In 2018, five Cornellians were elected to the U.S. Congress. Another may join their ranks in 2020 if Adam Schleifer’s ’03 bid for Congress is successful.
Schleifer is running in New York’s 17th district, seeking to take the seat currently held by Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who has served the district since 1989. Lowey plans to retire next year, and given that it is an overwhelmingly blue district, the seat is likely to go to another Democratic candidate.
The 17th district includes Rockland County and parts of Westchester County — including Schleifer’s hometown of Chappaqua, New York.
Schleifer will compete against at least six other confirmed candidates in the Democratic primary. There was speculation that Chelsea Clinton — a fellow Chappaqua native and famous daughter of former President Bill and Hillary Clinton — might run for the seat, though Chelsea ultimately quashed those rumors.
The Cornell grad told The Sun that he is not concerned about the crowded primary stage — he sees the competition as a good thing, hoping that the “process permits the best ideas and the best candidate to rise to the top of the field.”
Schleifer has a slate of issues he is “excited to tackle in Congress,” including reinvigorating a weakened Environmental Protection Agency, fighting for a carbon tax, passing stricter gun legislation, undoing the Trump administration’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and supporting the federal legalization of marijuana
The New York native also hopes to “unclog democracy” by supporting a federal tax credit to incentivize voting, eliminating the Electoral College and mandating a federal election holiday along with automatic voter registration. He looks to bring a “spirit of creative, pragmatic rationality to Washington.”
He graduated from Horace Greeley High School in 1999, before double-majoring in philosophy and government at Cornell. After graduating, he attended Columbia Law School, became a law clerk and later a federal prosecutor.
“My Cornell education had a major role in my thinking and my career,” Schleifer said. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t draw upon insight from my time at Cornell.”
When he was a freshman, Schleifer planned to attend medical school post-graduation. But after taking Prof. Jeremy Rabkin’s ’74, government, constitutional law class, he reconsidered that choice and dropped his pre-med classes.
“It was so absorbing that I knew pretty much instantly I would major in government,” he said.
“The basic questions of justice we all framed up and pursued in Prof. [Douglas] Miller’s classes at the intersection of philosophy and government still ring in my head,” Schleifer continued.
Schleifer recently returned to New York after several years of working as an assistant U.S. attorney in California. He has also previously worked as special associate counsel in the New York State Financial Services Department.
While in California, Schleifer helped prosecute the “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal, where parents — including Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin — were accused of using money to gain their children acceptances into top colleges.
Schleifer said that being a federal prosecutor was “the greatest and most-rewarding job [he’d] ever had” and that it was an “honor and thrill of [his] professional life.”
But when Lowey announced she wouldn’t be seeking reelection, Schleifer saw an opportunity to further his primary professional goal of “ensuring that every person gets a fair opportunity to pursue their unique version of the American Dream.”
Schleifer has learned to work with “folks across the political spectrum,” citing his experiences clerking for two judges — one a “pragmatic liberal” and the other a “doctrinal conservative.” He thinks this — and his ability to solve complex problems — makes him a successful candidate.
“Standing up to bullies and fraudsters and achieving concrete outcomes that made communities safer and fairer gave me insights and motivation that I carry every day on the campaign trail,” Schleifer said.
While at Cornell, Schleifer played on the club baseball team and sang in the a capella group The Chordials. Schleifer emphasized the importance of getting involved on campus and described his investment in his life-long Cornell friendships as “time well-spent.”
Schleifer comes from a Cornell family, with both his parents and grandfather having attended. His father, Leanord Schleifer ’73, is the founder and chief executive of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, a multi-billion dollar biotechnology company headquartered in Westchester.
The primary for New York’s 17th congressional district will occur on June 23. The general election will occur on Nov. 3.