BY MELODY CHAN
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Oliver Rosenberg as “a lifelong Democrat.” In fact, he has previously voted as a Republican.
Oliver Rosenberg will be just 45 years old in 2031. Which is why he was troubled when U.S Rep. Jerrold Nadler supported the nuclear accord prohibiting Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons for 15 years.
“As a millennial, that's real to me. That's going to be my life. And they're going to have nuclear weapons. I feel it's just one of those kicking-the-can-down-the-road cases,” Rosenberg, 30, said.
It's also became the primary motivating factor in his upstart run for Nadler's 10th District seat in Congress.
Nadler, a staunch liberal, has not faced a primary opponent since 1998.
“I'm a Democrat but my congressman has sat there for 24 years and 20 years unchallenged,” Rosenberg said. “In a district where over 80 percent of registered voters are Democrats, we haven't had a primary! That means we haven't had an election in 20 years!”
For now, Rosenberg's main goal is simple: spreading word about the June 28 primary, and about the possibility of another Democrat representing the 10th District and a sweeping constituency that extends from the Upper West Side to downtown on the west side and into the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Red Hook, Sunset Park and Bensonhurst.
First elected to represent Congress' 8th District in 1992, Nadler has plowed through Republican opponents ever since, including following two redistricting efforts.
To first get on the primary ballot, Rosenberg needed to submit a petition with 1,250 valid signatures nominating him; he turned in 6,500.
Rosenberg, a Yeshiva University graduate, described himself as a Jew “somewhere between modern, modern Orthodox and very traditional.” He started Or Chayim, a grassroots congregation that provides traditional Shabbat experiences to LGBTQ members of the Jewish faith. It has met on the Upper West Side since 2014.
Gay himself, Rosenberg said he was inspired to run for Congress in part because of the emergence of unconventional candidates. “This is the year of the anti-establishment candidate,” he said, clearly enthusiastic. “I decided to run a few months ago when I saw that tens of millions of people from both parties believe that the system doesn't work for them anymore and they're looking for radical changes for their presidential candidate.”
Nadler, however, is a formidable opponent. A solid liberal in a dependably Democratic district, he is the second-most senior member on the House Judiciary Committee and a prominent figure on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. But Nadler, who lives on Upper West Side, was the only Jewish Democrat from New York's congressional delegation to vote in favor of the Iran nuclear deal. The criticism was thunderous.
“When the congressman made his decision, he was very sincere in putting the politics of that decision to the side. At the end of the day the decision for him was dealing with life and death matters,” Nadler's campaign manager, Daniel Schwarz, said. “If people disagree with the congressman's vote, the hallmark of democracy is that people are more than capable of running for office.”
Schwarz stressed that while Nadler did not take his seat or his district's votes for granted, it would not be out of the ordinary for him to attend community boards or political club meetings, as Nadler has been doing recently. Nadler has already received endorsements from many political groups in New York, including about 50 LGBTQ Jewish activists and community leaders.
Rosenberg, though, is not daunted by Nadler's hold on the district. He said that while Nadler's political connections may make it harder for him to establish a voice, once voters realize they have a choice, he is confident they will vote for him.
“Endorsements never mean too much but this year they mean even less,” Rosenberg's communications director, Curtis Ellis, said. “No matter which party you're looking in, you're seeing a tremendous skepticism for business as usual.”
Rosenberg's platform leans liberal. Just as he is staunchly pro-Israel, Rosenberg is equally determined to advocate for the LGBTQ community. He's also a supporter of legalized marijuana, which he said would open up a slew of business opportunities as well as tax revenue.
“I'm not stale, I'm fresh. I'm energetic. I'm innovative,” said Rosenberg, who founded Prealth, a beta-stage app modelled on websites such as Kayak.com that aims to lower costs in the health care sector by introducing competition.
A former analyst and associate with J.P Morgan, Rosenberg emphasizes his private-sector experience, which he said many career politicians lack. He also highlights the fact that is he is financing his own campaign and, he said, is consequently not beholden to any special interests. Rosenberg has spent about $150,000 on his campaign so far, including on five full-time paid staff members. He's recruited another 50 volunteers. He runs his campaign out of his Riverside Boulevard apartment. “I mean some of the things I've done, trying to fuse gay and orthodoxy, trying to come up with a private sector solution to health care. You know what? We need to start thinking outside the box otherwise our generation is screwed. We already have so much debt in the United States; Social Security is running out of funding and we need to focus on climate change. We need fresh, innovative ideas.”
Rosenberg said his grandfather, Stanley Diller, was among his strongest inspirations. Diller, who, like two other of Rosenberg's grandparents, survived the Holocaust, came to America as an orphan, began making window blinds and started his own company, Rosenberg said. Rosenberg said he helped build schools and hospital emergency rooms in Los Angeles. “It was very important to him to give back to his community,” Rosenberg said when asked why he was pursuing political office rather than, say, a Wall Street gig. “And so growing up we would hear stories about getting involved and I think that message steeped into me.”