsburg Thanksgiving Day MVP in 2012 with a record five touchdown passes. I have to admit, I didn’t see this coming. After a long night out the night before, and a few cold ones in the morning, I realized in the third quarter that my cousin was on his way to a record breaking day. He would throw five touchdown passes in his junior game, shattering the game record and winning the MVP. It’s not so much that I didn’t see him having a big game, I just didn’t think about having to find his brother and get us both on the field for pictures with the family after the big game. We made it, though I have to admit I was hurting. Evan ended up sleeping on the dog bed that afternoon.
  40. CHT closes, then re-opens better than ever. The College Hill Tavern is to me, as Cheers was to Norm. When it was sold to new owners, I was concerned for it’s future. The final night was a pretty good blowout, complete with some highway workers beating up a towny (we were pulling for the workers). Then there was some time with it closed. When the bar re-opened, it was nicer. The food was better. There were more TV’s. The new owners were cool. The place took a step up. And it’s still my bar of choice. All’s well that ends well.
  41. The end of the Andy Reid era in Philadelphia, and MNF against the Panthers. Andy Reid is the winningest coach in Eagles history, but when he let Dawkins walk and McNabb was traded, he was on borrowed time. That borrowed time came to it’s end at the end of the 2012 season. Somewhere in the middle of that season I took my cousin Brad with me to Monday Night Football against the Carolina Panthers and watched the Nick Foles’ lead Birds take a beating. It was admittedly weird listening to the “Fire Andy” chants upstairs. I wonder if any of us realized what a joke would immediately follow him.
  42. Working the 2013 Rockland County Election. In 2013, it took me a while to find the right fit, but I eventually ended up in Rockland County, NY, a former home of my parents. I ended up back with my 2008 Hillary roommates, Sally and Michael. I ended up working for one of my favorite people, Judge David Fried, himself an alum of the Clinton White House. While we came up 200 votes of finally flipping that county courthouse, we had a blast. What a beautiful, fun place. I worked with some great people.
  43. My friends get married off. This was definitely the biggest decade of my life for weddings. Every year it felt like I had a couple. They were all a lot of fun. I even “officiated” one, two if you want to get technical, and was in one. I loved them all.
  44. I attended game two of the 2010 NLDS. As the decade began, playoff games in South Philadelphia felt like a given for the Phillies. This would be the only one I attended this decade. Roy Oswalt started, and the Phillies got a big win. They swept Cincinnati for the series.
  45. My sister attended Temple Law School. While she will graduate in the next decade, my sister decided to stay right on Broad Street and continue studying to be a lawyer the last 2.5 years. Soon she’ll be all done.
  46. Working the 2015 Philadelphia Mayoral race. Thanks to my friend Sally giving her friend Stu my resume, I ended up being Field Director for former Philadelphia DA Lynne Abraham’s Mayoral race. What a wild, strange ride that was. While Abraham remained popular throughout the race, her polling fell off the cliff when she, as the oldest candidate in the field, fainted during a publicly televised debate. I met some interesting people, ate some great food, and made good money. Can’t complain.
  47. My friends start having kids and stuff. Nothing is stranger than when you start seeing your childhood friends as parents. For many of my childhood friends, that happened this decade. It’s been pretty cool to watch.
  48. I win a couple elections, I lose one too. During this decade I managed to win a couple of elections, but lost one too. I was elected as Palmer Township Auditor in 2015. I also was elected to the Pennsylvania Democratic committee in 2014. Unfortunately I didn’t win a second term on the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, but I got more votes in 2018 than 2014- just all the Bethlehem folks won that time. Being a candidate is very different, and I did enjoy it.
  49. The 2019 Elections in the Lehigh Valley. The last year of this decade was a weird one for me professionally. I spent the early part of the year interviewing for national jobs, then ended up staying local anyway. I ended up working with nine campaigns, and we won all nine- four Allentown school board members, an Allentown councilwoman, the Mayor, and of course DA Morganelli (on turnout for judge of common pleas), Judge McCaffery (Superior Court, as scheduler), and newly-elected Northampton County Councilman Kerry Myers (as Manager). It was a damn good year.
  50. RIP Uncle George, Uncle Charlie, Uncle Stan, Aunt Mary, Bob Elliott, Bob Baxter, and everyone else we lost. We lost a lot of great people this decade, some very close to me. I’m going to miss all of them, and felt the need to recognize them here.


Saturday was my 36th birthday. The hardest question I faced was “is this where you saw yourself at 36,” to which I could say no, but the truth is I never saw myself at 36. It’s not some milestone year that I had a life plan for. What I increasingly am realizing though is that I’ve reached a bit of a lull in life where I don’t really have much of a plan for anything. That is a scary realization on some level, but also a liberating one on another.

My life plan coming out of high school was to graduate college, go to law school, and then make money. I totally abandoned that in college, and by the end of school my plan was to go to Iowa or New Hampshire and work on the 2008 Presidential campaign. I did that, and kind of became the dog that catches the car- now what? I had planned to leave political campaigns after 2016 and get a “big boy job” in Washington, but then the election happened and kind of took that option away. Fast forward to 2019 and I’m realizing that I never really re-calibrated my goals, and maybe I should. I’m no longer young enough to simply say “tomorrow.” I still kind of am though.

I’ve come to realize that while I have an impressive resume and body of experience, I’m in a much tougher world today. I’ve advanced beyond the career point where I can just interview for any old position I want. In stepping up into a more advanced job market, I’m competing with better applicants. I’m also competing in a job market that values diversity considerably more than just experience (not a bad thing). I don’t provide anything for diversity (there’s a bunch of even older, experienced white, straight guys already there). I’m facing some challenges right now. They’re not likely to get easier in the near future.

I’m also just starting to face Father Time. No, I’m not facing death soon (I don’t think?), in fact I feel better than I have in 18 years at the gym. But time is starting to matter to my future plans. If I ever plan on going into the government and working towards a pension and other retirement benefits, I have a couple of years to figure that out in order to work until I’m 65. If I want a family life, I probably need to get serious about that soon. I’ve started saving some money in anticipation of “grown up life,” but not much. I’m not one to be anxious about life, but time is beginning to be something of the essence. Being rich is not an important value to me, but dying under a bridge with nothing is something I want to avoid.

All of this leads me to an anxious point in my existence. You start wondering “is this what I want?” You know what, to be honest, I’m not sure. My current life is fine, but is it leading me towards future wants? Do I value being happy now over happy later? Do the challenges I face now lead me to change the values I’ve always held? You start questioning your bedrock values of who you are, and if you don’t address that, it leads to a dark place.

So with that, I’ve done thinking about my core values, as I want them to be. In considering them, I’ve come up with a few thoughts:

  1. Stand up for those who need it. In disputes between those with power and those without, do everything you can to side with the disadvantaged. Sure, there have to be laws that protect insurance companies, or a police officer deserves a fair investigation after shooting someone, and we have to have laws about immigration. Even with all of that, remember far too often that the rules are written by those in power, and the people out of power will be the victims far more often than those in power are.
  2. Be skeptical of power. Yes, we need order and laws. Yes, we need standards. Don’t assume that all of these standards are set with the best of intentions for everybody. Too often, they are not. They are written to advantage those in power, and help them maintain their power. Poor people don’t have lobbyists. The disadvantaged often do not have a seat at the table. Don’t assume anyone is looking out for them. My advisor in college tried to instill in students a natural skepticism towards the status quo. I feel like I’ve somewhat lost sight of this. It’s great to understand how things work. It’s important though to…
  3. Don’t accept things as they are. Just because things “work that way” doesn’t mean they have to. Indeed, almost every major change in human history came as a result of someone finding a better way to do things. Progress requires at least some level of questioning the existing norms accepted facts, a vision of improvement. This doesn’t mean all progress is good, or that change is always a necessity, but you should be open to it.
  4. Tell the truth, good or not. Not all truths are good. Some hurt. Some will cause pain in life. Don’t use that as an excuse to lie. As we are seeing in our world today, every lie helps those who would like to see an erosion of facts. They’re dangerous. The temporary pain of the truth may cause you embarrassment or loss, but it will allow you to fight another day. It also allows others to understand who and what you are, on a real level. That can go a long way.
  5. Be liberal with disagreement, but be frugal with making enemies. In politics, your friends today can be your adversary tomorrow, but the inverse can be true. No two people see everything alike, and you should expect to not see eye-to-eye on every question. Don’t scorch the Earth with people whom you see mostly eye-to-eye, or even just respect. They could be a valuable ally in the future. Certainly don’t make an enemy over anything you’re not absolutely passionate about. It can burn you later.
  6. Be careful with whom you align, and never become drunk off the praise of others. You may agree with me on something today. You may praise me and call me a friend today. I may love hearing how great I am. That doesn’t mean I want you as an ally. That doesn’t mean I want us to be associated. That doesn’t mean I should allow that to go to my head. All the praise in the world isn’t worth guilt by association. You can’t buy back the world’s perception from one mistake.
  7. See other perspectives. You’re always right in your view. That doesn’t make it so to others. Allow yourself to try and see their side. Try and be decent to them. Realize they may be wrong to you, but that doesn’t mean they entirely are.
  8. Understand that others may rather be happy than right. And that’s ok. We all only live once, forcing others to be unhappy in the name of being correct on everything will usually result in problems and backlash later. There are times to push people to change. There’s also times to let them be. Don’t treat every situation as “one size fits all.” That’s not life.
  9. Don’t chase money or power, or you’ll get neither. Life will always go up and down, no matter how hard you try to stop it. If you chase the highs of material things, you’ll never quite get there. Don’t worry about the opinions of others. Don’t worry about how important you appear to others. You can’t control that. If you’ve got a lot, don’t flaunt it. There’s nobody the rest of the world hates more than those flaunting it. When you go down, it will be harder. You will have a down.
  10. Live by your values. Seems simple enough, right? Be who your dog thinks you are.

Almost inevitably, I will fall short of living up to these values in the future. I will make mistakes and lose sight of them from time-to-time. I’ll try my best though. It’s all I can hold onto.

Finding Your History

I recently started piecing together my family tree on ancestry dot com, and so far I’ve found a lot. There have been frustrations, like knowing nothing at all about my mom’s paternal family or the relative roadblock I’ve run into on my dad’s side when I get a generation or so back into the old country, but that’s relatively minor comparable to what I’ve found. My tree now has 137 people, and ties back to several countries in Europe.

I’ve always known about my father’s maternal family, in part because my off-the-boat great-grandmother was alive until I was nine. Among the things I’ve found out though in the past year or two was that she was on one of the final boats into Ellis Island in 1923, just before the Johnson-Reed Act passed (Immigration Act of 1924), choking off most immigration into the country. It also had never occurred to me that she was naturalized as an American citizen in 1942, at the height of patriotic fever during World War II. It started to make more sense though when I realized that our village of Udol (formerly known as Ujak), in present day Slovakia, was a part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire when she was born in 1903, and my great-grandfather had fought for them in World War I, on the side of the Axis. Between the “communist hysteria” that Eastern Europeans faced at that time, and his having fought on the other side of the First World War, getting naturalized probably felt very important for them to show they were Americans. On the bright side of that, my father could get Italian citizenship because of my great-grandfather.

Despite the road block that sat on my mother’s paternal side, her mother’s side of the family turned up a mountain of information. I was able to turn up deep roots in New York and New Jersey, including really deep family roots in the Woodstock area of Ulster County. I could trace family ties back to Colonial America, including in the Revolution period. What I found on the American side wasn’t the shocking part. I was not surprised by my ties back to “old country” Germany, just that they went back into the 1600’s. I was surprised to learn I have relatives from the Netherlands, specifically from Holland and Amsterdam, although that made sense with my New York City roots. I also seem to have heritage in Switzerland too, which surprised me. I even found one distantly great-grandmother from France.

The part that blew my mind though was my British blood. I seem to have a lot of relatives from the Yorkshire and Derbyshire areas on my mom’s side. I was even more shocked when I was able to tie them as far back as the 1400’s. In digging through, I was able to find my English ancestors petitioning the crown on grievances, both in America and Great Britain. Reading back through the history astounded me. I also came to realize that not all of my ancestors were members of the Church of England- meaning some of them likely came here for the “religious freedom” that is such a part of our American history.

I’ve always known I was a bit of a Euro-mutt, but I still learned a lot in all of this. To my knowledge, my father’s paternal side is still 50% Polish/Lithuanian and 50% Hungarian. My father’s maternal side traces back to present day Slovakia, but that region is Carpathian-Ruthenian, meaning most people there are mixed Slovak, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, and Hungarian. My mom’s paternal side is mostly a mystery to me, but I’ve always been told it’s German and Italian. I now know my mother’s maternal side is heavily British and German, with a bit of Dutch, Swiss, and French mixed in. I almost can claim enough flags to guarantee myself being happy at the end of the Euro every time.

I guess I’m as old American as it gets.

Wrestling With Thanfulness

This past weekend was the NCAA Division 1 Wrestling Championships in Pittsburgh, PA. I suffered some real FOMO watching. I wrestled eleven years and love the sport. This tournament is quite possibly the greatest event in the sport. Here it was, across my state. I’m also quite a fan of Pittsburgh, and it’s rivers and bridges. More importantly though, they have Primanti Brothers. I love me some Primanti Brothers. You can see why in the picture above.

After the tournament was over, I saw a former teammate’s post on Facebook, talking about his trip to the tournament. This guy was a lot more accomplished wrestler than I was, winning a state championship and three conference championships in college. He talked about how hard it was for him to go to nationals in Pittsburgh though- the place his career ended, one match short of being an All-American. He talked about how he spent years thinking his entire career was a failure. Then he talked about getting over all of that, realizing how successful he was, and recognizing all the good he took from his athletic career. It was a really cool, inspiring post to read in the mess of politics and personal drama that usually inhabits Facebook.

Obviously that post made me think a lot about my sports career, and what I took from it into real life. As I said above, I wrestled eleven years, but I also ran indoor and outdoor track, as well as cross-country in high school, winning seven varsity letters along the way. I played baseball for eight years, stopping at the junior legion level to focus on my other sports (we weren’t a very good team, and to be honest, that discouraged me. I dabbled in football in elementary school and soccer in middle school too. I enjoyed playing sports as a kid, and did a lot of it. I’d like to think it had a positive influence on me.

My sports career didn’t really end ideally though. By the time I reached high school, I played sports because it’s what I did. I got more anxiety out of it than enjoyment. This isn’t a story of over-zealous parents here, while they did push me, I probably could have quit if I wanted. It’s mostly a story of me- how I got stuck doing the things I did less out of pleasure, and more because I had wrapped up so much of my identity in being a good athlete. As I became less excited to play, my performance dipped, and frankly I know now that it changed a lot about who I am. Eventually I spent a lot of my senior year fighting injuries, and my running career ended when I was diagnosed with mono my freshman year of college, before I ever ran a race. I not only quit sports, but I basically quit physical activity. I stopped working out altogether for about seven years, gained a solid 100 pounds, and didn’t take care of myself. That finally stopped in 2009, when a 25 year old me realized I was out of breath from walking up the steps to my office. I finally got a gym membership and lost 30 pounds in the first year. I plateaued there until I started eating healthier and cut back my beer and pizza intake back in 2016. I’ve lost 45 pounds since then and feel much better.

We live in a “winners and losers” culture, and that often overshadows the real value in competing in sports. We take our lessons in the form of trophies and medals, and not as much in the form of what we learn. Nobody gives a shit now whether I won or lost that match back when I was in tenth grade- not my family, nor my friends, not my community, and really not me. Sometimes, especially when we’re competing, we don’t take time to realize the actual important lessons we learned along the way.

So what are some of the lessons I learned from sports that have translated into life? Here’s a few of them:

  • As long as you don’t back up, most referees won’t warn you for stalling. In wrestling, when you don’t do very much to try and score, you can be called for stalling. If you get two stallings, you give up a point. Sometimes you could avoid the referees ire by just staying present in the middle of the mat, and not backing up. Life isn’t a whole lot different. If the people around you think you’re backing up, and you’re not presenting a plan to upgrade, they’ll think you’re not going anywhere. Pushing forward just a bit, or even just remaining present and steadfast where you are, goes a long way to keeping the people in your life happy. People will leave you alone to your business if they think you’re not regressing.
  • Always have a plan, stick to it, and execute. My junior year of high school I ran the mile pretty well. Not well enough to be a state champion or anything, but good enough to score points for the team in most races. Why? I just ran my race. I’d get out with the better runners the first lap, hang in right behind them the second and third lap, then pass everyone I could on the last lap. Sometimes some moron would run way out front that wasn’t supposed to, but I never let that bother me. My job was to hang close enough to score points, and make sure I at least got a third. I knew how to do that. Life isn’t a lot different. You make a plan, you execute, you hope you’re good enough at it to succeed. You can’t get caught up in what others are doing, or panicking that you didn’t prepare well enough. When it’s time, you just execute your plans and try to do them well enough.
  • Small things matter, even tenths of a pound. There is nothing more unforgiving than a scale with your weight, or a stop watch with your time, or the inches a baseball lands foul by. Sports are just like that. By the time you reach high school, the difference isn’t so much physical ability, and that’s even more true at higher levels. The differences are minor, and normally seem to favor the better prepared, more motivated athlete. Sometimes you will miss weight very close, or lose a race by a hundredth of a second, or just miss a home run by feet. That’s not accidental. That usually can be traced to the preparation you put in. The extra lifts you got in during the off-season weren’t “no big deal.” That carries over in life. You know the saying “bad things come in groups?” They do- to people not doing the things they need to be doing at that time.
  • You can’t control what the other guy does. This one is major to me. We live in a society where everyone wants to game the system for a small advantage, and disadvantage their competition. My experience is that doesn’t work very often. The other person is going to do what they do. Nothing you do to get a cheap advantage is going to make you better than a superior competitor, other than to make yourself better. Don’t worry so much about them.

I learned a lot of things from sports that didn’t win me trophies. They probably were more valuable.

Thinkin’ About The Future

In August of 2002 I came back to my dorm from cross-country practice and saw a flier on my building door looking for interns for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign. I never expected to still be doing campaigns for the 2020 Presidential campaign. Hell, I’m not sure I expected to be alive in 2019, so there’s that.

I’ve seen quite a bit in my political day. I’ve worked for a President, in fact the first black President, something that was just a line in a rap song when I was a kid. I’ve worked for five U.S. Senators (six if I count internships), a Secretary of State, and the first woman nominated for President, twice. I worked for New Jersey’s first African-American Congresswoman and a Bosnian War refugee. My travels have taken me to Waterloo (Iowa, twice), Charlotte (NC), New Brunswick (NJ), Washington (DC), Harrisburg (PA), Nyack (NY), Columbus (OH), Trenton (NJ), the Outer Banks (NC), Philadelphia (PA), Myrtle Beach (SC), Woodbridge (NJ), Pensacola (FL), Mason City (IA), Elizabeth City (NC), Hazleton (PA), Wilkes-Barre (PA), Queens (NY), Stroudsburg (PA), Grinnell (IA), and of course, right here at home in the Lehigh Valley. From electing women as statewide judges to electing friends as my own County Executive, it’s all been fun.

Campaigns are exhausting though, particularly these days. You’re on the road, a lot. Having a “normal” life is impossible. You deal with a lot of overly self-assured jackasses that know everything, and sometimes you can’t do anything about them. I’ve been blessed with mostly great candidates, but sometimes they’re politically incompetent, but still expect you to answer to them, rather than advise them. Dealing with employees can be exhausting. In recent years I’ve mostly kept to myself socially during campaigns. I’ve had lots of fun, amazing stories, but I’m getting a bit older.

I planned on getting out of campaigns after the 2016 election, but it didn’t quite end according to plan. With 2020 fast approaching, I’m seeing another light at the end of the tunnel. This time is probably win or lose though. Running campaigns full time is simply something that I’m aging out of. I won’t exit politics altogether- I could see myself on Capitol Hill, in an Administration, working in a state capitol or local government, consulting full time, running for local office, or working on a specific issue or cause after 2020. I also could see myself working in some other capacity, as a writer, in real estate, financial advising, as a professor, or something I haven’t thought of yet, and doing politics as a part-time thing. I see a transition ahead though. It’s a bit scary. It’s something I just have to do to avoid burning out, and for financial purposes.

Between now and then though is a full cycle. Another shot at Trump is invigorating enough to wake me up everyday. I won’t be able to get out for 2021, both of my local county executives will be up for re-election (I do work on their races). The light’s still pretty far down the tunnel for me. I’m not even totally sure what’s next yet for me in 2019. I do know though that I’m doing a lot of thinking about where my life is going now.

Remembering my Grandfather

Today would have been my grandfather’s 89th birthday. He left us 13 years ago this February 1st, just 100 days before I graduated college. It doesn’t feel that long ago, and yet its approaching the point of literally being a lifetime ago. Every time I think about him, I definitely miss him.

Richard Thomas Wilkins Sr., born and raised in Phillipsburg, NJ, was one of the best influences on my life. I spent a lot of time with him as a child- when my parents worked, some weekend nights, and almost every Sunday. A lot of our time together was doing simple things, like Friday night football games at his beloved Phillipsburg Stateliners, Saturday nights going out to dinner (many times at KFC, where we got hot wings), or listening to Polkas after church Sunday morning. He taught me a lot about serving others too, whether it was his time in Korea with the U.S. Navy, his more than 40 years on the Pohatcong Township Planning Commission, or just his being the usher in church. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned was watching him appreciate his 50th wedding anniversary, even as he battled terminal cancer. Or perhaps it was that style with cancer that did the most to change me as a person.

I don’t mean to hold him up as perfect, he wasn’t, but it felt like a good day to remember him today. Even as the years go by, he remains on my mind.


I’d like to think I’m a thankful person, but the truth is that I take a lot of things in my life for granted. I’ve been blessed with many great things in life, whether it be my family, a comfortable middle-class life, intellectual and athletic abilities, decent health, a solid education, friends, second (and third) chances, or even just the chance to be alive. When you live every day in relative peace and tranquility, it becomes your norm, and you take it for granted. It’s not to say I haven’t had trials and tribulations, it’s to say I’ve lived my life free of oppression and despair. I should be thankful for that, every day.

This Christmas though, I am happy for my career in politics. Since I was 19, I’ve lived around political campaigns, and the people in them. Many, many of those people are not like me. I’m not calling them better or worse, but they’re there for very different reasons and motivations, and their different perspectives have enriched my understanding of life. Learning from their experiences, I think I’ve grown to be a better man than I might have grown up to be, as I was as a 19 year old intern on my first campaign.

I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities, and some not wonderful ones, to see the world through different eyes. I’ve worked with people who had undocumented relatives they desperately wanted to save from deportation. I’ve worked with people struggling to speak their own truth, and come out as who they are. I’ve worked with war refugees, who’s entire families were on “kill lists,” forcing them to leave their countries and seek asylum here. I’ve worked with people who grew up in poverty in southeast Washington, New Jersey, Appalachia, and Philadelphia. I’ve worked with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. I’ve worked with a Latin American member of his nation’s Congress who was assassinated when he went home. I’ve worked under some of the most accomplished members of our Congress in my lifetime. I’ve worked for career teachers. I’ve worked for Muslims, Catholics, Jews, and Protestant Christians. I’ve worked for Midwesterners, Northeasterners, and Southerners. I worked for the first African-American Congresswoman in New Jersey history. I’ve worked for prosecutors, and alongside ex-felons. I’ve worked for Latinos, African-Americans, and white people. I’ve worked for winners and losers. I’ve worked for incompetent people, evil people who left their jobs in shame, and some of the finest people I’ve ever met. I’ve worked for Senators, Governors, Congress people, cabinet secretaries, state legislators, local officials, unions, and even a President. I’ve probably worked for or on a lot of cool things I’m forgetting right now.

Politics hasn’t made me rich, God knows that, but I’d like to think it’s enriched me as a person ten fold. I’d like to think the people I’ve met professionally, in addition to the people in my personal and private life, have all left an impression on me in some way. I’d like to believe the pathway I’ve chosen in life has made me better than perhaps I would have been otherwise. Lord knows I’m not a perfect person, that my vices and flaws would leave me unacceptable to some. Nevertheless, I’d like to think those of you who have gifted me with your presence have made me a better person than I would have been, and that this better person has helped make the world a better place than it would have been otherwise. We’ll all die, and we’ll all make mistakes on the way there, I’m not really worried about that. I’m just thankful that my pathway has forced me to take stock of different positions in life than my own, and maybe changed my view of the world for the better.

I think my time out in the field will come to an end soon. Probably after 2020. I’m on the old end of the pool at this point, so I need to be in an office or headquarters, and maybe have a little life stability. At 35, that’s not too much to ask.

Thank you to you all. Merry Christmas.