Fully immersed in a career in politics, Brendan Cunningham ’15 would like to see other young people jump in, too. The 26-year-old maintains that the country needs more people from his generation participating in government and politics. Their ideas and perspectives are valuable, says Cunningham, chief of staff for New York State Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Babylon).
“I think that the more young people we get involved in the process and whose voices we get to the table, that'll be reflected in policy,” he says. For instance, policies that deal with student-loan interest rates and affordable housing in locales where young people are priced out, Cunningham suggests.
Despite our polarized national politics, he’d like to see young people, in particular, recognize that working in government and politics gives them the opportunity on a daily basis to make a difference in people’s lives.
Cunningham, who majored in public policy at Hamilton, has worked as chief of staff for about two years. Jean-Pierre represents the South Shore area of Long Island, and Cunningham splits his time between her offices in Albany and the district. He came to the job after years of volunteering, networking, serving, and working in politics. As an elementary school kid growing up on Long Island, Cunningham remembers watching the Kerry-Bush presidential debates, not totally understanding what was going on but interested all the same.
After participating in Hamilton’s Washington, D.C. program, he knew he wanted to work in the realm of government and public policy. Outside of College, Cunningham became ever more involved in politics on his home turf of Long Island. At age 23, in the 2016 election, he ran as the Democratic candidate for the state assembly in the 9th district, a heavily Republican area. He lost but lived to tell about it.
“Having a young person there, showing that a young person can go toe-to-toe with a candidate and bring some new ideas to the table, it was a cool opportunity,” he says. Not that it was totally fun. “Election night was terrible,” Cunningham continues. “Not just because I lost my race; there were some bigger races than mine.” (Remember Clinton vs. Trump?)
Cunningham, who is interested in running for office again someday, is a long-time member of his town Democratic committee and attends law school in the evenings. He sees himself in government and politics, or possibly lobbying for a nonprofit, for the duration.
One of the things he likes most about working at the state and local level is seeing people get things done across parties and without rancor.
“We recognize that after the elections are over we're supposed to be working together. Because the residents don't care if it's a Democrat or Republican filling their potholes or investing in their parks or making sure there’s fresh paint on the walls in the classroom,” he says.