Michael Scala, a 3L at BLS, plans to announce his candidacy for U.S. House of Representatives for New York’s 6th congressional district at 3 PM today in Jamaica, Queens. Prior to his decision to run, he started an online petition, the Solid Ground movement. Scala sat down with The BLS Advocate last week for an interview.
BLSA: What inspired you to run for elected office?
MS: The current situation that we’re in – lets say the economy, the state of the country generally. I was someone who like many was disenfranchised for a long time and I thought that what happened in Washington stayed in Washington, essentially — it didn’t affect me and I couldn’t affect it. Two things really changed that for me: the presidencies of Bush and Obama, respectively. President Bush showed that it really does matter who is elected and who is in office, and everyday Americans can potentially suffer the consequences if the wrong person is elected. And i think President Obama showed that everyday Americans can influence the political system and there is a place in it for us.
If you’re asking why I’m running right now thats a different question but I can address that too – because I did go to law school with an eye on politics thinking I could one day run for office. I didn’t anticipate I’d do it so soon but I think it’s a necessary time. People are fed up with what’s going on in Washington, Congress’s approval rating is at an all-time low, people want new faces, and leadership. People would vote out every single member of Congress if given the opportunity – the majority of Americans actually said that in a poll. And I think it’s a crucial time now to get involved. They say sometimes you pick the moment, sometimes the moment picks you, and I feel this is the moment to do it.
BLSA: Did anything from your BLS experience inspire you to run?
MS: Not with regard to the curriculum — more so my interaction with my peers at Brooklyn Law School. I come from a hip hop background, neither of my parents went to college, so I came in feeling like an outsider, or that I would be perceived as an outsider. My 1L year I ran for SBA delegate and when I won that election it showed me that my peers in law school respected me and saw me as someone who could help them, they didn’t look down on me, it was a very positive experience and it showed I wasn’t a joke I wouldn’t be laughed at –I would be taken seriously and I had something to offer. Paul [Rozenberg, '12, my campaign manager] was first one who urged me to run for Congress and I’ve received a tremendous amount of support from my law school peers.
BLSA: What did you learn from your experience running for SBA president last year, and losing that election?
MS: When you don’t win an election it certainly doesn’t feel good. I didn’t look at it as so much of a political defeat. It didn’t discourage me from getting involved in politics more. I was able to separate what’s going on at school from what’s going in on in the world. One thing that it taught me is that we can’t do it alone. Even a school election like that has a lot of people helping you out. Now I know when running for Congress I’m going to need a lot of people behind me, it can’t be done alone.
BLSA: Tell us about your prior work experience – before law school and internships you’ve had during law school?
MS: I come from a hip hop background. For the past 11 or so years I’ve been a hip hop artist – that’s been my main gig. So I’ve toured the country performing hip hop music, in addition to speaking. That’s one of the ways I got involved with politics, at least my interest was piqued because in addition to performing I’d speak at colleges about getting involved in the democratic process, helping students vote, things like that. I did go to college, I went to Polytechnic University which is now Polytechnic Institute of NYU, and I studied computer science. I used that degree to help me with my own businesses, building websites. I worked for a nonprofit in Virginia for a year, as a website coordinator. I edited and published their weekly newsletter to members.
In law school I worked for the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) union. I worked on cases involving teachers facing discrimination and helping defend them and fight for their rights. I liked it very much. I have an interest in civil rights generally, but don’t think I want to be employed as a lawyer. I’m interested in having own practice but like having flexibility.
BLSA: Have you considered any other offices other than U.S. representative?
MS: The conventional wisdom would say maybe start with a more local office, but I’m not looking at it from the perspective of trying to win a particular seat or get elected for my own sake. I’m looking at what’s happening and I’m satisfied with the state legislature. They just passed gay marriage for example. The president needs more support from Congress and if we want Congress to promote the values of everyday Americans then we need to elect more everyday Americans to Congress.
BLSA: Tell us about the district you hope to represent.
MS: It’s the 6th congressional district of New York, which is southeastern Queens where I was born, raised and spent most of my life. I grew up in Rosedale which was in the district. The district also includes Laurelton, Jamiaca, St. Albans, Cambria Heights, South Ozone Park, Queens Village, Hollis, Springfield Gardens, Old Howard Beach, the areas around JFK airport. Queens as far as I know, is the most diverse county in the entire country. I attribute the success of my upbringing to growing up in Queens and also attending public schools in Queens.
BLSA: How are you connecting with constituents in the district?
MS: I grew up there so I know a lot of people there. I have deep personal ties to the district. A lot of people I knew growing up who I still know are excited about the campaign and want to get involved. A lot of people I know who are very active in the local political scene are very excited. They’re frustrated with current leadership and want to make this happen.
BLSA: What’s your platform?
MS: Well my basic platform is that in order to get America working again we have to focus on the needs of everyday Americans; we have to develop a ground-up approach.
One of the things I did was presented my ideas before presenting myself as a candidate because that general idea of focusing on needs of everyday Americans is something every candidate should be presenting as their platform. The Solid Ground movement serves as basis for that platform and trying to get other candidates from the country to run on the same platform.
BLSA: What’s the single most important issue in your campaign?
MS: The economy in general is the most important issue in any campaign right now. My approach would be focusing on the needs of everyday Americans like I said. So in order to do that we need to make tax cuts for the wealthy expire and we need to cut back on the military budget a little bit in order to free up assets for essential programs that need to be strengthened — so programs like social security, Medicare, Medicaid, should not be cut. Education should not be cut. More money should be going to education — we shouldn’t be focusing on student loan cuts for example. People always say “you want to spend money on all these programs, where do you get the money from?” and we need to remind people that the money is there, it’s just being misused. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost us trillions of dollars. If we had that money we could be spending it on essential programs we need to be spending it on.
BLSA: How do you plan to raise campaign funds?
MS: We are in the beginning stages of planning fundraising events. Obviously raising money is a necessary evil of any campaign, not something I look forward to or think I’m going to enjoy, but it has to be done. This is really a grassroots effort though so most of the money will come from smaller donations — 5 dollars, 10 dollars. Obviously we hope to get large donations but I’m not running as the machine of the establishment, I’m running against them… so many of the funds are going to come from frustrated everyday Americans.
BLSA: Who will you appoint to be your chief of staff? Press secretary?
MS: We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
BLSA: Can BLS students expect employment from you if they join your campaign?
MS: I want to do everything I can to help people who get involved because I think that like-minded people want to be working together, generally. So the kind of people working on my campaign are the kind of people whose values I share and I’d want to be working with regardless. So I’d want to do all I could to make sure that could happen.
BLSA: How can interested students get involved in your campaign?
MS: The website is scalaforcongress.com. They can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.