In 2008 Barack Obama ran a campaign on the promise of Hope and Change. Today many still argue about whether he lived up to that goal. I for one think his administration has accomplished some great things. But that phrase and his ability to change Washington will be fodder for political scientists for decades to come.
April Fool's Day is often the time for practical jokes and lightheartedness, even in Washington. But this year on that day I went to an event for a young candidate who is running a serious campaign for the Massachusetts State Senate from a district in the western part of the state. His name is Eric Lesser and he is from Longmeadow, Massachusetts. I first met Eric after Barack Obama became president and after he was pictured on the front cover of the New York Times Magazine. Eric was described in the article as "a moon-faced, sweet-tempered special assistant, who also worked on the campaign as a baggage boy." When I met him he was working for the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod, a few steps from the Oval Office. Those were heady times for a young man from a small town best known during the 19th and early 20th centuries, as the site from which Longmeadow brownstone was mined.
Eric was the type of person attracted to the campaign of Barack Obama. There was excitement across the nation and many young people got caught up in the thrill of politics for the first time in their lives. Eric on the other hand had always been into grassroots activism. At the age of fifteen he led a door-to-door campaign to save the jobs of twenty four teachers in his home town who had been given pink slips because of budget cuts. Eric believed that was the wrong way to save money and he and his compatriots saved the day and those teachers' jobs. He graduated high school and went on to Harvard graduating to become a luggage carrier on the Obama campaign. A move which I am sure his family must have questioned considering the Harvard degree. His job was to ensure that the luggage of senior staffers was delivered to their hotel rooms on time and in one piece. At his event one of his better lines was, "Forty-seven states, 200,000 miles and I never lost a piece of luggage. No one can ever say Lesser doesn't deliver".
But Eric is more than a great baggage handler. He is a symbol of the many young people who get inspired by a national politician to become involved in public service. Toward the end of Obama's first term Eric left D.C. returning to Harvard to enter law school. He married his sweetheart Alison and they have a beautiful 10-month-old daughter Rose. That's a heady beginning for a young man who is only 29 years old. After his time in the White House, with all his connections and a Harvard Law degree to boot he has an unlimited future and could easily have been swayed to take a high powered job making a princely salary. Instead Eric Lesser decided to head back to his home town and run for the state legislature. He is taking all he knows and all his contacts to try to make life better in the place where he grew up.
Young men like Eric who came to Washington with Barack Obama could be one of the president's most lasting legacies. They give lie to the belief that Millennial's don't want to get involved. Eric will now take all he has learned and show his daughter what it is to grow up in a small town and work to make a difference for your neighbors. His efforts will go toward making it possible for future young boys and girls to grow up in the small towns of western Massachusetts and then as men and women, after finishing school, either stay or come back to towns like Longmeadow and Springfield and find enough employment opportunities to make their lives there.
Eric spoke with passion about his home town of Longmeadow and the other towns in the district. He was actually excited about going door-to-door for months during the campaign to meet people and talk to them and learn from them what they need to make their lives better. Eric clearly understands what former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill once said, "All politics is local." For the time being he has left the heady life of working in the White House and even his years in Cambridge and has headed home to make a difference.
I have worked for and donated money to many politicians over my lifetime but giving a small donation to Eric's campaign felt different. It felt really good and made me proud to be able to make a small contribution toward helping Eric achieve his goals.