By Rosanna Roizin
"I'm not trying to sell you anything," Yehuda Katz was
saying, clipboard in hand, as he stood in the middle of
the noisy, crowded D train. It was rush hour, and the
commuters on their way home from work, of course, ignored
"I just wanted to say hi and see what you guys think
about our government," he said. A few members of his would-be
audience glanced over their newspapers at this boy, with
his pink cheeks and a wrinkled gray suit barely long enough
to meet his ankles.
"My name is Yehuda Katz and I'm running for City Council
in this neighborhood. If you want to talk to me about
any issues you have with our government, let me know and
I'll come over."
An elderly woman carrying three shopping bags and standing
a few feet away, turned to look at him. "How old are you?"
"I'm old enough to run," Katz answered. He is 19.
The woman did not turn away. "We need better subways,"
she said finally.
Yehuda Katz was happy. "Yeah, I agree, we do need a lot
of improvements in our transportation system and that
is one thing I would really like to work on," he answered
loudly, competing with the roar of the train and with
everybody else's conversation.
"More street lights" the woman added.
Katz nodded his head and thanked the woman for her comments.
He dug into his front pocket and took out a business card.
It was one of the 250 business cards he had brought with
him. This was enough, he was sure, to carry him through
this latest of his campaign events -- 24 hours of continuous
campaigning and petition gathering on the subway. But
if he ran out of cards, either his 15-year-old brother
or 17-year-old sister, who is his campaign manager, would
bring him more. Yehuda Katz was prepared.
It is hard to get attention when you are one of more
than 300 candidates running for City Council, you yourself
voted for the very first time only about 12 months ago,
and you are completely unknown in the community and do
not have a lot of money or resources to campaign. So Yehuda
Katz took the advice of his high school teacher, who suggested
that he stay up for 24 hours on the D and Q train in Southeast
Brooklyn, introducing himself to the voters and collecting
their signatures. Maybe he would catch some attention,
from the public or even from the media.
At 6 p.m. Katz, sweaty from running from train car to
train car, walked to the end of the subway car and started
to talk to a young Latino woman sitting in a corner seat
by herself, listening to her walkman.
"Are you old enough to vote?" he asked her first.
"Yeah." she answered, pulling her headphones off.
"Well, I'm sure a lot of your friends smoke pot, right?"
She cautiously nodded her head.
"Well I'm running under the Libertarian party and we
think pot should be legalized. At least if not legalized,
I would try to get the police to calm down their targeting
of teenagers who smoke pot. The police take special care
to find kids who are smoking pot and even though they're
not supposed to lock you up, they often do, sometimes
for a whole day. I have a lot of friends who smoke pot,"
Katz continued. "I don't, but it's not fair they should
live in fear."
The girl listened, but did not respond.
At the next stop - Sheepshead Bay, the last subway stop
in his City Council district - Katz got off the train
and ran across to the uptown platform to catch the Q train
back uptown. He was planning to repeat this 15-minute
route hundreds of times in the next 24 hours.
Katz said the key group in his campaign are young people,
though actually his district, district 48, which is made
up of Sheepshead Bay, Midwood, and Manhattan Beach, has
the largest senior citizen population in New York City.
Katz feels that young people have been ignored by the
government and need to come out and vote in order to show
Most of the teenagers Katz approached laughed when Katz
asked them what they would like to be changed in the government.
Some girls suggested kicking President Bush out of office,
one college-aged boy said it's a good question but he'll
have to think about it and get back to him.
Two excited seventeen-year-old girls offered to help
him with his campaign.
"Do you have a campaign manager because let me tell you,
you have to demand to be heard because chances are people
aren't listening. It is rush hour and everybody's tired
coming home from work." The girl, wearing a bright purple
cashmere blouse with matching eye shadow, offered to sign
her mother's name on Katz's petition.
Katz answered sternly. "You know I can't do that."
"I won't tell, if you won't tell." The other girl jumped
in, "You're too jittery, you need to calm down."
A small crowd had formed around Katz, who stood, shoelace
untied, rocking from foot to foot, as the train wobbled
from stop to stop.
"You're Jewish right?" one of the girls asked. "Well
your name is Yehuda so of course you're Jewish, well why
don't you target the Jewish people, there's lots of them
here. You can come to my school, I go to Flatbush Yeshiva."
"I plan to campaign in Jewish neighborhoods," Katz said,
"but I'm not counting on the Jewish vote." Another challenger,
Alan Herschaft, he explained, is an Orthodox Jew.
"If you have that kind of attitude then you'll never
win," she said. "Are you religious?"
"I've been to Israel, but it is too long a story to tell
in one stop," Katz said, giving them his card, and getting
out when the doors opened.
"We'll make sure our parents vote for you!" the girls
called out after him.
Only 23 more hours to go.
By 7 am the next morning, Katz had collected a total
of 10 signatures, out of the hundreds he had planned to
get. "I was so tired, I could barely walk," he recalled
later. "But as the people began to head out to work I
began to wake up."
By 5 pm that evening, 24 hours after he had begun, he
had a total of 80 subway riders give him their signatures.
Yehuda Katz was happy, he said. Nobody had asked him
any questions he could not answer.