Man of the People
March 15, 2022
A moment during Syracuse University’s 2012 Commencement Address had a strong impact on Jared Kraham ’13. Speaking to the graduating class, Academy- and Emmy Award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin ’83 said: “Baseball players say they don’t have to look to see if they hit a home run, they can feel it. So, I wish for you a moment—a moment soon—when you really put the bat on the ball, when you really get a hold of one and drive it into the upper deck, when you feel it. When you aim high and hit your target, when just for a moment all else disappears, and you soar with wings as eagles.”
The words rang true for Kraham, a dual political science and broadcast and digital journalism graduate from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications. He aimed high, took a big swing and, this January, began his term as the mayor of Binghamton, New York—the city’s youngest ever at just 30 years old. “In some ways being elected was surreal, and it was also very humbling,” Kraham says.
Despite the historic election, Kraham says age was never an issue during the campaign. Coupled with his more than seven years of experience working at City Hall as deputy mayor, he felt at times like both the establishment candidate and the fresh face in the race. “I was able to appeal to many younger voters who may not typically vote in local elections but believed in my message—if we want to attract and retain young people to live in our community, we should try electing one to lead it.”
Kraham credits his experience at Syracuse University with preparing him for his role. Originally, hesitant to go to college close to home, Kraham transferred to Syracuse after completing his first year at Wake Forest University. “It became clear that for my areas of interest in public affairs and communications I could not do better than the Maxwell School and the Newhouse School. It was in the reputation and depth of these academic programs that I knew I would find a home.”
Lessons in Public Service
The new mayor says that he can’t remember a time when his family wasn’t involved in politics. Kraham’s father served for years in local government and impressed upon him the importance of honesty and integrity as an elected official. But it was the 2008 presidential election that really accelerated his interest in politics. “As a young person, it was the first time I felt a campaign was directly speaking to me,” Kraham says. “President Obama’s election was historic for many reasons, and his campaign’s use of social media and grassroots organizing to win against the odds had a lasting impact on me.”
Four years later, Kraham found himself covering the 2012 presidential election as part of a political reporting class in the Newhouse School. The course took him and his classmates to New Hampshire to cover the presidential primaries. It was during that experience that he really started to see an attainable future for himself in politics. “I knew then—covering the 2012 election as part of that class—that politics and public service is where I needed to go.”
Kraham took several classes in the Newhouse School taught by journalism professors dedicated to helping their students advance First Amendment principles. He found his news writing classes to be particularly helpful in his political career endeavors.
“Direct, brief and facts-first writing became my style,” he says. “Learning to communicate on camera as a student—especially practicing live on-screen reporting—made me comfortable answering questions from the media and in debates.”
History and political science Associate Professor Margaret Thompson’s class on U.S. presidents taught Kraham some very important lessons on executive government. “Professor Thompson’s lectures on the modern presidency made clear both the effectiveness and shortcomings of executive power in politics,” Kraham says. “It also taught me that personality can matter greatly in leadership, and that even the most influential people in American history could fall victim to everyday insecurities.”
In political science Professor Thomas Keck’s constitutional law class, Kraham learned how exploring the merits of opposing viewpoints leads to understanding another’s perspective on policy or law. “As a public servant, I wish I could retake my constitutional law class about every five years to refresh the fundamentals,” he says.
He got a taste for life in government firsthand in 2008 when he interned with New York Senator Chuck Schumer. As an intern, Kraham’s major responsibilities were responding to constituent inquires and organizing outreach events for the senator’s regional office. This experience and his classes shaped and expanded his worldview on politics and the importance of civic engagement.
Kraham took his education across the country during the Spring Break in Silicon Valley immersion trip to meet with leaders at tech companies in 2012. Though it’s most often attended by students in the School of Information Studies, Kraham found the experience beneficial—not only at the time, but also in his role as deputy mayor beginning in 2014. “The Silicon Valley immersion trip framed my thinking on how co-working spaces, business incubators and startup accelerator programs are critical to the growth of tech companies in cities. I’ve applied these lessons in my career in public service, and as I’ve worked regularly with Binghamton’s Koffman Southern Tier Incubator—a partnership that will only grow as my time as mayor.”
The Ascension of the Mayor
Kraham and his campaign team spent thousands of hours talking to residents about their concerns and connecting with community members on their priorities. “On election night, when it’s all said and done, it’s an indescribable feeling knowing thousands of people have put their faith in you. It’s a great honor. I’m excited and grateful to have the chance to work hard for people every day and do my best to make our community better,” Kraham says.
Now comes the hard work. The clean energy advocate will be focused on public safety, property taxes and neighborhood quality of life in his first term. Saying Binghamton’s neighborhoods are the backbone of the entire community, Kraham plans to spend time investing in them, focusing on effective code enforcement, quality housing, new roads and better neighborhood parks.
Ready now to embark on this next chapter in his journey, Kraham has his own advice for aspiring politicians: Trust your gut. “Every decision in public service comes down to, ‘Is this good for the community and the people I’ve been elected to serve?’ That’s a benefit not every career offers. Public service provides the opportunity to come to work every day and make your community better.”
By Lisa Maresca
Jared Kraham spoke recently with fellow Maxwell alumnus John Boccacino ’20 E.M.P.A for his podcast, ’Cuse Conversations. To listen to the episode, check out ’Cuse Conversations on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play and more.
Published in the Summer 2022 issue of the Maxwell Perspective
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