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How Arena Academy alumni changed the NY primary election

August 11, 2020
Arena Academy is a best-in-class training program for political professionals. The Academies have been hosted in cities across the country, including one in New York City last year. 

Arena Academy alumni played a big role in the NY primary election. These electoral  victories will shift the future of this State. We want to highlight these behind-the-scenes leaders and all the passion and work they poured into their campaigns.

It was a historic election year, especially in the Bronx, where Arena-endorsed candidate, Council Member Ritchie Torres, defeated a powerful but homophobic Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr. in a bid for Congress. Three Academy graduates played significant roles in securing this hard-won victory: Nanette Alvarado as Campaign Manager, Raymond Rodriguez as Communication Director, and Angel Vazquez as Special Assistant. In a recent interview Nanette credited Arena Academy for helping her understand how to build a sustainable and equitable culture on her team.

“Arena taught me how to create an environment of respect and inclusion in our campaign, and it made me value every one of my staffers and volunteers. The Campaign manager track set me up for success.” 

Over in Brooklyn, Academy graduate Andrew Epstein was the Campaign Manager for Emily Gallagher’s State Assembly race. Their team went up against a 47-year incumbent and were down close to 1,700 votes after Primary Night. After three weeks of absentee ballot counting, they pulled ahead and won.  

Andrew told us, “I was a first-time Campaign Manager, so attending the Arena Academy was essential to me being qualified to lead a team. The Academy was both a crash course in management and strategy, and helped me develop a strong team who were able to collaborate and execute a strong campaign plan. I’m so grateful to have had that experience and definitely encourage those who are interested in getting involved in local politics to attend the next Academy.” 

Not every election got equal attention from the press this cycle, especially when it comes to races people didn’t even know they could vote on. Haili Copas-Starke was Judge John Wang’s campaign manager as he ran for Civil Court Judge. She ran the campaign on a tight budget against real estate-backed opponents and won a sizable victory across the diverse district. 

Arena Academy graduates not only broke through in insurgent races and open seats but also helped progressives defend their incumbency. Alum Kevin Wei helped secure Assemblymember Dan Quart victory as his Digital Director. In addition, Ryan Adams worked as a Digital Director for both Jammal Bowman congressional campaign and Costa Constantinides Queens Borough President bid. Meredith Starkman was a Communications Director for a sitting assemblymember in Lower Manhattan. 

While Katherine Walsh’s campaign fell short, alum Matthew Moll, her initial campaign manager, helped build essential infrastructure for a strong launch. We expect both to stay active and continue to expand the base they created. In addition, graduates remain active in local races for November — including Eric Soto on Max Rose’s team and Garreth Bartholomew on Dana Balter’s campaign. 

Many more Academy graduates worked long hours providing critical insight into campaigns across the state, and we couldn’t be more proud of them. But of course, as one election cycle ends, the next one immediately begins, and our graduates are already getting excited for 2021. Rie Ma will serve as Finance Director for Alvin Bragg’s race for District Attorney in Manhattan and one of our younger alumni Saul Kahn will be the digital director for a City Council race. Also some of our graduates such as Lorenzo Brea, Whitney Hu, and Brandon West have decided to enter the arena themselves and are running for City Council in Queens and Brooklyn. 

We have a lot to look back on and learn from our graduates’ work in 2020, and can’t wait to see what they achieve in the election cycles that are to come. We’ll be sure to keep you updated!