The product of a home in which both parents were Democrats but didn’t vote every year, Michael Suleiman finds himself as a prominent Galloway Township and Atlantic County Democrat and on his way to his party’s national convention this September.
Suleiman, Chairman of the Galloway Democratic Club, will serve as an at the Democratic National Convention, Sept. 3-6 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
So if any of the delegates gets sick or can’t make it to the convention, it’s time for Suleiman to leap into action. Otherwise, it’s his opportunity to see the process firsthand.
“I’ll get to connect with other folks from the state and from other states,” Suleiman said. “There will be folks there from all over, and we’ll be there to support the election of the Democratic team for November.”
Suleiman will get to see firsthand speeches from former President Bill Clinton, on Wednesday night, Sept. 5, and from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who will both speak on Thursday night, Sept. 6.
“I think it will be difficult for Obama to top his speech from last year,” Suleiman said, adding he feels Obama is the greatest speaker since President Ronald Reagan.
With the re-nominations of Obama and Biden a foregone conclusion and the voting a mere formality, the convention serves another purpose.
“The convention will stress how important the elections are, and to carry that from the top all the way down,” Suleiman said.
Galloway Township encapsulates this idea. While New Jersey typically votes Democratically where presidential elections are concerned, Atlantic County and particularly Galloway, is a Republican stronghold.
In Galloway, six of the seven council members are Republican, but a strong turnout for Obama in this year’s presidential election could help Galloway Democrats pick up another seat. will face in a special election to fill the seat left vacant by
McElwee ran in last year’s election, Suleiman’s first as the
Suleiman began volunteering with the Democrats in 2008, when he interned with Sen. Jim Whelan. At that time, there were three Democrats on Galloway Council and two of Atlantic County’s freeholders were Democrats.
“From 2009 on, we took a tumble,” Suleiman said.
He believes more competitive races would result in greater voter turnout, and that the political process needs to be more representative of society as a whole.
“We need more scientists, engineers, doctors and auto mechanics in politics,” said Suleiman, who would also like to see more women and young people, such as himself.
“Young people think they don’t know enough,” Suleiman, 22, said. “They’re dismissed by older people.
“There are folks who say, ‘He’s still young, what does he know.’ But I have this backing, and we need to help young people get this backing. Anyone can bring good ideas. It doesn’t matter how old you are.”
The key is to make politics relevant to young people, Suleiman said. He pointed to students’ concerns over raising the cost of student loans, as well as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) issues as two instances of politics being relevant to young people.
“It’s harder for young people to recognize issues of entitlement,” Suleiman said. “But we have to make sure those programs are there for us when we get older.”
Suleiman graduated from in 2007, and began interning with Whelan in 2008. He earned his Associate’s Degree from in one year, partially as a result of taking five summer courses.
He graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science in 2011, and took a full-time position in Whelan's office one month before graduation.
The subject of his thesis paper was New Jersey Congressman Frank LoBiondo and the need for more competitive house races, something he still views as a major political concern locally.
He also called Whelan and Beth Schroeder his mentors, and credited them with being where he is today.
He was interested in politics in high school, and it translated into a career for him.
“I’m not a behind the scenes person,” Suleiman said. “I had to step up, get involved and try to steer policy.”
He feels some of the issues the Democratic candidates raised in last year’s elections in Galloway had an impact on policy over the past year, even though incumbent Jim Gorman’s re-election was the only victory for the Democrats.
“Locally, we advocated for transparency in government, and you’re seeing a trend of council becoming more transparent,” Suleiman said. “They’re still not as transparent as we’d like them to be. You could eliminate a lot of these OPRA problems if the documents were published online.”
He also recognized that the average voter cares more about jobs and economic development than government’s response to such requests. He also said people pay more attention than most people think, and that he enjoys being a public servant for the people.
“I find it rewarding, and we do help folks,” Suleiman said of his life in politics.
The complete list of New Jersey Democratic Delegates, including alternates, to this year’s convention can be found here.