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York alumnus urges youth to make a political difference

Hank Sheinkopf talks to York College students about the importance of voting. Photo by Ivan Pereira
TimesLedger Newspapers

A political consultant who helped put major political figures into office is urging York College’s students to make their own mark in the future of the nation’s politics.

Hank Sheinkopf paid a visit to his alma matter Monday for a guest lecture, and the longtime Democratic consultant said he is troubled by the lack of participation in politics.

“If you don’t turn out to vote, you can’t get what you want,” he said.

The Bronx native, who has worked on more than 700 political campaigns, including ones for President Bill Clinton and state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), said voter turnout over the last couple of years was not as strong as it should have been.

He noted that 56 percent of the nation’s eligible voting population went to the polls during the 2008 election when Barack Obama was elected into office, but only 40.9 percent of the population voted in last year’s mid-term elections, when the Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The voter turnout in 2010 in New York was lower than the national turnout, with only 35 percent of eligible voters heading to the polls, according to Sheinkopf. He said the inaction by voters, particularly young voters, has enabled the government to make decisions based on special interests instead of the public’s needs.

“When you’re not participating and people don’t know [the issues], democracy gets put at risk,” he said.

Sheinkopf said change can come with social movement and pointed out that during his six years as a York College student during the late 1960s and early ’70s he saw efficient movements work at the local level.

Residents in Jamaica and southeast Queens were so unhappy rise in crime, lack of commercial development and other problems that they got together and turned the area around by urging their leaders to make a difference, he said. The political strategist, who recently became an Orthodox rabbi, noted that the fight to bring York College to Jamaica started the ball rolling in the community.

“When you don’t have participation, you have what happened in Jamaica 40 years ago,” he said.

Sheinkopf said the Occupy Wall Street protesters have the right idea by staging a two-month campaign against big business, but their methods make their cause moot. He said they need to be more specific as to what they are fighting about and what types of change they would like to see.

“This collective action is not working,” he said. “They cannot come up with a cohesive argument.”

Smith, attended the lecture, applauded his message to the students and reiterated to the students that Sheinkopf’s advice has helped boost several worthy political figures and causes.

“It is important to know about his impact,” he said. “Take it seriously.”

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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