As the 2020 Presidential Election approaches, voter engagement has begun to gain traction within the Buffalo Jewish Community. Adam Fogel, the Chief of Staff for NYS Senator Tim Kennedy and a member of the JCRC Executive Committee, recently spoke about his passion for voting advocacy and political management.
As chief of staff, Adam manages the day-to-day operations of the Senator’s district and Albany office. He works with a 14-member staff on policy, legislation, communications, and community outreach. Recently, he has been advocating for 2020 census completion, which will determine congressional representation and federal aid for communities. With the upcoming election, Adam has also been encouraging people to vote, whether it’s early or absentee voting. While working for Sen. Kennedy, they secured $100,000,000 for the NFTA light rail system and passed bills on election reform, criminal justice reform, and environmental protection.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Adam and his team have been working remotely. As the district office manager, he put together a reopening plan with cleaning, masking, and social distancing guidelines. The plan includes restrictions on when staff members can be in the office and requires that all meetings are by appointment. He was very conscious that many of his coworkers have children at home. “Part of my role and responsibility as a manager and supervisor is making people feel safe and making sure that our team has the flexibility to make sure that they’re maintaining a work-life balance,” Adam said. The pandemic has also been a challenge for Adam and his wife, Molly, who have to juggle work and their two children, Eli and Kennedy, who often pop into his Zoom calls to say hello.
Recently, Adam joined the Buffalo Jewish Community Relations Council’s executive committee.
While in D.C., he worked with the Washington JCRC and is very familiar with the JCRC values. “They can use Jewish values of Tikkun Olum (making the world a better place) and put them into action through policy, legislation, advocacy, and communication strategies,” Adam praised. He admires that JCRC brings different people together to find a common ground where they do not have to question factual information. He said, “Once we share a set of facts we can debate on issues and policy with a common goal in mind.”
Originally, from Cleveland, Ohio, Adam attributes his passion about civics to BBYO, a Jewish youth group. As a high school junior, he sat on the Northern Ohio Regional Board and as a senior, was regional president. This taught Adam the leadership skills necessary for his job today. He learned organization and public speaking skills, how to work with a team, and how to campaign, all while enjoying the social and religious aspects of the group.
Adam graduated from Allegheny College with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and English where he also met his wife, Molly Lennon. He then continued his education at The George Washington University where he received a Master’s in Political Management. While living in D.C., Adam worked at a non-profit organization called FairVote where he tackled election reform, voting rights issues, and civic education. After managing several Maryland election campaigns, he became chief of staff, first for Maryland State Senator Rich Madaleno, and then for Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro. After having children, Adam had the opportunity to become the chief of staff for Sen. Kennedy and decided to move to Buffalo to be closer to family.
Today, Adam encourages everyone to get out and vote. He says that voting means having a voice in government, so by not voting, one’s opinion does not matter. Adam also urges community members to educate themselves about candidates. He said, “We should be voting for people based on their record, their values, and what they promise to do moving forward and whether or not they execute that once they’re in office.” He is troubled by the fact that most people are not represented in their government and recognizes the many barriers that people face while voting. While there may no longer be poll taxes or literacy tests, voter I.D. laws, claims of voter fraud, misleading information, removal of polling places, and voter roll purges are all barriers that discourage people from voting.
Still, Adam remains hopeful. The NYS senate has passed multiple reforms over the past two years to increase voter turnout. These reforms include universal voter registration, same day registration, early voting, and vote by mail. The many young activists who are fighting for a better country and a better planet inspire him. Adam encourages others to find an issue that they are passionate about, find an organization working on that issue, and get engaged with them. He also advocates for improving civics education in schools to make people feel more connected to their government. Adam sees the political and civic processes as a way to create change. He says that if people want change, it is not going to come by accident. “It’s going to come because of organizing, and it’s going to come because of voting.”
Many thanks to Hannah Gabelnick, Junior at Amherst Central High School and Jewish Community Relations Council Intern, for contributing today’s Spotlight.