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Thursday, October 20, 2016

One of the first Occupy Wall Street activists to run for Congress was thrown off the ballot early this month when the incumbent Democrat pulled a move right out of the playbook of Barack Obama: she challenged the validity of the insurgent’s nominating signatures.

Nathan Kleinman, a 29-year-old human rights activist who worked for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and was an aide to retired Admiral Joe Sestak when he ran for Senate in 2010, launched a campaign this winter to unseat suburban Philadelphia Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz.

“It was unsurprising, but I think it was in some ways valuable for my campaign because it just shows people what we’re up against,” he said of the challenge. “It shows people how desperately the status quo will try to cling to its existence.”

Close followers of Barack Obama’s political career will recall that he got his start in 1996 when supporters used similar tactics to clear the field in his Illinois State Senate district, handing the young lawyer a victory by default.

A Pennsylvania judge agreed with supporters of Schwartz who disputed over 500 of the 1,500 signatures Kleinman’s campaign had gathered; 1,000 valid signatures were necessary to be on the ballot in the April 24 primary. Though the citizens who challenged the signatures were technically unaffiliated with the Schwartz campaign, Kleinman said the incumbent’s people were behind the effort because they feared his candidacy.

“They got four people to officially make the objection, but it was made very clear, including by her campaign manager who happens to be her chief of staff in Washington, that it was from the campaign,” he said. “They were the ones paying the legal bills, and it was her political director who filed the original objection from the 4 individuals in Harrisburg.”

Now continuing his effort as a write-in candidate, Kleinman is betting that the primary will have low turnout (because Democrats have no contest for their presidential nominee) and that a small cadre of committed activists can make it a race. He expressed hope that an upcoming fundraiser with Sestak would boost his campaign coffers, and cited the activists who have been occupying Jenkintown, in his district, in response to Schwartz’s challenge as encouraging.

“She wanted to do everything she could to make me go away,” he said.

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