Putting Local Government to Work
The very notion of government has taken a beating in the overheated cauldron of politics and the cycle of 24-hour news commentary. But for David Weinberger, government - particularly local government - "is where change happens. One of the purposes of federal government is to prop up state and local governments and let them do their work."
Weinberger (Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, BA in political science and public policy, 2012), will have the opportunity to work in city government full time during a nine-month, $30,000 New York City Urban Fellowship, starting in September 2012.
The highly selective fellowship, sponsored by the City of New York, introduces top college graduates from across the country to public service through work in mayoral offices and city agencies, intensive seminars that explore major urban issues and meetings with policymakers at all levels of government.
Through Macaulay and Hunter, "I've had wonderful opportunities, was encouraged to take each one, and it led me here," he says. "I applied early-decision and never looked back."
This native of Irvington, NY, chose to attend them because of their reputations, affordability and the chance to live in a dorm in New York City. "Both provided internship opportunities and guidance that I wouldn't have gotten elsewhere," he says.
He comes to the fellowship with considerable policy experience. An upper-level political science class on political rhetoric, into which he talked his way as a freshman, set him on his path.
"This hooked me up with advocacy projects around campus, making me more aware of struggles for social justice, food access through NYPIRG and the Roosevelt Institute," the nation's first student-run public-policy think tank, with more than 80 chapters across the country.
He became president of Hunter's chapter and for almost three years held a national post as Roosevelt Institute's senior fellow in energy and environment. As part of that work, he traveled to campuses from Massachusetts to Georgia, giving "Policy 101 presentations to students, showing them how to engage with stakeholders and promote their ideas."
In his national role, he helped students develop policy recommendations and community-impact projects and promote them to government officials and the media. The CUNY chancellor's office asked him to assist the Empire State Development Corp. as an intern overseeing its New York City Regional Council, which was developing a strategic plan to create jobs and revitalize the city's economy.
He interned with Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Transit-Oriented Development Department on "smart-growth" development. He found that position through an online search and paid himself a stipend through Macaulay's Opportunities Fund, a $7,500 allocation that every Macaulay student gets to further education.
At the MTA, he "stumbled across a way they have of doing things in Chicago. They create a district, freeze its property-tax rate for, say, five years, and dedicate whatever additional tax income comes in at the end of that period to pay for public improvements that they do now. In essence, the district gives the city an IOU for future revenue." The city issues bonds to pay for the improvements and pays them off with higher tax revenue later. "It's an intriguing idea," he says. "I wrote memos about it, but it hasn't been approved."
His Macaulay Opportunities Fund also allowed him to afford a semester in Washington with the State Department's Office of Ecosystems and Conservation in 2011. There, he researched compliance with the U.S.-China Ten-Year Framework for Energy and Environment, which since June 2008 has facilitated the exchange of information and best practices to foster innovation and develop solutions to common problems the two countries face. He gathered information from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Parks Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among other sources, to brief his boss about sustainable park management before a U.S. delegation traveled to Beijing.
Another internship, at the Democratic National Committee in Washington, introduced him to opposition research for the 2010 elections. That post was financed by the Sarah Rosen Fund, which was set up to groom the next generation of Democratic leaders.
Closer to home, he also was community outreach intern at Friends of THIRTEEN, helping to organize a lobbying day where hundreds of people went to Washington to urge continued federal financing of public broadcasting.
He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa; was a William R. Kenan Scholar, which sponsors outstanding Macaulay students who demonstrate an early commitment to service and civic engagement; and a Lisa Goldberg Scholar, an initiative of the Revson Foundation that also is dedicated to civic service and the future of New York City.
This summer, he is working with In Our Backyards, an environmental micro-funding platform that connects small donors with volunteers in New York City.
Weinberger envisions a career in public policy, perhaps as an advocate, and may seek a master's degree in urban planning after he has worked in the field.
"Local government is so powerful. A new wave of change will happen at the local level, given the gridlock in Washington," he says. "It's hard to get any progressive policy through there. But city government has the capacity to be a catalyst. I'll consider myself successful if I can make real and lasting changes in New York City, particularly in environmental protection and public health."