Bipartisanship is becoming increasingly elusive in the United States, pundits say. But Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a 1997 College graduate, has nonetheless made it his priority.
Gottheimer won his seat in 2016, beating seven-term incumbent Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), and has since been appointed as the co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus.
Come Nov. 6, Gottheimer will be up for re-election in New Jersey's 5th District facing fellow Penn alumnus and Republican opponent John McCann, who graduated from The University of Pennsylvania with a master's degree in government administration from the Fels Center of Government in 1995.
After graduating from Penn in 1997 with a degree in political science, Gottheimer went to Oxford University in the United Kingdom through the Thouron Fellowship and later received a law degree from Harvard Law School in 2004. Gottheimer also worked as an speechwriter for President Bill Clinton during his presidency and held positions at Ford and Microsoft.
Gottheimer attributed his passion for working with those who have differing political viewpoints to his time on Penn’s campus, which he said had “a diverse political spectrum” when he was here. Gottheimer also said his experience in the private sector and in Congress has reinforced his belief in compromise.
“When I worked at Ford and Microsoft, I learned that when you’re working on a deal and trying to get something done, it’s really important that you’re able to sit at a table and develop relationships; and that’s what I’ve learned co-chairing the Problem Solvers Caucus,” Gottheimer said in an interview. “We develop great friendships and we try to develop common ground — we try to get 80 percent of what we want, but know you’re not going to get 100 percent.”
During his time on campus, Gottheimer was the president of the Interfraternity Council, president of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a member of Sphinx Senior Society, and a University Scholar. For Gottheimer, the highlights of his Penn experience were living in the Quad his freshman year, attending football and basketball games, and building friendships through Penn's "work hard, play hard" environment.
Academically, Gottheimer focused on the history of civil rights in America at Penn. He worked closely with history professor Mary Frances Berry, whom he described as “one of the most remarkable people you’ll ever meet.”
Berry, who also acted as Gottheimer’s major advisor and supervised his thesis, said he was an “excellent student."
“His Harvard Law degree and experience in the private sector as a senior executive at Ford Motor Company and Microsoft added to his government experience and prepared him well as a Congressman brimming with practical ideas,” Berry said. “Some of my students eagerly worked on his campaign, where he upset a seven-term incumbent. The sky’s the limit given Josh’s talents and integrity.”
Those who knew Gottheimer well at Penn also said he was a driven, charismatic leader whose political ambition was evident early on.
Neil Sheth, a 1997 Engineering graduate and close friend of Gottheimer, said Gottheimer's leadership positions influenced his bipartisan outlook.
"He’s always been destined to do something in government," Sheth said. "When he was Interfraternity Council president is when it all started, with that bipartisan mentality of being able to look at both sides and talk to people on both sides to get stuff done."
This sentiment was echoed by 1997 College graduate Jen Blumenfeld, who knew Gottheimer through overlapping social circles as well as through the Sphinx Senior Society.
“He was a uniter, able to bring people together,” Blumenfeld said. “The person that has been in the news that everyone is seeing is totally consistent with who he has always been. He’s passionate about his constituents, he is a hard worker, he thinks through issues, and he’s willing to reach across the aisle to do the right thing.”
Others who knew Gottheimer expect that he will continue to rise in U.S. politics.
“Josh could be president someday and not one of us who went to school with him would blink an eye. He’s one of the only good ones out there,” said 1997 College graduate Jared Miller, who knew Gottheimer through the Sphinx Senior Society. “Penn is and should be very proud of Josh Gottheimer.”