Q&A with congressional candidate Aryeh Shudofsky

Aryeh Shudofsky, congressional candidate for Maryland's Eighth District, will be one of the five candidates on the ballot for the Republican primary on April 26.

photo provided by Aryeh Shudofsky

Aryeh Shudofsky, congressional candidate for Maryland's Eighth District, will be one of the five candidates on the ballot for the Republican primary on April 26.

Jared Bauman, Guest Reporter

For this interview, guest reporter junior Jared Bauman sat down with Aryeh Shudofsky, a candidate for the Republican congressional nomination for Maryland’s Eighth District (in which CESJDS in located). The primary is on Tuesday, April 26.

Jared Bauman: Just to start off, tell me a little about yourself. How did you grow up? Where did you grow up? With what values did you grow up?

Aryeh Shudofsky: I grew up in Teaneck, NJ. I went to a Jewish Yeshiva day school, and a Yeshiva high school — I went to Ramaz in the city, and I went to YU for college after a year in Israel. I grew up in an Orthodox home, with whatever all that entails. My father was an administrator of a Yeshiva day school in NJ, and my mother had been a teacher, and then had gone on to do other things. I grew up with what I guess we all grow up with. My family is originally from Israel, and my grandmother [valued] trips to Israel, Zionism, the Hebrew language and all those different things. When I went to YU for college, I went to Sy Syms, which is the business school, and I got a degree in Financial Business Administration, and started working on Wall Street in 2003. My wife and I went to high school together, but I got credit for my year in Israel, so I did college in three [years] … I worked for a year, and we were engaged for that year, and we got married nine days after she graduated college. We went to Philly, and we were there for six years. She was getting her PhD, and I was working in finance. I worked in private equity and venture capital. My son was born four years after we moved, in 2008, and in 2010, when we started to see the end of her degree, we started thinking about what we actually wanted to do. We were both interested in public policy, so I started working on a Senate campaign in 2010, and we made our way down here in the fall of 2010 and started working. I was working on Capitol Hill, worked there for a few years and left, and I am working for a political media company now.

JB: You said you were in Israel for a year when you were younger, and you graduated from Sy Syms. Do you think your Jewish education has influenced your political views and your life in general, and if so, how?

AS: Certainly on the political side, if you grow up in an Orthodox community you’re going to have certain values, so it’s interesting that a large percentage of the Jewish community is actually Democratic. [Nevertheless], the values I have definitely influenced the political views that I have.

JB: It is interesting you say that. I recently saw a map of New York City’s voting results during the 2012 election, and in a very blue city, there are pockets of red that voted for Romney where all the Orthodox Jews live. I found it absolutely astonishing.

AS: Even here, in 2014, Kemp Mill was the largest bloc of voters for Governor Hogan in Montgomery County. It shows that there is a tendency for sharing values on human life, and on even fiscal stuff, there is a shared commonality.

JB: Which is very surprising … you really would not think that way at first. Changing pace, what inspired you to run for office?

AS: I had been interested in politics for a long time. I think a lot of it is I have three kids; my wife and I just actually had a baby, during the blizzard.

JB: Congratulations! During the blizzard — that must have been quite a journey.

AS: It was interesting … So, talking to many in the community and on Capitol Hill … We’re not moving backwards. You always get people talking about the next generation, but we’re not moving backwards. But, the opportunities that exist, for the next generation, for your generation and for my kids, are not the same as they were even when I graduated high school. You don’t have the same job opportunities. You don’t have the same possibilities for being successful in life.

JB: The American Dream.

AS: Yes, the American Dream. Look at the percentage of people still living with their parents in their 20s, who are still dependent on their parents. A lot of people are 27, 28, 29, but their parents are still paying their bills. My parents’ generation certainly would never have done that — you get married, you are responsible for yourself.

JB: Exactly. You think about the Obamacare mandate, to stay on your parent’s plan until you are 26…

AS: Right. And that’s because the opportunities for economic development just aren’t there as they were even 10, 15 years ago. And so, having worked on Capitol Hill, having worked in the private sector, I have seen that there are things we can do about that, that aren’t necessarily being implemented at this point. It’s really that [that inspired me to run]. It is to give an opportunity for my kids, for your kids, for a friend’s kids, for whomever it is, to really have an opportunity in life.

JB: So you mentioned the private sector and Capitol Hill. You have a very strong economic background, having worked as a policy advisor, and on your website, it says you served on Montgomery County’s Charter Review Commission. Do you think this makes you uniquely qualified for office?

AS: I would hope so. I think one of the shortfallings is there are not enough intersections … You sit in some of these conversations, on either side of the table, and you realize that policy makers are not using the institutional knowledge that is at their hands to actually make these decisions. When I started working in finance in 2003, Sarbanes-Oxley was a law that had been passed soon after the tech bubble burst and was being implemented into the financial services industry during that time period. It was a disaster, and I saw it being implemented … There was no clear understanding of what had happened when the tech bubble burst, what needed to be addressed, and how to actually implement these compliance regulations into the office. It was a disaster … So you go for overkill, and it ends up killing economic development. There are so many people who are determining policy, in regulatory agencies, on Capitol Hill, in the White House, who have no idea what it’s like to be in the private sector. You can come with private sector experience, you can come with public sector experience, but my hope is that coming with both gives a little bit of an additional insight into how the two intersect and interplay.

JB: That’s interesting, because as we have seen with the last GOP debate even, there’s always a debate of “how many jobs have you created?” or “I have worked in policy” vs. “I have worked in the private sector.” Do you think that is an important thing to consider when we pick who gets to represent us?

AS: I do. You don’t need to consider what lines they are spewing out at any given moment. You need to consider what are your concerns, and is someone qualified to address them. Does somebody have the ability, the mindset, the creativity, the determination to actually address things that you personally are concerned about, but not the hot issue that we are fighting about at this moment that will die down in ten minutes and has absolutely nothing to do with your life.

JB: In this election cycle, there is a value being placed on being the “outsider” among the candidates. Having worked as an aide for a congressman, as an economic policy advisor, one might consider you to be quite the “insider.” Do you think that changes the way people should think about you, and do you think it changes the way you would go about your job?

AS: I don’t think I am an insider or an outsider, per se, because I have done both. I don’t understand this anger against “insiders.” Look, I get it if you’re saying someone spent 65 years working in the public sector and now they’re running for president and they have no idea what it’s like in the real world. I get that. But to say that we don’t value institutional knowledge or some sense of how things work … Say that someone is a business leader, and they can come in and they can run the country … If you don’t know how government functions, which is very different from the private sector, you’re not going to be successful. And we have several candidates for president in this cycle who fit that label. If you have no idea how government works you can’t manage the system, because you’re never going to come in, in whatever position you’re being elected for, and change everything. You have certain opportunities, you have certain avenues … Look, President Obama thought that he could really change the way Washington functions. It isn’t possible, but there are avenues that you can use that are open to you. If you have no idea how government works, you’re not going to be successful whatsoever.

JB: There are people that think that to be a successful politician and win, you have to stand your ground and be really ideological. On the other hand, there are other people who think it is important to reach out and make compromise, even if that means giving in to certain demands of the other side. Where do you fit on that spectrum?

AS: I think ideology is important, but if you’re either working in government or you’re an elected official in government you have an obligation to the people you represent, and people need to get things done. I disagree with the notion that the past couple Congresses have been “do-nothing” Congresses. I had a conversation with my father-in-law about this: he said they have only passed 12 bills, or whatever it is. I said, Congress’ job isn’t to pass laws. That’s not a scorecard — if you believe there are too many regulations, then you believe they are successful when they don’t pass laws. But wherever you are coming from, you have an obligation to the people you represent. So it’s not beneficial to say, “This is where I am, and regardless of what’s happening around me, what needs to get finished, this is where I’m sticking on.” Take an issue like Planned Parenthood. Wherever you fall on the issue, if it has no relationship to the ability of the government to function, concerning to the budget, let’s say, you are completely lacking in your responsibility to the electorate to say, “I’m not gonna allow the government to move forward because of my ideology.” It is important, and I’m not saying it isn’t — it is something I believe in as well. But you have an obligation and that is something we need to meet, or else you don’t belong in government, you belong somewhere else, you belong on the advocacy side, pushing government.

JB: On that issue, your website says you are “an independent-minded candidate.” What does that mean?

AS: I have worked on Capitol Hill, so there is a lot of influence from the body of the party: the NRCC, the RNC, the institution that exists within. I think that it’s changing a little under Speaker Ryan now, but the way it exists is you say, “Are you on the Budget Committee? You’re not on the Budget Committee?” Then the sense is, “Well I can’t do anything budget related because I’m not on the committee. I’m not on the Ways and Means Committee, so I can’t introduce any tax ideas.” It’s ridiculous, because you’re not being elected by your constituents to…

JB: … Box yourself in.

AS: Exactly. They are electing you because you have ideas on all sorts of different things. Members of Congress have a platform to forward ideas.

JB: A Dec. 28 Washington Post article on this election says you intend to win the seat by forging a coalition of “Republicans, Independents, and moderate Democrats.” How do you plan on doing that, and what have you done, at this point, to do that?

AS: It’s about ideas. You look at a district like this, and people say that it’s just a certain way. It’s very left-leaning, it’s very liberal, and that’s just how it is. But when you start to talk to people, they have real concerns. If you’re struggling because you own a small business, and you don’t have the opportunity to reinvest in that business because you’re dealing with a lot of high regulation, or taxes, your daily concerns are a little bit more pointed and specific. So what I’ve seen over the last several six and seven months when talking to people is, regardless of party, regardless of the little letter that’s after your name, people will listen to what you have to say. A lot of people across the political spectrum have said, “Yes, I don’t agree on X, Y and Z, but this is what’s worrying me. This is what I’m concerned about.” Whether that’s Israel, whether that’s the economy, whether that’s education, whether it’s safety … Those are real concerns. Those are daily, everyday concerns that people are dealing with that they want to see someone address. I think that’s how you put together a coalition of Republicans, Independents and moderate Democrats, which is to speak to issues that actually concern them.

JB: That’s all for me. Is there anything else you would like to discuss that we haven’t already?

AS: There is an opportunity to start dialogues, to bring people together, to open up opportunity that a lot of members of Congress just miss. They see themselves as being there for a specific purpose, whatever it is, and they don’t realize that the number one priority is the constituency. When I was on the Hill, we worked with people whose houses were underwater, and people whose homes were being foreclosed on by banks. I was handling the economic policy portfolio, so I dealt with a lot of those things that came to us from the district office. We dealt with banks, we dealt with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and we interceded on people’s behalfs. That’s what they are there for — that’s what members of Congress are there for, but I think unfortunately a lot of people have lost sight of that. It’s a customer service business, and a lot of members of Congress don’t realize that is what their job is.

JB: That is what government is for.

AS: Exactly, and that is really what I am looking to bring to the seat. To help people with their lives and to make things a little bit easier — that is the objective.

JB: Thank you very much.

AS: Thank you.