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Emily Cherniak and New Politics

The thoughts expressed in this Guest Opinion are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of S&P Global.

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Emily Cherniack never considered herself to be a political person. Rather, she was thrust into the political world when her former boss Alan Khazei asked her to be his Deputy Campaign Manager for his 2009 bid for US Senate. Although Khazei lost the election, Cherniack was inspired to enter the political arena to help expand opportunities for more inclusive representation in elected bodies.

As an alum of the civic service organization AmeriCorps, Cherniack was well acquainted with non-profit networks and cultures of service. She was disturbed by how few of her service-oriented peers -- AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, and veterans – were considering career paths in political or government spheres, namely running for office. Having seen firsthand and worked alongside these individuals who have a background in putting their country and communities first, Cherniack founded New Politics based on the philosophy that servant leadership is critical to a healthy and inclusive democracy.

New Politics is a non-profit with the goal of revitalizing our democracy by helping civic-minded individuals from both parties get elected to political office. In 2013, Cherniack recruited the first candidate for New Politics: Seth Moulton.  With a starting staff of only four people, Cherniack and her team ran Moulton’s campaign for the 2014 Massachusetts 6th Congressional Chair. She describes the campaign as the prototype for the perfect storm: an inspirational veteran facing a vulnerable, overconfident opponent. Seizing upon Seth’s Massachusetts roots, and a bit of luck, New Politics won its first of many elections—giving the organization its first rung of credibility.

To be sure, service backgrounds are not a requirement for political office, but Cherniack has found that individuals with this kind of experience tend to favor collaboration, successfully sponsor critical legislation, and quickly rise to leadership positions. From her perspective and experiences, the most effective candidates—and later political leaders—are not those solely focused on the “big picture,” the spotlight, or the speeches. The best leaders, in her view, are those who understand the importance of being on the ground with constituents and making an effort to listen to those who officials should be serving. She explains, “Those who are willing to travel two hours for a twenty-minute meeting with five activists. This grit may not be exclusive to former civic workers, but service work provides a reliable filter for candidates willing to sweat through this daily grind.”

Another lesson Cherniack arrived at is the importance of campaign teams as a key contributor to a candidate’s success. Much like teams in other business or community settings, poor leadership from a campaign manager can compromise a team’s culture and in some dire cases, derail an entire campaign—no matter how promising the candidate might be. “Human capital is often too easily discounted in non-profit hiring,” Cherniack reflects. It is her deep and learned understanding of its value that has led New Politics to success.

Since her first victory with Seth Moulton in 2014, Cherniack has cautiously expanded her staff from four to seventeen.  While she wishes that she had learned earlier the power of human capital—for example, when to let go of a team member when the fit is not right—she is confident with the slow growth model she has developed for New Politics. The gradual expansion allowed her to ensure employees were adequately trained and that a positive organizational culture has been preserved with scale. Her scaling prototype of intentional growth, centered on recruiting passionate individuals whose personal values and passions mirrored that of the organization, can be applied to other non-profits with similar missions. With this, she reflects that those who are interested in this work should not discount their own ideas and capabilities. She advises, “Be bold about your vision.”

Cherniack plans to continue to recruit the best and brightest candidates and employees who will put national and community interests first through their servant leadership. By continuing to support candidates of the highest caliber with leadership experience, New Politics aims to bring about a new age of impactful, service-oriented political leaders.  She hopes that over time the cumulative numbers of newly elected leaders with service background will help reinvigorate our democracy.