David Abromowitz ’78, a Boston-area housing lawyer, had been involved for years in nonprofit civic groups. But when the 2020 murder of George Floyd prompted a national reckoning, Abromowitz decided that racial and economic justice needed to take center stage — and to be addressed by elected officials at the local level, especially individuals who are most directly affected.
“People who have grown up in low-income communities and who have experienced poverty themselves find that many of the systems that are controlled at the local level are not working, from education and policing to housing and access to jobs,” Abromowitz says. “Some of those people have ideas for fixing these broken systems but face enormous barriers to doing so.”
When he took a closer look, Abromowitz concluded that no organization was focusing exclusively on preparing low-income Americans to step up into elected leadership roles in their communities. So Abromowitz founded the New Power Project, which recruits and empowers what it calls “values-driven individuals who have grown up in marginalized or underserved communities.”
Improving the lives of people who are disenfranchised, Abromowitz says, requires direct participation in politics and government at the local level. Embracing the words of Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Abromowitz says, “The New Power Project is founded on the principle that those closest to the pain should be closest to the power. Over the last few years, it’s been clear to me that many local political decisions have national implications.”
Yet most of the politically active people Abromowitz knew were focused on influencing the federal government, and weren’t paying attention to local politics and policymaking. So, he set about changing minds.
The project launched last year when it joined with an existing organization called New Politics that was already offering training to young people coming out of the military and civilian service groups like AmeriCorps. Currently, the New Power Project is recruiting and training candidates, with a goal of supporting a dozen candidates in 2022 who want to run for local offices such as mayor, town council, and school board.
The participants will learn the basics of running for office, from how to woo voters to how to raise money.
Abromowitz, a native of the Jersey Shore who majored in public affairs at Princeton, says the project also seeks to break down biases against people who have only a high school equivalency diploma. “An unconventional job history or a working-class job is often considered a weakness in conventional screening [for political candidates],” he says. “We view that as an asset.”