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Occupy Philadelphia member Nate Kleinman (left) poses with former U.S. House of Representatives member Joe Sestak (right) in 2010.

Credit: Courtesy of Nate Kleinman

To the surprise of many in the General Assembly, Nate Kleinman shaved all of his facial hair. “It means I’m running for Congress,” he declared.

Kleinman, a member of Occupy Philadelphia, will run in the Democratic primary for the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania’s 13th district, which includes northeast Philadelphia. He will face the incumbent, Representative Allyson Schwartz, in the April 24 primary. Schwartz is currently serving her fourth term in office.

While Kleinman, 29, is not seeking endorsement from Occupy Philadelphia, he is running on the basis of the Occupy ideology.

“I really feel like we’re losing our democracy and [that] civil liberties are under siege in this country,” Kleinman said. “Even Democrats like Congresswoman Schwartz vote for things like the Patriot Act.”

Wharton senior and OccupyPenn member Max Cohen said in order to change the system, it is necessary to start from within. Issues that are important to the movement, such as campaign finance, need to be changed from inside the system, he said. “How are we ever going to get that passed without someone there?”

Kleinman admitted that his campaign might have been seen as controversial by his fellow Occupiers. He announced his candidacy to the Occupy Philadelphia General Assembly on Jan. 24.

Though many Occupy members don’t believe in the current political system, they gave “twinkle fingers” to Kleinman’s announcement, expressing their support.

“I’ve been … pleased and excited about how much support I’ve gotten, even with how controversial I expected this move to be,” Kleinman said. “I’m sure in large part it’s because … people know that I’m not doing this out of personal ambition — I’m doing this because I believe in the principles of the movement.”

There has been debate within the Occupy movement about whether to focus on “incremental reform or revolutionary action,” he added.

“I’ve been so motivated by [Occupy Philadelphia] that I realized I had to do more,” he said. “In part, I’m running to help people realize … that we’re not radical extremists, we’re Americans, and we are people who want our country back and who are willing to work for it.”

If elected, Kleinman plans to focus on issues such as repealing the Bush tax cuts, reforming campaign finance laws and ending the War on Drugs. He will continue working with Occupy, regardless of the outcome.

However, some question whether Kleinman would even get past the primaries.

“I think being the first Occupy candidate to run for Congress will help him generate some … attention that other lower-profile primary challengers would not get,” Political Science professor Marc Meredith wrote in an email.

Meredith added, the question is whether his current connections will provide him with enough financial resources to compete with a well-financed Schwartz. “Without financial resources, it will be challenging for him to make himself more broadly known,” he wrote.

Kleinman said he is not accepting donations from corporations, only individuals.

He is confident that the ideology of his platform will win him the seat.

“People need a candidate to be excited about, and they’re not excited about Schwartz,” Kleinman said. “I’ve got energy, stamina, and I’m going to work as hard as it takes to do everything that a serious candidate does to win a seat in [the] US Congress.”

Schwartz’s office did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Kleinman will speak at Penn on March 31 at an event sponsored by the Penn Democrats, College Republicans and Penn in Washington.

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