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Who’s Next: 18 young Pennsylvanians shaping politics

Welcome to the very first installment of a new effort here at Billy Penn. We’re calling this “Who’s Next,” and the idea’s pretty simple: To highlight some of the most dynamic people working to shape our city every day. Our goal with “Who’s Next” is to identify and track the next generation of leaders and influencers.

For our first foray, we decided to showcase people working (largely behind the scenes) in politics. People like Jordan Harris, the Point Breeze native who, before becoming one of the youngest people elected to the State House of Representatives, created a program that helped 600 city high school students graduate. Or Kellan White, a Philadelphia City Council aide who’s also the founder of a program that brought together civically engaged snake people in the city. Or JJ Abbott: He’s near the top of Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s list of deputies and, as communications director, helped her navigate major news events like re-examining the Jerry Sandusky investigation, and state officials caught emailing pornography on the taxpayers’ dime. Great resumes, but it takes something extra to survive in the corridors of power in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

We’ve got ideas about what areas to spotlight after this, but we’d love your feedback too — please email [email protected] with “Who’s Next” in other career paths or nominations you’d like us to consider.

So without further ado, here’s our inaugural Who’s Next:

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1. JJ Abbott

Age: 28

Job: Spokesman for Attorney General Kathleen Kane

Who’s Next Because: JJ’s got a lot of influence in the realm of politics and media — he serves as the communications director for the Attorney General. He’s been part of Kane’s team as it navigated through how Gov. Tom Corbett handled the Jerry Sandusky probe, as well as the dozens of state officials who forwarded pornographic emails to each other on their state-issued computers. Find him on Twitter at @jjabbott. 

2. Erica Atwood 

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Age: 39

Job: Director of Black Male Engagement, City of Philadelphia

Who’s Next Because: Erica served on Mayor Michael Nutter’s original 2007 campaign team, and has held a number of positions with his administration since, and she’s particularly known for her approach to community outreach. In her current position, Erica is the liaison with the White House and the U.S. Conference of Mayors on the implementation of My Brothers’ Keeper, an organization that looks to improve the lives of young black men in urban settings. Find her on Twitter at @EricaInPhilly.

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3. Valerie Caras

Age: 27

Job: Deputy Director of Communications for Gov. Tom Corbett

Who’s Next Because: Valerie is the former communications and technology director for the Pennsylvania GOP, where she helped the party in tailoring its message. Prior to that, Valerie was the Executive Director of the Dauphin County Republican Party. Though her current boss just lost his bid for re-election, it’s unlikely she’s going away. Find her on Twitter at @ValerieCaras. 

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4. Kevin Cirilli

Age: 25

Job: Reporter, The Hill

Who’s Next Because: This Delco native isn’t long out of graduating from Penn State, but has already hit the political journalism big leagues. He covers finance and politics at The Hill, and runs the site’s Overnight Finance blog. Cirilli frequently appears on major news channels like MSNBC as an expert source. Prior to working at The Hill, Cirilli worked at Politico covering the intersection of politics and finance with a special focus on the Senate Banking Committee. Find him on Twitter at @kevcirilli. 

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5. Joshua Eisner

Age: 23

Job: Lobbyist with Greenlee Partners

Who’s Next Because: Josh signed on as a lobbyist with Greenlee Partners in May 2013 shortly after graduating from Penn State. In so doing, he stepped into one of the state’s most well-recognized and influential lobbying firms, with offices in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Philly. He’s also served as a campaign volunteer for multiple federal, state and local candidates. Eisner is a member of the Board of Directors at Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg.

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6. James Fitzpatrick

Age: 29

Job: Southeastern PA regional manager for U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey

Who’s Next Because: James is a Philadelphia native who’s a key member of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s team, serving as the senator’s spokesman and advocate in the most populous area of the state. Fitzpatrick assisted in leading Toomey’s media strategy for the region in the Senator’s efforts on ensuring the USS Somerset’s commissioning in Philadelphia, federal background check enhancements for firearms, and the blockage of a key Justice Department appointee in the Obama administration. He’s also served as a regional coordinator for the Republican National Committee and as a Field Director in Philly for the McCain-Palin campaign. Find him on Twitter at @jfitzpatrick.

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7. Jon Geeting

Age: 31

Job: Engagement editor, PlanPhilly

Who’s Next Because: Jon is one of a group of elected Democratic committeepeople (AKA Ward Executive Committee) in Philadelphia responsible for selecting ward leaders, and he’s part of a group of younger, elected leaders striving to better represent snake people in city government. But beyond that, Geeting’s the engagement editor at PlanPhilly, a site that covers planning and development, and he writes for Keystone Politics, an online source for liberal news and commentary. At PlanPhilly, Geeting is helping to assemble the site’s special plan to cover the 2015 Philadelphia mayoral race. Find him on Twitter at @jongeeting.

8. Jordan Harris

Age: 30

Job: State representative

Who’s Next Because: Jordan’s a first-term state representative who’s one of the youngest elected politicians in both Philly and Harrisburg. The charismatic leader represents Point Breeze and other parts of South Philly in state government. Prior to becoming an elected official, Jordan was a Philly public school teacher. While there, he started a summer program called “Slam Dunk” that helped more than 600 high school students fulfill enough credits for graduation. He’s also president of the Lincoln Day Education Center, the oldest operating African American day school in the country. But in his Twitter bio, he says he’s “just a guy trying to make momma proud.” Find him on Twitter at @RepHarris.

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9. Obie Kernodle

Age: 36

Job: Deputy campaign manager and political director, Wolf for PA

Who’s Next Because: Obie is a Philadelphia guy who’s close to Governor-elect Tom Wolf. After beginning work with Wolf during the primary, Obie quickly rose to political director. He also worked on a number of other campaigns in the region, including the 2011 Obama campaign, as well as campaigns for Mayor Michael Nutter and D. A. Seth Williams. While Obama was running, Obie served as Southeastern Pennsylvania political director.

10. Karen Langley

Age: 28

Job: Reporter for Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Who’s Next Because: Karen’s one of the top reporters based in Harrisburg, covering the capitol and Pennsylvania politics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She’s active on social media, frequently breaks news in Harrisburg and isn’t afraid to call out lawmakers. Karen was honored this year as one of the top capitol reporters in Pennsylvania by The Washington Post. Find her on Twitter at @karen_langley.

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11. Anthony Pugliese

Age: 28

Job: Lobbyist at Pugliese Associates

Who’s Next Because: For the last two years, Anthony’s worked in Harrisburg at his father’s lobbying firm, Pugliese Associates, one of the state’s larger firms. Prior to that, he served as the director of legislative affairs for the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and also worked under Gov. Tom Corbett for a year as a policy coordinator. (And he’s a West Chester grad.)

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12. Shane Seaver

Age: 29

Job: Deputy chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright

Who’s Next Because: Shane, who hails from Valley Forge, is high up on Cartwright’s staff and managed his campaign when he beat 10-time incumbent Rep. Tim Holden in Schuylkill County. He’s also been a part of multiple campaigns, including several in the Philly area, in addition to serving as the Deputy Campaign Manager for New Jersey’s 4th Legislative District. Seaver is also the New Leaders Council’s National Selections Co-Chair.

 13. Ben Stango

Age: 26

Job: Advocacy Chair of Young Involved Philadelphia

Who’s Next Because: Ben’s major focus with Young Involved Philadelphia is encouraging snake people to do something about the things that are important to them, including getting involved with politics. In addition to advocating for the fastest-growing demographic in Philadelphia (including running a snake person-driven Phone Bank on the eve of the election), Ben serves on a number of advisory boards — including for the Free Library and the Mural Arts program. He’s an alumnus of the Center for Progressive Leadership and is also currently a law student at Penn’s Wharton School. Find him on Twitter at @benstango.

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14. Jon Tew

Age: 30

Job: Legislative director for state Sen. Daylin Leach

Who’s Next Because: John is one of Leach’s top aides, helping the influential progressive senator in drafting and crafting legislation. Oh, and Tew was one of three aides to accompany Leach on a super-badass but kinda controversial trip to Colorado to study the effects of the legalization of marijuana. As Leach’s legislative director, he’s helped Leach in drafting legislation for progressive issues such as women’s issues, gay rights and, of course, legalizing marijuana.

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15. Phillip Trometter

Age: 22

Job: Lobbyist at Penn Strategies

Who’s Next Because: Based in central Pennsylvania, Phil is one of the state’s youngest registered lobbyists and he currently works at Harrisburg’s Penn Strategies, specializing in grassroots campaigns. Prior to joining Penn Strategies just after graduating from Penn State, Trometter also worked with the Commonwealth Foundation, a well-known conservative think-tank based in the capital. In addition, the 22-year-old has a key to his hometown city of Williamsport for community service work he performed in the city and its surrounding areas.

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16. Ben Waxman

Age: 29

Job: Press Secretary, state Sen. Vincent Hughes

Who’s Next Because: Ben’s one of the most tuned-in government employees in Philly, with a finger firmly on the pulse of news and social media. He’s a close aide to Hughes, a Philly Democrat who is also a chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Before that, Ben served as a program and field director for Pennsylvania Voice, a network of about 30 statewide progressive organizations working toward higher voter registration and civic engagement. Find him on Twitter at @bwaxman.

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17. Kellan White

Age: 28

Job: Community engagement and special events coordinator, City Council

Who’s Next Because: Kellan works on community outreach and constituent services in the office of Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. In addition, the Northwest Philly native founded the Pattison Leader Ball, which brought together and celebrated civically engaged snake people from across the city, timed to occur during the same weekend as the PA Society dinner, which brings together the state’s elected officials and power brokers. Kellan’s also the co-director of the Philadelphia chapter the New Leaders Council, a national-political entrepreneurship association. Find him on Twitter at @KellanWhite.

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18. Kevin Zwick

Age: 29

Job: Reporter, CapitolWire

Who’s Next Because: Kevin exhaustively covers Pennsylvania politics, government and election campaigns for CapitolWire, a subscription-only, online news organization that provides some of the most up-to-date, influential news about what’s happening in and around Harrisburg. The Scranton native is also a member of the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association. Find him on Twitter at @kevinjzwick.