It’s been a grueling race for the six candidates vying to replace Andrew Cohen in a March 23 city council special election.
In recent months, the candidates faced tough questions from journalists and community groups alike at several debates and forums. But perhaps the hardest-hitting questions have come from the least expected source: Benny Goldstein.
And did we mention he’s 8?
Like Edward R. Murrow before him, Benny sits down and interviews candidates face-to-face. Well, computer screen-to-computer screen. He delivers questions like: “What will be your No. 1 priority if you get elected?” And, “If you could go back in time to visit your younger self, what would you tell them?”
So far, Benny has put four of the six candidates — former teacher Eric Dinowitz, environmentalist Jessica Haller, arts non-profit executive Mino Lora, and real estate attorney Dan Padernacht — in the hot seat for his “PolitiChat” web series. He’s still working on booking retired police detective Carlton Berkley as well. But as many journalists know, some interviews are just hard to get.
As a young political aficionado, Benny started his web series for a simple reason: “I just wanted to get to know more people.”
“PolitiChat” is Benny’s brainchild. He came up with the name and writes most of the interview questions himself, mother Susannah Goldstein said. But that doesn’t mean his parents don’t still supervise the process.
“I try to make sure that everything is copied through me because I’m very nervous about an 8-year-old just experiencing the internet alone,” Susannah said. “We’re just there to make sure it’s safe and that he represents what he wants to do and his vision. But it’s really all Benny.”
His home studio setup inside his parents’ bedroom has the makings of a professional reporter’s. Sitting in the interviewer’s chair with his headset on, Benny starts his interviews by greeting and introducing his guests. Then he jumps right into his opening question, usually asking what inspired them to run for office.
Near the middle of the interview, Benny asks one of his toughest questions: “What has been the most memorable moment of your campaign so far?” This question actually threw Padernacht off balance.
“That’s a tough one, the most memorable moment,” Padernacht said. “Let’s see. I’m stumped a little bit there.”
Padernacht did eventually answer, it was the late January debate hosted by BronxNet and The Riverdale Press.
Perhaps the most revealing moment of Benny’s interviews — and his personal favorite — is when he asks candidates their favorite food inside the district. That’s a question that has resulted in a variety of answers.
“There was one (candidate) who said the savory scones at Moss Café,” Benny said. “One said the Mexican restaurant on Johnson (Avenue). Oh, yeah, and pizza. The rest said pizza.”
Benny found that first spark in politics last summer, Susannah said, during one of their walks around the neighborhood. Benny asked about the campaign signs stuck in many people’s yards featuring names like Jamaal Bowman and Eliot Engel.
“He asked questions about all of the candidates, and he asked me what issues I was interested in,” she said. “He’s always been a really curious kid about everything.”
Benny became fascinated by the 2020 election, and started reading about it in publications like Time for Kids. Susannah also reads books about politics to her son, and lets him watch “very filtered news.”
Benny is a big fan of MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki — a data reporter who became internet famous for analyzing 2020 election results on a big digital board. “Because it combines all of (Benny’s) interests, like maps and smartboards,” Susannah said.
Benny is much more interested in how government functions than political drama and candidate personalities, Susannah said. He’s really fascinated with learning how structures and processes like the Electoral College and impeachment work.
When it comes to political issues, Benny said he’s most interested in climate change, something he found other kids around his age also are concerned about when he interviewed them for a “PolitiChat” video.
While Benny is enjoying making “PolitiChat,” his future aspirations are not to become a journalist.
“That’s more for my, let’s call it a kid career,” he said.
Instead, Benny wants to grow up to be a government teacher.
For now, however, Benny works on more interviews, with his sights on state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz.
It’s been really important for Benny to discover his passion for politics, Susannah said, especially during this time of the coronavirus pandemic and remote learning.
“I think in 2021, it’s so hard for so many kids to do things that give them pleasure,” she said. “And so it’s nice that he’s found something this year that’s exciting for him.”