Candidate Joe Biden finished fifth in the 2020 New Hampshire primary with less than nine percent of the vote. Two weeks later, his candidacy faced a must-win situation in South Carolina. Brendan Savage '21 was desperately knocking on doors all over the state.
One month earlier in Iowa, a huge crowd wasn't expected at a routine stop along the campaign trail in the middle-of-nowhere. Still, every undecided vote mattered and heavy snowfall had just blanketed the parking lot. The Biden campaign sent three staffers ahead to shovel, except the two from Alabama and Florida weren't sure what to do with the white stuff. Savage started digging.
After the event, candidate Biden sought out the shoveler to thank him for his service. Turns out, Biden's late first wife, Neilia Hunter, grew up in the same town as Savage's mom. They chatted for a few minutes about fighting the snow during upstate New York winters. A few weeks later, Biden would be fighting for his political life in South Carolina. Savage would be there too.
In the winter of 2019, Savage was offered the opportunity to work on Biden's presidential campaign, but he would have to take a semester off from college to do it. Savage's mom wasn't thrilled with the idea - delaying his degree to shovel out parking spaces in Iowa. Savage, though, couldn't escape the idea that "Saints Don't Sit on the Sidelines." He knew it would be a critical election in our nation's history, and given this opportunity, he couldn't imagine staying on those sidelines.
"I truly felt that win or lose, my conscience told me I was doing the right thing by getting involved."
Savage called the experience of working a presidential campaign a Ph.D. crash course in politics. In South Carolina, he made calls on Biden's behalf, knocked on doors, and dropped literature on doorsteps from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. On the night of the primary, he drove back to Columbia to attend the election night party. And what a party it turned out to be. Biden's expectation-shattering victory ultimately propelled him to the White House. During Biden's victory speech in Columbia, Savage cherished the moment in the background and spent most of the night on national television.
"The date of that primary was February 29, 2020 - and it was my 21st birthday once the clock struck midnight. I considered working on the comeback campaign the best birthday gift I’d ever received."
As for that "Ph.D." Savage earned during his semester hiatus, he's putting it to work. The political science major is currently running for a seat on the Schenectady County Legislature in District 1. The Daily Gazette covered his announcement. If elected, he would be the youngest person ever to serve in the legislative body and vows to be a voice for younger people who are rarely represented.
"During a campaign, you learn a lot about people by just talking to them at their doorsteps and in their living rooms. It was one of the most fun, yet educational experiences of my life, and I met many lifelong friends through the experience. I would definitely encourage any of my fellow political science majors to consider working on campaigns, even if it’s just volunteering in a local race. The experience you gain can really be invaluable, and campaigns are always looking for enthusiastic young people."
Brendan Savage '21
Savage was born into the business of politics.
His great grandfather, Edward Boyle, served as the mayor of Auburn, New York from 1944 to 1952. His grandfather, Chuck Savage, sat on the Cayuga County Legislature for two decades beginning in 1972. His mom, Susan Savage, was a Schenectady County legislator from 1998 to 2011 and served as chair for seven years.
"Growing up, I got to see what a big difference you can make at the local level to positively impact the lives of the people around you. When my mom became chair of the Legislature, a big focus of hers was to streamline and reform Schenectady County’s economic development to try to revitalize downtown Schenectady. My goal, if elected to the County Legislature, would be an extension of her efforts, and to bring that revitalization to neighborhoods throughout Schenectady."
Savage lost his dad in 2020, but not before the pandemic brought them together.
Progressive supranuclear palsy is a rare and terminal brain disorder that affects movement, thinking, and speech. When Savage made the decision to campaign with Biden, his dad, Steven Weingarten, could barely speak any more. However, he was able to tell his son, "I'm proud of you."
Savage was drawn to Biden's politics and his backstory. President Biden has been through several personal tragedies, but he's never wavered in his commitment to serve others. In mid-March of last year, the pandemic forced the campaign to cease in-person canvassing - which ended up being a godsend for Savage. He was able to be at his father's side for the final month of his life.
"He couldn’t talk much, but we watched a lot of old baseball highlights, which we both really enjoyed. 2020 was one of the most difficult but also rewarding years of my life."