Eva Carafa, Adjunct Professor
Onondaga Community College (Syracuse, New York)
I first met Eva Carafa in 2014, while working as a Field Organizer for the New York State Democratic Committee in Syracuse, NY. She is a former Assistant District Attorney of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. Though we were coworkers, I enjoyed talking to Eva about my “law school dreams”. I admired how honest she was about practicing law, politics, and being a parent.
This interview was conducted to find out more about what drew Eva to the campaign life and to explore her experiences.
Q. So tell me a little about yourself:
I grew up in a working class town in New Jersey. (You can listen to any Bruce Springsteen song to learn more about what it was like.) My parents were immigrants from post WW2 Europe: my mother from Germany and my father from the Soviet Union. I couldn’t wait to get out of my hometown, and college was my ticket out. When the time came, I got as far away as I could without having to fly. I ultimately attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
When I was about to graduate the economy was in a deep economic recession, and jobs were scarce, so I decided to go to law school. I graduated from Rutgers School of Law three years later. After law school, I joined the Kings County District Attorneys Office in Brooklyn, NY, and realized my lifelong dream of moving to NYC.
Q. Do you think civic engagement is important? Why or why not?
I have always believed strongly in civic engagement. My parents took me with them to vote every Election Day and told me it was my solemn obligation as a citizen to vote. They were news junkies, and I grew up thinking that was normal. As a young child in the 1960s, I was keenly aware of the turmoil of the era. I believed, always, that it was my duty as an American to make this country even better than it already was (which was pretty darn great).
Q. Do you think it is important for more women to become involved in politics/advocacy? Why or why not?
Again, growing up in the era I did, I strongly felt that it was absolutely crucial that women should become involved in politics. At that time, it was more about proving ourselves capable to govern. As far as advocacy goes, I grew up believing that all Americans were obligated to participate, to make our country better. The idealism of American values was far stronger then than it is now.
Q. How did you get into politics?
Politics wasn’t really my thing until after I had kids. I was very knowledgeable, and I always voted, but the nitty gritty of politics never really appealed to me. I was much more motivated by the idea of making the world a better place, and at the time, making communities safer was important. The crime rate was much higher and getting worse every year, and the news was constantly reporting about the daily slaughter of innocent people. If I were in college in 2001, I probably would have been drawn to the fight against terror. But then, it was crime.
After my kids were born, I became much more conscious of politics as a practical matter of allocating instead of lofty goals. For example, I thought much more about school funding than I once might have thought about desegregation. And I really began to worry about the kind of world my kids would inherit (I still do). I also became much more frustrated with the lack of participation in politics, by which I mean the fact that voter turnout is so low. I have never missed a vote since I became eligible to vote. When my daughter was in the ICU after being born with pneumonia, I waited in line to vote for Bill Clinton over Bob Dole. It really kills me to know how many people, especially young voters, skip voting.
Q. Could you give a brief summary of your journey?
I first got involved in the Maffei campaign in 2012, as a volunteer. As you know, he won in 2008, when President Obama was elected. And then, in 2010, liberals were all apparently taking a nap and Democrats lost control of Congress. Here in CNY, we elected Ann Marie Beurkle. I still remember getting the newspaper from my doorstep, reading that Maffei lost, and sitting on my stairs, stunned at the result.
Of course, that was a depressing time. The economy was still shaky, and POTUS could no longer get anything passed. And Beurkle was just an embarrassment as far as I was concerned. When 2012 rolled around, I volunteered, both to role-model for my kids, aged 16 and 12, and to get rid of that Tea Party horror show, at least in my neck of the woods. I am convinced that the Tea Party is mainly a reaction to the first black POTUS, and it offends me deeply.
When 2014 rolled around, Chris Alexander, the newly appointed Field Director, called me very early on, in March, to begin the process of recruiting volunteers. I didn’t have a job at the time, so I convinced him to hire me as a Field Organizer (FO). I really wanted to understand and combat voter apathy, and thought I could make a difference.
Q. Could you describe your campaign experience?
Frankly, I found the whole process distressing. The low pay was ridiculous, given how much money is thrown around in any given election cycle. The hours demanded of us were illegal. And this is the Democratic Party, allegedly the champion of the working class! The stink of that hypocrisy was appalling.
Worse still, the voting public lacked anything but the most superficial information about the candidates and the issues. The things they cared about – like where the candidate lived – were so silly compared to the issues this country is facing. And the notion that Representatives had to be reelected every two years – so that fully half of their time was spent just trying to keep their job-struck me as incredibly wasteful.
My favorite thing about the experience was truly getting to work with people like you and Chris and all the other FOs. It really gave me hope for the future to meet such amazing young people who are so committed to making the country better.
Q. Why did you get involved with Dan Maffei’s Campaign?
Getting involved with the Maffei campaign as opposed to other campaigns was really all about practicalities. I liked the candidate, and this is where I live. In 2012, it was a microcosm of the whole country-the Tea Party vs. President Obama. In 2014, it was about proving that liberals could be counted on to vote come Election Day. On that score, sadly, I was sorely mistaken.
Q. What challenges did you experience on the campaign?
The biggest challenge was the time commitment and it speaks to a bigger issue: how are you going to involve more women, more less advantaged people, when the commitment is so ludicrous? It’s just like expecting all students to work unpaid internships. Sure, they are getting a great experience and the internship could open doors, but how are you going to do that if you aren’t financially advantaged? You can’t. And how can you work 14 hours a day or more if you have a family or any other responsibilities? You can’t. So it’s just another example of a system that limits participation. And, let’s face it, that’s how most people get jobs on a Member’s staff – by working on the campaign.
Q. Is there any one thing you wish you knew before you dedicated your time and effort to this work?
I wish I knew the answer to how to motivate people to vote in non-presidential elections. Still do. I’m becoming convinced it involves magic.
Q. What do you hope to do in the future?
Start a business. I’m really very disenchanted with the political world.
Q. Is there anything that you think is missing from politics that in a perfect world, you think should be present?
There are so many things missing from politics. I’m really discouraged about the state of our democracy. Low-information voters call the shots, it seems, and no one wants to make the effort to become better informed.