top of page

A Conversation on Leadership

What qualities make someone a good leader, specifically in the political context? What qualities are you looking for in the individual elected to be President in 2020? As more and more candidates jump into the race, these questions have been on my mind. I personally have been a frequent critic of our current president, but pinpointing exactly what I want to see in the next is difficult. And so, I have set out on a project to gather myriad voices to help define what leadership qualities are important in life, particularly for those who are attempting to steer this great ship we call the United States of America.

Graciously, several thoughtful and diverse people responded with their opinions to my questioning and have agreed to engage in a virtual “conversation” on the topic. Everyone responded in their own preferred manner. I am posting their initial responses below as well as a short introduction to who they are. I will also offering the chance for each of them to respond to each other in at least one more round. Moreover, I will have a comment section, so feel free to add your own opinion!

I am sure a spirited discussion will ensue and perhaps we can all start to think more heavily about this important question! Certainly, it should be one on our minds as we begin to favor candidates and eventually head to the voting booth.

The two questions posed, as aforementioned were:

  1. What qualities make someone a good leader, specifically in the political context?

  2. What qualities are you looking for in the individual elected to be President in 2020?

Without further ado, here are the responses:


This individual chose to remain anonymous, but is a a high school student who wanted to offer his perspective on these questions.

1.)I believe a good leader is someone who can unite the country more often than they divide it. I believe a good leader should be prepared to defend the country if the worst case scenario happens. A good leader shouldn’t have to hide much from the people (like tax returns). I believe a good leader should not have any personal business assets, as they have a country to look after which is far more important than anyone’s business. I believe a good leader should take advice from their advisors, but also know how to think for themselves. Lastly, I believe a good leader should treat climate change like a global emergency, because that’s what it is.

2) The 2020 presidential election will be the first election I will get to vote in. As a new, young voter, I will be looking for someone who doesn’t raise as much controversy as either of the 2016 candidates (HC and DT). Frankly, I didn’t think either was the right fit for the job. A major issue that my vote will be based on is climate change, and the candidates attitude towards that. I need to live on Earth for the rest of my life, and my children and grandchildren probably will need to as well. I would like to not hear about a “storm of the century” every year for the rest of my life. Another main quality I will look for in a leader is their attitude towards other countries and world peace. The USA needs to stay out of conflict, because although they would surely win whatever war they might get into in the future, there are so many alliances and weapons are so advanced that the fatality count would be depressingly high. The next major or “world war” could be the last one, and might lead to the end of the world. The thought of that is extremely frightening. One more issue I will be basing my vote off of is immigration, because it is one of the most important topics in American politics right now. I believe the people at the border should come in legally but there’s not much the government can do to make that happen. I don’t think a wall will do much, because I’ve been told the majority of immigrants get here on planes legally, and then just over-stay. Planes fly over walls. Therefore the wall might not be useless, but it certainly would be a massive waste of money. This money could go towards social programs instead, or research in the medical field. All in all, I would like a President that I can think of and be proud to be American.

David Buchwald:

David Buchwald is a Democratic New York State Assemblyman. Before entering the Assembly, he served as Chairman of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council, an advisory body charged with improving the railroad’s services and responsiveness to the needs of riders. He is also the former Chairman of the White Plains Transportation Commission. In the Assembly, he continues to work for funding for transportation improvements such as the Lower Hudson Transit Link, state road upgrades and commuter rail crossing safety. He previously served on the White Plains Common Council. In that role, he was an advocate for the environment, senior citizens, enhanced budget scrutiny and legislation strengthening the City’s Code of Ethics.

1.) I’d like to think that a good leader both should have a sense of where he or she wants to lead the public and is more than open to hearing from other people and incorporating their views and information to improve the world around them. A good leader is both a good listener and a good motivator. They value expertise and partnerships and are focused on real accomplishments, not just what looks good in the moment or produces a newspaper headline.


  • An ability to bring our country together to promote the common good and uphold our country’s highest ideals

  • Competence in government

  • A plan to truly improve the lives of hard-working Americans

Kenny Burr:

Kenny Burr graduated with a degree in political science from Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio in 2014. He enjoys talking politics, and making sure that people with disabilities have a voice in the political process.He is a member of Westchester Young Democrats, and currently lives in Westchester County, New York.

1.) A good leader is someone who:

  • can be forward thinking

  • can put themselves in another person's shoes to understand what it's like in their life.

  • should be able to comprehend the vast amount of information that is required in today's information environment.

  • will listen first, instead of talking and trying to really understand another’s perspective and experience

  • is someone who leads by consensus rather than unilaterally.

  • and is someone who understands foreign policy and economics and can sustain and support a leadership role on a global level.


  • My personal perspective includes a person who understands, and values individuals with disabilities and their thoughts and ideas.

  • I think that all the candidates in the 2020 field should follow Hillary Clinton’s example and focus on policy proposals for the disability community.

  • The disability proposals should include programs that support independence, employment, training, education, and access to technology.

  • For people with disabilities, as well as, the general public I will evaluate a candidate’s ability to unite rather than divide people.

  • In general, I admit that a candidate will need to be willing to confront the Trump disaster and repair the damage that has been done to our democracy in the U.S and worldwide.

  • I also will want to support a candidate with an economic vision that will provide opportunities to lessen the gap between the ultra-rich, the poor, and restore a thriving middle class.

Justin Brasch:

Justin Brasch a Council Member in the City of White Plains. Before that he served on the Planning Board of the City of White Plains and as a Member of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee for Westchester County. Before moving to White Plains, he served as the Democratic State Committeeman for the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He is a Landlord-Tenant and Leasing lawyer.

1.) The most important quality in political leadership or in anything is sincerity. When people sincerely mean what they say and are neither acting nor deceiving, they have the capacity to lead. Because they are sincere, they can command the respect needed to lead. When one is sincere and respected, people will follow leadership. A simple example on the local level is our County Executive, George Latimer. He is always sincere and straightforward. Whether someone agrees or disagrees with him, they need to respect his positions and leadership. 2.) I am looking for a sincere Presidential candidate in 2020. Someone who can honestly lead in manner that will help hard working Americans like us. I want someone to initially address issues that are solvable like reducing interest rates on student loans, raising the National Minimum Wage and returning to an era where we work closely with our allies abroad.

James Chillemi:

James Chillemi has a BA from Ave Maria University in Politics and History and a JD from Ave Maria School of Law. He is also a Fellow at the Stonegait Instititue. He is the former co-founder of, and has been featured on several websites and podcasts, including,, the Logical Anarchy, the Conscious Resistance, and Peace Propoganda Podcast. Additionally, his impressive resume includes being the author of “Leaving the Cave, An Amiable Introduction to Anarchy: A Free Market Manifesto".

1.) It is, quite literally, impossible to answer this question through my view of political economy, human interaction, human nature, etc. It is my fervent belief through my study of political theory, political philosophy, and the historical political climate the last, say, 4 centuries, that centralization of power is a recipe for total and absolute corruption. Whether it be Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, Mao, Tony Blair, etc. the office of capo di tutti capi has an innate ability to sow evil and inconsistency of values into the fiber of its existence (See Also: Thomas Jefferson). To answer the question as succinctly as possible, the qualities of a good political leader is someone who recognizes there shouldn’t be political leaders.

2.) The Presidential election of 2020 is shaping up to be the greatest reality show moment of my lifetime, second only, perhaps, to Jersey Shore Season 1. With socialist popstar Bernie Sanders, Kamala “You Don’t Know Me” Harris, Corey “I once knew a drug dealer” Booker, and former VP Joe Biden (who finished almost last in his law school class), this promises to be a gang of misfits who love reading their own press clippings. If it wasn’t good enough on the Democratic side, Incumbent President Donald J. Drumpf will assuredly repeat the words “good”, “fantastic”, “the blacks”, and “China” enough to make everyone on his side of the aisle squirm. Proof that power courts sociopaths will be even more transparent in 2020 than it was in 2016, if that’s possible. So again, to answer the question in an abrupt manner, the qualities I am looking for in an individual running for President are: 1. Quick wit; 2. Hilarious mannerisms; 3. Shame; and 4: A conscious understanding that all power should be divested back to the states or the people, respectively.

Julie Faller:

Julie Faller graduated from College of the Holy Cross with a B.A. in Psychology in May of 1991 and graduated from Pace Law School with a JD in Law in May of 1997. She is currently admitted to practice law in the State of New York and is the Senior Vice President and Senior Underwriter at The Great American Title Agency in White Plains, NY.

1.) A good leader:

a. establishes realistic goals and provides the means for his for her followers to achieve these goals.

b. honesty as a leader must have credibility with those he or she is leading

c. the ability to delegate as a leader can accomplish more if tasks are delegated to those with experience in other areas or just for efficiency

d. good communication skills as a leader must be able to express their goals and how they can be achieved in a clear and succinct fashion

e. a good sense of humor. Although not obvious a good sense of humor in being able to poke fun of one's own flaws can earn the respect of peers and also establish a better relationship with those he or she is leading

f. Confidence: a good leader needs to have confidence in his or her abilities otherwise others will not believe in the causes that the leader is trying to strive to accomplish..

g. Commitment: a good leader must have strong faith in the goals he or she is trying to achieve and be willing to devote time to these causes

h. Positive Attitude: a good leader needs to exude positive energy toward any project. Negativity will just make a project take longer or perhaps never be accomplished

i. Creativity: a good leader must develop innovative ways to accomplish goals. Creativity instills interest and excitement in achieving goals.

2) The qualities I am looking for include:



Ability To Delegate

Ability To Communicate

Sense Of Humor



Positive Attitude


Daniel Mollenkamp:

Daniel Mollenkamp am an independent journalist who has filed reports from three continents. He has focused on East Africa and North American markets, in particular, and has worked in a variety of newsroom and online settings. He is on the board of Abukloi, a secondary school in South Sudan. He holds a BA in government from the College of William and Mary.

1.) Without thinking too much about it, I think that leaders need to understand incentive structures more than anything else. Leaders, and in particular legislators, cannot be expected to have knowledge on the vast area they must make decisions on. Accordingly, they are not experts so much as decision makers. In a world where everything is so institutionalized, so bureaucratized, and so formalistic, and I'm speaking strictly of the so-called "first" or "developed" world here, the tendencies of people are impacted, in a big-picture sense, at the institutional level. For that reason, an understanding of how people are moved to act (or are kept from acting) is crucial. This is doubly important if we are trying to build a better and more sustainable future. This answer isn't sexy, I know. The lesson of the last century was that evil, as well as heroism, are often banal. Basically, politicians and executives would do good to get an intuitive understanding of things like game theory.

2.) What am I looking for in a president? Of course, those above considerations apply somewhat. This is slightly different, though. The presidency is a part decorative and part functional position. I'm not looking for a moral person, necessarily. The character of anyone running for office is usually suspect. I'm not looking for someone to believe in either. Honesty is important. There's more room for negotiation than people tend to think. You don't have to line up 100% with my worldview, but if I feel like there's some intelligence and some scruples, that's a good start. A single scrupled president won't fix the system, of course. The issues are bigger and more institutional than that. But it is really institutional corruption that we're fighting now. It's the sea of monied, shady interests that washes over the system, the entrenched duopoly, and the inept, stupidity of most politicians, who are of course voted in by uninformed voters. It's also the lazy stereotyping and thoughtlessness that most of our politics is based upon.

That said, there are interesting candidates out there who are worth looking at for 2020 if that's your primary concern.

Shannon Powell:

Shannon Powell is the co-founder of Indivisible Westchester.

1.) A good political leader is someone who can inspire others, has a vision and is able to communicate that vision in a simple yet concise way. A good political leader understands it's not about them but about the bigger cause and acts accordingly with integrity. Successful leaders are also able to navigate the politics of effecting change.

2.) Electability. Charisma. Character. Integrity. Judgement. Courage. Vision. Political Prowess. Not Trump!

Jenn Puja:

Jenn Puja is currently running for a seat on the White Plains Common Council. Her undergraduate (Bachelors Degree) is in Humanistic Speech Communication with a concentration in psychology. Her graduate work (Dual Masters) is in childhood education and literacy.

  1. Leadership in my opinion is not a title, it’s what you do. A leader in any context inspires and lift others. They are skilled at communication and know the value of listening, not just speaking. They are honest and transparent. Leaders include others and appreciate honest dialogue, feedback and constructive critique. Most importantly, leaders have passion and it resonates. Their willingness to dedicate to a common cause and welcome others to do so it paramount.

  2. A person who embraces diversity, welcomes inclusion, promotes positivity, denounces hatred, encourages kindness and compassion, a team player who can effectively communicate with BOTH sides of the aisle for the benefit of the United States of America.

bottom of page