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  • Zoe Becker

Electing to Go the Extra Mile: Gabri Kurtzer-Ellenbogen Stands Out Among Young Political Organizers

Kurtzer-Ellgenbogen holds a sign up for Joe Vogel / Credits: Gabri Kurtzer-Ellenbogen

Gabri Kurtzer-Ellenbogen (‘24) lives a double life. The Walls senior, a self-described “shy introvert” around those who know her best, spends nearly forty hours per week on what she refers to as her “campaign alter ego.” This more outgoing, talkative version of herself is the deputy field director for Maryland state delegate Joe Vogel’s bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Kurtzer-Ellenbogen’s path to a full-time job with the Vogel campaign was a nontraditional one. In the summer of 2020, stuck at home with her usual summer camp plans having been canceled due to Covid, a family friend referred Kurtzer-Ellenbogen to a program called Teens for Biden.

In the months leading up to the 2020 election, program participants spent three hours a week together on Zoom; one hour of training to make campaign-related calls and another two hours phone banking - calling voters in Pennsylvania to support the Biden campaign..

When she started, Kurtzer-Ellenbogen knew little about policy or campaigning. “I remember being really nervous ahead of making calls,” she said. Still, over the course of several weeks, Kurtzer-Ellenbogen overcame her nerves and came to love campaign fieldwork. “I felt like I was making a difference,” she said.

During the program, Kurtzer-Ellenbogen connected with her now mentor and Democratic organizer, Eva Wyner, who was then working in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Wyner, who now serves as the Deputy Director of Jewish Affairs for New York Governor Kathy Hochul, encouraged Kurtzer-Ellenbogen to continue campaign work and referred her to others who could help her do more organizing. “I credit her with getting me to stay involved,” Kurtzer-Ellenbogen said.

And stay involved she did. Within a few months, Kurtzer-Ellenbogen wasn’t just participating in phone banks, but regularly at- tending and occasionally running them as she felt a growing connection to the campaign.

Immediately after the 2020 presidential campaign, Kurtzer-Ellenbogen shifted her focus from Pennsylvania to the Georgia Senate runoff race, working significantly on phone banking for then-candidate Jon Ossoff. By then, Kurtzer-Ellenbogen was part of the campaign world to stay. She described feeling a “campaign high” at the end of elections.

After the Ossoff race, she returned her attention to Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Bucks County has been at the center of national controversies surrounding school boards and book banning.

“With each new campaign,” she said, “I was earning more responsibility and learning more about the voter file system.” She was an invested part of field teams in Bucks County, regularly making the three-hour trip to Pennsylvania from DC to knock on voters’ doors.

Last fall, she worked on local school board elections in Bucks County, helping to win five seats and successfully flip the board.

While in the Bucks County Democratic office this summer, she received shocking news. Joe Vogel, who she described as a celebrity in the young Jewish Democratic world, had followed her on Twitter.

As she would later find out, her mentor Wyner was friends with Vogel and had referred Kurtzer-Ellenbogen to him as a way of supporting his efforts to build up field initiatives in his congressional campaign.

In January, Kurtzer-Ellenbogen officially signed on as the Deputy Field Director for the Vogel campaign, a full-time position which entails connecting volunteers with appropriate fieldwork, managing other field organizers and fellows, and of course, volunteering. “We’re a small team, I need to be doing that as well,” she said.

Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, too, continually works on updating the Vogel campaign’s field plan for how to best reach voters, and which voters to reach, via text, call, and door knocking.

A full time job while a full time student, in the GW Early College Program no less, is not without its challenges. “It’s not good for my grades,” Kurtzer-Ellenbogen joked. Add senioritis on top of that, “somehow the hours will go by and by the end of the day I’ve done nothing,” she said.

Despite the challenges, Kurtzer-Ellenbogen keeps coming back to campaign work. “It’s exhilarating,” she said, “I love the energy and I’m working for a candidate I believe in so it’s fulfilling.”

Looking forward, Kurtzer-Ellenbogen plans on taking a gap year to work more on the Vogel campaign as well as Joe Biden’s 2024 election campaign before attending the University of Pennsylvania (conveniently located near both Bucks and Delaware County).

Campaign work, though, is exhausting, and Kurtzer-Ellenbogen doesn’t see herself doing it forever. Following college and a few more years campaigning, “I’d love to be a high school civics teacher,” she said, adding that “I’m also really interested in field organizing outside of the campaign world, maybe in the non-profit sector.”

Regardless of which path she follows, options abound for Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, so clearly her campaign alter ego is doing something right.

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