Jon Gerstein ’21 plans to go into politics after college and may have just gotten a head start on that career. Gerstein was elected president of the College Democrats of NY (CDNY) at the organization’s annual convention in April.
“I first got into politics with the (Anthony) Brindisi (Congressional) Campaign, working as a finance intern, field fellow, and a student coordinator,” said Gerstein. While a student coordinator for the campaign in fall 2018, he was also the campaign coordinator for Hamilton College Democrats.
“In these roles, I played a large part in registering 14% of the Hamilton student body to vote in NY-22, and recruiting over 100 student volunteers and interns. On election day, these efforts were instrumental in achieving record-breaking midterm turnout on Hamilton's campus and in the City of Utica,” Gerstein said.
A staffer on the Brindisi campaign encouraged Gerstein to apply to be communications director for CDNY, which is how he originally got involved with the organization.
Gerstein and his running mate, NYU junior Isabel Serrano, announced their campaign for president and vice president in March. From there, they did video conference Q&A's with CDNY chapters, spoke with chapter presidents, and secured 17 formal endorsements from the 19 chapters that would be attending the convention.
Hometown: Chappaqua, N.Y.
High School: Horace Greeley High School
Various elected officials including Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, DNC vice chair and Congresswomen Grace Meng, DNC vice chair and New York State Assemblyman Michael Blake were among the CDNY convention speakers this year.
As president, Gerstein is in charge of a 20+ person team that includes a communications department, political department, caucuses, development department, region chairs and more. A top priority will be to work closely with elected officials to help pass Democratic, progressive legislation.
He’ll also collaborate with groups to amplify CDNY’s impact. CDNY just partnered with the National Democratic Training Committee to give CDNY members 24/7 access to online campaign training materials. The NDTC will also do a series of webinar workshops with CDNY over the summer, as well as an in-person training summit in Albany in the fall.
Gerstein said CDNY runs a substantial fundraising operation so the group hosts events for members, puts on the annual convention, and organizes lobbying days in Albany.
He noted that students are often asked to work 10 to 30+ hours a week unpaid for campaigns and the lack of pay is often a deterrent to many students getting involved in politics. “That's why one of our biggest initiatives this year is 'CDNY Fellows,’ which will give students a monthly stipend for unpaid campaign work to knock down economic barriers to student involvement,” Gerstein said. “This will require a fundraising operation unlike anything we have done before.”
Gerstein will serve as president of CDNY until the end of the next convention in April. After Hamilton, he said he will likely either work on campaigns, work for a legislator, or work for the Democratic Party.
“It’s hard to say what exactly I want to do. I just know I’ll continue working for Democratic causes and candidates,” said Gerstein. In the nearer future, Gerstein will be taking the fall 2020 semester off to work on a Congressional campaign.