He claims that he is “not involved in politics,” but Costa Michailidis has always been a public servant. He graduated from Baruch College in 2009 with a degree in economics from the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences.
Now Michailidis is pursuing a seat as an independent candidate in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Upon graduating from the Bronx High School of Science and receiving acceptances to both the Macaulay Honors College program and the University of California, Santa Barbara, Michailidis faced a critical decision. Though California’s beaches and weather enticed him, he chose Macaulay for the full-tuition scholarship.
When he graduated from Baruch, the country had just gone through the 2008 financial crisis. In his senior year, Michailidis took an economics class with a professor who incorporated daily newspapers into the curriculum. The professor assigned students to analyze articles about the economic recession from major newspapers.
Michailidis said his academic experience became an “economics lab” and “there was a tremendous amount of learning that happened in that last year at Baruch just in economics — not just for me, but for economists who were going through this and not understanding why this was happening and which factors were at play and why they couldn’t predict this.”
During his time at Baruch, Michailidis traveled abroad to Brazil and Turkey with AIESEC to attend international conferences. He grew up in Queens — what he called the “global village” — and was constantly surrounded by people of different backgrounds. Both his local and global experiences, he said, added to his understanding of different cultures.
At the startup company Knowinnovation, he works as a consultant with scientists, helping them solve problems creatively. In five-day workshops, a group of scientists come up with project and research ideas to solve specific problems. The group worked with NASA to rethink how to use biosignatures in the search for life beyond Earth, for example. His team worked on social equities, engineering sciences, airport security and nuclear nonproliferation.
Now as he campaigns for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, he hopes to transfer what he does at work to his political candidacy.
“It has to be their issues. It can’t be my issues. It has to be issues they care about. So instead of going out with talking points, we have to go out with listening points. We listen to people, we ask them what issues are important to them,” Michailidis said.
He got into politics by chance, however. In the middle of the 2016 presidential election, his friend found there was a lot of corruption in the way money influences politics, which he wanted to fix. His friend knew Michailidis cared about the issue as well, so he nominated him into Brand New Congress, a committee for political actions formed by committee members who worked for Bernie Sanders.
He met with a staff member at another political action committee, who expressed interest in helping Michailidis set up a campaign of his own because he never considered a career in politics before. The staff member indicated that they thought career politicians were problematic and congress would function better if there were working people who served for a short term and then left.
Michailidis agreed with this mission. In an interview with The Ticker, he said that to create long-lasting jobs, the government must engage in science and entrepreneurship.
“Those lessons are from Baruch — from economics classes, from professors who knew what they were talking about, from AIESEC,” he said. “When AIESEC put together an event and no one showed up, you have to ask if people find what you’re doing valuable.”
“I feel responsible. I feel like someone has to do something about it in whatever small way we can,” he said.
“Even with the campaign, if we don’t win, if we do the kinds of things that unite people and demonstrate what it’s like to listen to people, if we engage issues and actually do something about them during the campaign, I think that’s significant. It doesn’t have to be all about winning.”
New York state elects 27 congressmen and women to the U.S. House of Representatives. Each district that votes holds about 710,000 people, according to GovTrack.us, a website created by a political activist for open government. Each representative serves a two-year term, introducing bills and serving on committees.
Though he is excited to embark on the campaign and hear different voices, Michailidis said that he misses the time “when politics was boring because it meant nothing was going wrong.”
The next course of action is to attract voices and attention.
“I would love to see boring public service — people getting the job done. But I don’t know how to get people excited about that,” Michailidis said.
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