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Institute Works to Train a New Crop of Leaders

April 19, 2007 By:
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Jordan Schwartz

Jordan Schwartz was in fifth grade when his mother, Allyson Schwartz, announced to her family that she planned to run for state senate.

Though he'd known her to be involved in various committees before, Schwartz described his mother's newly stated political ambitions as "hugely impactful for me at a young age."

"I saw what she had to do, as a woman, to be able to overcome real difficulties" that prevented her from "being identified as someone who could be the strongest voice for change," he said.

Eighteen years later, he acknowledged that he can't help but harbor the same frustration.

"We have one woman member of Congress, and while I like her a lot, that's still outrageous," said Schwartz. "We're tremendously behind the eight ball."

In fact, this inequity is precisely what Schwartz, 28, is working to alleviate in his new position as the Pennsylvania director of a national political training institute called the Center for Progressive Leadership.

The organization, which is bipartisan and based in Washington D.C., maintains its own cadre of political platforms, pushing issues like education, ethical business practices and global cooperation.

Through his position with the group, the Center City resident runs a nine-month leadership training program for emerging politicos throughout the state.

As such, Schwartz said that he and his staff seek out a diverse class of about 50 to 60 fellows a year, and then provide them with specific political skills -- how to raise funds, how to stay on message, how to communicate with the media -- as well as ample opportunities to reflect on their personal convictions.

"This is not simply how do you get the most dollars in the door and the most press attention," he noted. "This is about really knowing your values and how to communicate them."

The goal, as he described it, is to "broaden the scope of what politics looks like and who it includes" by "bringing more communities into the political process, and then giving them the skills they need to succeed."

Graduates have since gone on to elected and non-elected positions -- campaign staffers, lobbyists, government employees -- of leadership, reported Schwartz.

A Mount Airy native and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Schwartz cited a particular interest in growing the area's leadership core.

"I feel very closely attached to potential of the Philadelphia region. The idea that I am having a hand in making sure there are smart, effective, well-trained, well-connected and collaborating leaders across the state is hugely powerful for me."

After college, Schwartz spent several years in Washington, D.C., where he worked for the National Jewish Democratic Council. His position there involved galvanizing youth; Schwartz was responsible for getting Jews under 30 involved in liberal causes.

A member of the Germantown Jewish Centre, he said his desire to better politics is, in fact, rooted in his sense of Judaism.

"The idea that we owe it to our community and to our society to work to make sure there is justice and equality" in the political domain "very clearly stems from Jewish tradition I hold dear," he explained.

So, does this up-and-comer see himself holding elected office someday?

"I certainly see a future for myself that continues to impact politics," answered Schwartz. "Whether that means running for office or not, I don't know.

"One of the things I learned from my mom -- and continue to learn from our fellows every day -- is that it takes a lot of preparation and a lot of work to get to the point where you say, 'This is my chance. This is my career path.' "

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