December 06, 2018
When Steve Malagari stepped onto Ursinus’s campus in 2002, he was not involved in politics and was far from focused on running for or holding public office. Sixteen years later, Malagari is the Pennsylvania State Representative-Elect of the 53rd district, representing Franconia, Hatfield, Lansdale, Salford, Souderton and Telford.
A Biology and German double-major at Ursinus, Malagari’s goal was to help others through science, ultimately taking the lessons he learned in molecular genetics and from his study abroad research in Germany to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). After five years, however, Malagari’s life path changed when he began volunteering in local Lansdale politics. Asked to seek Lansdale Borough Council in 2011, Malagari ran a successful campaign and was elected, opening his eyes to public service and future possibility.
As an elected official in his mid-20s, Malagari had a lot to learn about the relationship between local government and the community he had lived in since birth. He quickly solidified his relationship with and his understanding of his community’s needs on a deeper level than ever before. “Working in local government for neighbors and friends opened my eyes to the positive impacts one can have on their community through public service,” expressed Malagari. Having served in his Lansdale Borough Council seat since 2011, he fell in love with serving others and ensuring that his neighbors had what they needed to be comfortable and satisfied with their community. However, when the incumbent State Representative decided to retire after 36 years in his seat, Malagari felt it was time to explore higher office. In the mid-winter of 2017, he announced his candidacy for the PA 53rd State House district. Effective December 1, 2018, Malagari assumed his new seat.
At the college, Malagari took in the full experience, learning how to apply his lessons from the classroom and campus to grow as a human in the universe. The knowledge and life lessons he acquired at Ursinus were found years later to be incredibly applicable and useful on the campaign path. At the end of the day, the connection a candidate makes with voters can completely change the outcome of a race and future of a district. On the campaign trail, a candidate is required to speak to voters through canvassing and phone banking, fundraise, hold meet-and-greets and speaking events, etc. to promote themselves and enforce their platform for their communities. Throughout his most recent campaign, Malagari had to work even harder in a much larger district than he was used to representing to expand constituent knowledge and trust in him. His education played a significant role in the effectiveness of his connectivity to voters. One may think that having a robust knowledge-base in Biology and German would not be as useful as other fields when it comes to politics and government, especially a State Representative’s race, but, on the contrary, it certainly helps. “[Joe Calhoun ’05] and I came across a voter who was also an Ursinus alumnus and Biology major who we connected with immediately… additionally, another neighbor was a native German speaker from Austria, and I was able to break the ice of the conversation by speaking in German to the voter,” explained Malagari. Having a degree in the sciences also helped Malagari understand and explain common voter questions about climate change, fracking, etc.
Malagari also honed high-level life and professional skills through his extracurricular and classroom assignments at Ursinus. Skills like public speaking, communication, critical thinking and adaptation to one’s surroundings grew and turned into effective campaigning and leadership skills. Malagari generally credits these skills to the overall experience he had as a student at Ursinus and the “tremendous influence” being a student at the college had on him. He was able to use his ability to present, communicate and collaborate to convince voters that he was the right person for the job. He was also able to garner trust in voters/constituents by understanding where the constituents were coming from in their personal lives and issues. Other lessons from Ursinus that Malagari applied to his life post-graduation, and particularly on the campaign trail, included being an effective listener, being open to different perspectives, respecting others’ time, going above and beyond for others and always respecting other Ursinus alumni, to name just a few.
Advice from the Experienced
As an elected official for the past seven years, Malagari has gone through a handful of campaigns and has heard and seen much of the feedback others have about running for office. “I have heard countless times, ‘Good for you for entering into politics during THIS time.’ When is there a good time to enter politics? Many individuals who run for office, including myself, will say that they ran for office… because they wanted to make a difference in their community,” explained Malagari. He specified that despite candidates wanting to better their community, direct contact with voters has almost become obsolete, as many voters and candidates become absorbed into phones, social media and e-mails. This ultimately prevents every voice from being heard, and discourages some constituents who have been used to direct voter contact. However, in a grassroots campaign, often does a candidate rely on those door-to-door contacts to ensure that voters know who they are. “I have heard from countless volunteers and from people I spoke with [at their door], ‘Thank you for doing this, for knocking on my door and talking to me,’” explained Malagari. As Malagari can attest, door-to-door contact is the most effective way of pursuing voters and getting to know and understand what constituents of the town or district are worried about or want out of their representation. “You come across all types of people in all stages of life, and being able to influence that person for a few moments and maybe earn their trust or vote is humbling,” said Malagari.
Despite Malagari’s successes, running a campaign efficiently is no small feat and takes a lot of work, especially from a team. Malagari hopes that other Ursinus alumni, especially younger alumni, truly consider running for office in the future. Here is some of the advice he has provided:
- Get involved. Your community, state and country need you.
- Stay positive throughout the whole process.
- Be engaged with your community and take the time to learn about it in depth.
- Knock on doors with someone (like a fellow Ursinus alum!)
- Start SMALL; don’t expect you will win your first race. However, as long as you truly put the work in, your results will be favorable, regardless of a win.
- Have fun engaging with your neighbors and friends.
- BE YOURSELF! Just because you are running for public office, does not mean you need to abandon who you are. It’s authenticity in an individual that people want.
- Get used to calling everyone you know for donations of time, money and talent, and be humble and thankful for everything you may receive.
By: Emily Cooper ’16