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College-Age senate candidate Patrick Schmitt speaks to Brandeis Democrats

Published: March 2, 2007
Section: News


Former Rhode Island State Senate candidate and recent college graduate Patrick Schmitt came to the Brandeis Democrats meeting Wednesday night to speak about his campaign for political office. In 2006, as a 22-year-old senior at Georgetown University, Schmitt ran for Rhode Island's 38th District State Senate seat against incumbent Republican Dennis Algiere. Although Schmitt lost the election, he won more than 5,000 votes against the well-known incumbent, who had run unopposed since 1992.

We wanted Patrick Schmitt to come because as a 23-year-old, he can offer a unique perspective. He can relate to us as a peer and as a role model. Hes been involved in the political process and has dedicated his life to issues he cares about, so we can learn a lot from him, said Brandeis Democrats President Sarah Mulhern 08.

Schmitt began by explaining his unlikely start in the political arena. As he finished up his final year at Georgetown, Schmitt recalled thinking, Damn, college is over. What do I do now? A friend of Schmitts suggested he run for office, but as the National Executive Director of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND), Schmitt was more interested in fighting to end the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan than local politics. However, Schmitt said, It irked me that Algiere had run unopposed since I was eight-years-old and always won an open seat.

With the support of his friends and parents, Schmitt decided to enter the race for State Senate. In typical college student fashion, Schmitts campaign was launched with a Facebook group. But when The Hoya, the Georgetown University newspaper, officially announced his decision to run earlier than Schmitt would have liked, he got an early taste of the nature of politics.

I was thrown into the fire and realized youve got to expect everything, said Schmitt.

Schmitt soon faced another political dilemma. Members of Save Darfur asked him to be arrested for civil disobedience in a protest demanding the U.S. to take a leadership role in ending the genocide.

It was an early question of how far youre going to take your own values, said Schmitt, who ultimately attended the protest and was arrested along with five members of Congress.

As the election approached, Schmitt raised money, sent out letters to the editor, and most importantly, focused on door-to-door campaigning. By walking for miles from one home to the next, he gained new supporters and learned first-hand about the issues that were important to his constituents, such as transportation for senior citizens, affordable health care and protection of the environment.

Although Schmitt faced various obstacles on the campaign trail, he said his age was not one of them.

My age actually helped in my campaign, when I was expecting the opposite, said Schmitt. Young people have new and innovative solutions to problems. They have fewer strings attached. And theyre in it for the long haul. For example, they care about the environment because theyre going to be living in it in the future.

Although he described the campaign process as physically and mentally exhausting, Schmitt said he would do it again, and encouraged other young people to get involved in politics.

I want them to know that this is something that is done, this is something that is possible. Young people do run and win, so dont be afraid, he said.

Im really glad I came. [Schmitt] was really interesting and inspiring, said Rivka Maizlish 10, a member of the Brandeis Democrats who campaigned for Deval Patrick and hopes to pursue a career in politics.

Democrats Campaign Coordinator Ari Fertig 08 said that it was really inspiring and fascinating to me to hear the story of a 22-year-old running a professional, crisp campaign for elected office. Schmitt is an incredible guy who took on an entrenched politician in a very conservative district. It took guts to do, but more it was a really disciplined campaign. He added that speaking at Brandeis was great because a Brandeis alum was his Campaign Manager Dan Mauer and it shows what a huge impact college students can have on the political landscape.”