Last week, 28-year-old Ben Shnider threw his hat into the ring, announcing that he is challenging Montgomery County Councilmember Sidney Katz for his District 3 seat in 2018. Shnider, a Rockville resident and a Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and Emory University graduate, is national political director for J Street, the liberal Israel advocacy group, and a member of the Rockville Human Rights Commission.
Why are you running for Montgomery County Council?
A major [reason] was certainly the minimum wage vote [in January]. I think that our county offers the quality of life that is the envy of many other jurisdictions, but that quality is increasingly out of reach for more and more residents of the county. Cost of living just goes up and up and up and up, so folks are working two and three jobs. So for me, it was absolutely critical that our leaders recognize that and hike the minimum wage. So when that didn’t happen and our council member [Katz], who I have all the respect in the world for, voted against it, that was a real motivating factor for me.
Do you think enough millennials are engaged in the political process?
I think people across age groups are duly tuned-in and folks are realizing post-election just how important it is to be involved politically. Whether it’s peers in my age group or neighbors who are older than me or even high school and college students younger than me, I think we’re seeing a wave of activism sweep Montgomery County and sweep the country at large. People really want to take ownership of our government and get involved in the political process.
When did you become interested in current events?
I was fortunate to have really great parents and the question was never “What are you going to be?” It was “What are you going to do?” and further, “What are you going to do for others?” And my mom was a teacher, my dad is a doctor. Both of them dedicated their lives to making the world a better place. When I was growing up, those were always the conversations around the dinner table.
Did that inspire you to go into public service?
I would say my Jewish upbringing had a great deal to do with me going into public service. The conversations we had around the dinner table growing up were always about current events and were always about whether those in power were doing their utmost to be a voice for the marginalized. And I think a large reason that we are so oriented in that direction was our Jewish background and the ethic of tikkun olam.
What do you struggle with?
My fiancée and I are looking to set up our life in Montgomery County, and we’re thinking about where we want to buy a house and settle down. As a couple we have tens of thousands of dollars of student debt, and we’re renters in the county, and so we’ve seen what it’s like firsthand what it’s like. You want to set up your life, you want to buy a house, you want to lay down roots. And we’ve seen firsthand what it’s like to do that with student debt and day-to-day expenses.
What’s one moment that stands out in your life?
I was part of an organization comprised of Jewish and African American activists called Operation Understanding DC, and they take Jewish and black activists through the south on a civil rights trip. So when I was involved with that organization we visited Selma [Ala.], and we marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and I will never forget walking in the footsteps of those activists who put it all on the line to leave the world a better place. … And when we got to the other side of that bridge, I remember clearly reflecting on what I might be able to do to honor the legacy of those who gave so much. I could feel that in the gravity of that moment.
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