David Axelrod came to speak to some college kids.
by Andrew Millman
On Monday April 9th, David Axelrod, a former advisor to Barack Obama, came to Fordham to speak at the invitation of the College Democrats. The event took place at the third-floor auditorium of Keating Hall, because the Campus Activities Board was using the main auditorium for a showing of The Greatest Showman. Excitement for the event was more than organizers expected because the auditorium was filled to capacity and some people who arrived close to the speech’s start time were turned away after the doors were closed.
About a dozen students were already lined up waiting for the doors to open at 7 pm, a full hour before the speech was scheduled to start. By the time the doors were opened, the line of students wrapped around the hallway of the third floor. When Axelrod began his speech, nearly every seat in the auditorium was filled, in addition to students standing the back of the auditorium and on the sides. In addition to the notable speaker, the College Democrats club was also offering a number of free apparel items, including shirts, quarter-zips and wristbands, that additionally contributed to the event’s high turnout. Several students stated that they came early to make sure they got a t-shirt or quarter-zip.
A few moments after the scheduled 8 pm start time, Axelrod entered the auditorium and began his speech. In his opening, the former political consultant said that he was excited to be at Fordham, or as he called it the “maker of presidents,” a reference to the two years that Donald Trump spent at Fordham before transferring the University of Pennsylvania. The expertly-customized troll went over well with the audience, which erupted in laughter, although there was unease among some. This was, after all, an event organized by the Fordham College Democrats. Axelrod is currently a CNN political commentator, but previously he spent forty years in and around politics, which was the primary focus of most of his speech. As he recounted during his speech, he began his career as a journalist in Chicago after graduating from the University of Chicago and covered crime and city hall politics for local newspapers. Axelrod had grown up in New York City, attending Stuyvesant High School, and was involved in local politics from a young age. He told the crowd about witnessing John F. Kennedy deliver a speech and handing out leaflets for Robert F. Kennedy at the Bronx Zoo.
He then recounted his experiences working for various political campaigns, before talking about how he started working for Barack Obama. Axelrod had initially been introduced to Obama in the nineties by a woman who predicted that the former would some day become the first African-American president of the United States. Axelrod joked that he now takes that woman whenever he goes to the track, one of many jokes that went over well with the packed Keating 3rd auditorium. He then told the students about Obama’s unique path to the Oval Office, focusing on his 2004 senate campaign, which was the first campaign in which Axelrod worked for him as an advisor.
Axelrod used the example of the Obama presidency to show the gathered students what politics at its best, in his opinion, was. He specifically cited the Affordable Care Act, the 44th president’s signature accomplishment and a cause close to Axelrod’s heart. As he explained in his speech, Axelrod’s daughter suffers from epilepsy. He spoke eloquently about the experience and how it informed his advocacy for affordable healthcare. Throughout his speech, he reminded students that politics was at its best when it a vehicle for people to “grab the wheel of history and turn it in the right direction.” He expressed optimism for the future, even with Trump as president, because of young people like those assembled to hear him speak. He implored the audience to be hopeful and not to be discouraged by the actions of the Trump administration. After he concluded his speech, Axelrod took questions from the audience during a roughly fifteen-minute Q&A. Notably, when a student asked a question about drug policy, the crowd erupted in laughter and Axelrod poked some fun at the student’s interest in marijuana legalization. The student meekly attempted to claim that it was purely a policy concern.
The speech concluded just after 9 pm and most students had favorable opinions of both Axelrod and his speech leaving the auditorium. The event was a success for the College Democrats, who were able to attract upwards of 250 students to one of their events. The outgoing club president Eleanor Werner took the opportunity to invite the assembled students to the club’s weekly meetings, which take place at 8 pm every Wednesday.