Running on a platform of supporting the middle-class and bringing jobs back to America, 29-year-old Jenkintown resident Nate Kleinman is seeking to secure the Democratic nomination for the 13th Congressional District in the upcoming April primary.
Kleinman, who is an active member of Occupy Philadelphia, said a contributing factor in his decision to run was a dissatisfaction with the decisions being made by his current representative, Allyson Schwartz. Schwartz doesn't represent Norristown (we're in the 6th District, represented by Rep. Jim Gerlach), but the 13th District covers our neighbors in Plymouth Meeting, Blue Bell, Ambler and points north.
"There were a number of causes, but mainly, we're going down a path where our very democracy is threatened, and I don't believe that Allyson has been on the right side of a number of issues in Washington that have a direct impact on the character of our country," said Kleinman.
Those issues include Schwartz's support of economic policies that he says allow American companies to move off-shore, as well as her support for the Patriot Act and her undermining of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as “Obamacare.”
"We are a country that has always relied on a strong middle class, but she supported free trade agreements that shipped job overseas," said Kleinman. "She has actually worked to undermine the health care bill, which is something most people don't know about her."
Another concern for Kleinman is the role that money plays in legislation and elections.
"We've got to get money out of politics," said Kleinman. "It's crushing our democracy. We need people in Washington who will fight against it, and I'm one such person."
To demonstrate his sincerity, Kleinman's campaign is refusing to accept corporate donations. Instead, the campaign is limiting its sources of funding to individual donors and progressive political action committees.
"I don't believe that money should be at the root of everything in politics," said Kleinman. "I believe that I should be able to win based upon the issues. As long as I get myself out there, knock on doors, talk to people, and go to town-hall meetings, I'll have the issues on my side and my stances will be much more aligned with the people of the 13th District."
Though Kleinman has no experience holding a public office, he's worked for several politicians in varying capacities, dating back to when he was a 10-year-old helping Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky defeat Jon Fox in the 13th Congressional District in 1992.
Since then, Kleinman has served as a staff member for Barack Obama's presidential campaign in Pennsylvania, a top aide to Joe Sestak in his unsuccessful run for the Senate in 2010, and a legislative assistant to then-Pennsylvania State Representative and current Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro in 2011.
Additionally, Kleinman has a long-standing passion for human rights activism, which he traces back to 1994, when his family took in two refugees from Bosnia.
"Having two people who were my age that had seen war, seen their friends killed, and understood deprivation in a very real way — human rights were no longer an abstraction for me," said Kleinman. "At the age of 12, that was a pretty profound lesson."
Feeling motivated to make a difference, Kleinman helped to successfully start an Amnesty International chapter at the Abington Friends School. In the years that followed, Kleinman's humanitarian efforts would take him to Central America and Europe where he'd join non-violent democratic uprisings and participate in two politically-motivated hunger strikes. He's also done extensive work on African issues.
Now stateside, Kleinman has continued his activist efforts with the Occupy Philadelphia movement, leading local and national media to label him as the "Occupy Candidate." Despite the catchy moniker, Kleinman cautions that the movement is non-partisan, and has recently adopted a proposal during a general assembly to prohibit party affiliation or candidate endorsements.
"There was a proposal the other day which specified that Occupy was a non-partisan movement, and I was very happy to speak and raise my hand in support of it," said Kleinman.
If elected, Kleinman states that he would continue to keep ties with the Occupy movement, going as far as saying he would rejoin the movement whenever he was finished with politics.
In the meantime, he's going to be busy collecting signatures, raising funds and pounding the pavement as he prepares for an April primary showdown.
Editor's Note: Following publication of this article, Nathan Kleinman contacted Patch to request the following clarifications:
In a section describing Kleinman's travels after high school, the article states that "Kleinman's humanitarian efforts would take him to Central America, Europe and Africa." Nathan Kleinman says he has done extensive work on African issues but has not actually visited Africa.
Kleinman did say that Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz "worked to undermine" the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but said that she did not oppose the bill.
Kleinman said that the two Bosnians who stayed with his family in 1994 were "refugees" and not foreign exchange students. He also sought to clarify his involvement in the establishment of an Amnesty International chapter at the Abington Friends school, saying that he "helped start" the chapter and was not solely responsible.