For over a year Kristina Benjamin ’15 was the Deputy Campaign Manager for newly elected State Senator Samra Brouk and was recently hired to continue her work with Samra in her Senate office as a Community Outreach and Constituent Manager. I had the chance to talk with Kristina about how she got into politics and her experience on the campaign trail.
You recently graduated from the University of Dayton. Did you major in politics?
No, I majored in Human Rights Studies, which is unique to the University of Dayton (University of Dayton established the nation’s first undergraduate Human Rights Studies program in 1998). It is similar to Political Science, but more interdisciplinary. My major had more of an international scope and the program followed the doctrine of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Did you have an interest in politics?
The summer before my junior year in college, I had an internship with Judge Marian Payson (Harley parent to Sam ‘14 and Eleanor ‘17) where I learned a lot about criminal justice. The internship was great and it sparked my interest in policy, advocacy, and government. Fast forward to my senior year at Dayton, my academic advisor would often share job opportunities with her advisees, a pilot internship offered by the Congressional Hunger Center in Washington DC caught my eye. I applied and was 1 of only 12 accepted nationwide. It was my first job out of college. I had an incredible experience and learned a lot about DC, government relations, and how advocacy intersects with policy.
After I finished that internship in August of 2019, the Democratic presidential primaries were in full swing and I applied for internship positions for Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. I was enamored with the connection that President Obama and Vice President Biden had when in office, and Biden, although it felt like a long shot, was my top choice. I was thrilled to hear back from them and began my work as a vetting intern on the Biden campaign that September. By the end of November, things on the Biden trail were (deceptively) slowing down and my options were to continue on to the caucus or go back to Rochester to start a new job search. I decided to go to my parent’s and regroup.
How did you connect with Samra?
Ha—there is a history! First, my mom, Kay Benjamin, is friends with Samra’s mom. Samra’s mom worked for Paul Schiffman (Head of School, 1999-2006) when he was assistant superintendent at the Greece Central School District. After Paul left Greece for Harley, Samra’s mom encouraged my parents to send me and my two brothers, Jonathan ‘09 and Jordan ‘15, to Harley and they did! Then, in late fall of 2019, my mom was at the gym and in a class with Vivian Lewis (Harley parent to Darius Tahir ‘05 and Jason Tahir ‘11), and Vivian’s nephew is married to Samra. Vivian told my mom about Samra’s intention to run for State Senator and that she was looking for someone to help with the day-to-day planning in the hopes of a big campaign launch. My mom introduced me to Samra and things just fell into place. I began working for Samra in December 2019.
Can you give me a sample of a typical day on the campaign trail?
I was the only full-time paid campaign staff for the first 6 or 7 months, working alongside Samra and our campaign manager, and we were very busy. It wasn’t until July we were able to hire a few more staff. We really hit the ground running in January, 2020 going through the local delegation process and the primary, getting to know the people in the towns that represent the 55th District (which includes the towns of East and West Bloomfield, Victor, Richmond, Bristol, South Bristol, Canadice, and Naples, Rush, Mendon, Pittsford, Perinton, Penfield, East Rochester, Irondequoit and the east side of the city of Rochester) and talking with constituents about our platform and why Samra should be their choice for State Senator. We had great momentum going and then the pandemic hit.
In March, we moved the campaign fully remote. Back then, Zoom was not a thing and we quickly learned how to navigate this new system. We were all working from home, so each morning we had a virtual “daily huddle.” After that, the day was filled with Zoom meetings and as you all know with Zoom, people are available much later in the day and this made for some long workdays. We were available anytime, because we knew we had to utilize these many months to keep people engaged and informed. We had to be creative and build trust with the community and voters. Our first Zoom Meet and Greet was with a group of Harley moms and this one event caused a chain reaction! People from this Zoom wanted to hold other Zoom Meet and Greets with their friends and that would lead to another and then another. Samra also started town halls with local experts to disseminate facts about current happenings like Covid-19. One of my jobs was to research what the community wanted to hear about. I coordinated a town hall with Harley faculty member John Dolan (Psychology, 1997 to present) who spoke about teenagers’ struggles with remote learning and coping with quarantine.
Samra knew this wasn’t her official role (yet), but she wanted to create networks, build relationships within the community, and she simply knew it was the best thing to do for the people.
What does your new job entail and what are you most looking forward to?
With my new job as Community Outreach and Constituent Manager, my first project was to plan the virtual swearing-in ceremony that took place on Saturday, January 16 over Martin Luther King, Jr.’s holiday weekend. It was all-consuming. I’ve now begun my role as the constituent representative for the suburbs of Irondequoit, East Rochester, Pittsford, Penfield, and Perinton and that means all inquiries from those areas will come to me. These inquiries could range from questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, help with unemployment, housing, mortgage, pending eviction, you name it. My job will be to connect people with the right services and try to find answers to their questions. Thankfully there is an existing constituent service database for State Senators to help manage the influx of constituent needs. We want to be as accessible and responsive as possible, so constituents can contact us via phone, email, on the website. I have seen what it’s like on the campaign side, and I am excited to experience the role of public servant. I grew up in the 55th district (and didn’t even know it) and am looking forward to getting to know the community even better.
I am also excited about my new love for government and politics, I see now that you can be involved in both, outside of Washington DC. This work with Samra has opened up my eyes to local government and I have even gotten my family involved. We’ve found that we are all listening to the local news a little closer. Being involved gives me hope and promise for all the uncertainties we face.
Our Senate office has a lot of work ahead of us, but we are excited about being good public servants.
What do you see for your future?
I am excited about my work in Rochester and being given the opportunity to learn and participate in government outside of DC. That said, I would love to work in the White House someday. I was inspired by my involvement on the Biden campaign, and enjoyed living in Washington DC, being a part of such a strong political environment. I have classmates working down there in various roles, Allison Jordan, Alyssa and Cameron Yudelson, and Erin Brennan-Burke, and they inspire me to get back there and they help keep me up-to-date on what’s going on.