Jon Zlotnik’s political aspirations may have taken root in high school, but his first campaign got off the ground in his UMass Lowell dorm room.
Zlotnik, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in history, is running for a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The Central Massachusetts district includes his hometown of Gardner as well as Ashburnham, Winchendon and part of Westminster.
Driven by a desire to promote economic development in an area he says is struggling to rebound from years of disinvestment, Zlotnik decided to run for the seat while he was still a college senior, deferring plans for law school. His suite at Sheehy Hall served as unofficial headquarters for the nascent campaign and his roommates were his first campaign volunteers.
“We had everyone working together on an assembly line in the common rooms at Sheehy, putting together mailings,” he says.
One of his roommates, Brad Heglin, who earned his bachelor’s degree in English in May, is Zlotnik’s campaign manager. The two have known each other since sixth grade and graduated from Gardner High School together.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” says Heglin, who is working on his master’s degree at the Graduate School of Education with a goal of becoming a high school English teacher. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
A Democrat, Zlotnik hopes to win the seat currently held by first-term incumbent Rep. Richard Bastien, a Republican from Gardner. As the sole Democrat in the race, Zlotnik had no primary opponent.
On a typical day, Zlotnik spends a couple of early-morning hours in his campaign office in Gardner and is on the road by 10 a.m., knocking on doors around the district, meeting voters and listening to their concerns.
He is troubled by what he characterizes as a brain drain of young, educated professionals who grew up in the district but don’t return after college for lack of opportunities.
“We are losing a good chunk of this generation, not because it’s a bad place but because there’s no hope of coming back and getting a job,” he says.
A graduate of the University’s Commonwealth Honors Program, Zlotnik says he’d like to replicate the economic development and cultural revitalization that have transformed Lowell.
“Look at what Lowell has done to turn itself around,” he says. “Lowell has set an example of balancing development and preservation.”
Zlotnik, who developed an interest in politics during high school, feels his education at UMass Lowell has prepared him well for the political process.
“Being a history major, you have to form sound arguments based on fact. You have to research and analyze issues. We need more of that in politics,” he says.