The Youngest Person In The Press Room

Mar 11, 2016

There’s a lot that goes on outside the debates that were held in South Florida this week.

In a building, steps away from where the Democratic candidates stood on stage in front of the microphones and cameras at Miami Dade College’s Kendall Campus Wednesday night, is the campus cafeteria. Inside, skinny tables with blue tablecloths are set up in rows.

The Democratic debate press room in the afternoon, before most reporters filed in.
Credit Wilson Sayre / WLRN

This is where the people behind those microphones and cameras write and report their stories. Benjamin Burstein got there around 7 in the morning, long before most reporters who didn’t show up until 5 p.m.

“Before, they were doing the set up for the debates” and not much else, said Burstein, “I'm probably on my fourth or fifth can of Coke.”

Being in this room is not all in a day’s work for Burstein; it’s actually all during a school day. He’s missing Spanish, chemistry and calculus at Miami Beach Senior High School.

You wouldn’t know it by the briefcase he carries or the suit he wears, but he’s 16 and the youngest person in the room by at least a few years.

“It’s just really exciting and a good chance to cover something really exciting and interesting,” says Burstein”

The spin room at the Democratic debate at Miami Dade College Kendall Campus Wednesday.
Credit Wilson Sayre / WLRN

 In between Cokes, he’s working on writing local election guides and an article for his website on where the candidates stand on issues that affect young people, or as Burstein puts it: “all the… stuff [the candidates] probably won't talk about it all.”

His website is called Teens for Teens, which is also the name of the Political Action Committee he founded last year. He filed all the paperwork himself.

He says he’s the youngest director of a PAC in the country—and if he’s not, he’s certainly one of the youngest. (The Federal Elections Commission doesn’t track that kind of thing). But the point of Burstein’s PAC isn’t to collect money for any candidate

“We contribute service hours,” explains Burstein. “So through working with different students we've contributed over 8,000 hours of service to local offices” of area politicians.

To think this is just cute undercuts what Burstein is up to; he’s actually getting things done.

“I was walking through the press pool area and there was Benjamin,” remarked Philip Levine, mayor of Miami Beach. “He fit right in. I had to take a double take because he was one of the press.”

When Mayor Levine was running for reelection, he participated in a debate organized and moderated by Burstein.

“I have a funny feeling that the future debates for the mayor of Miami Beach we’re going to see Benjamin” up on the stage, said Levine.

One of the press rooms at the Republican debates at the University of Miami.
Credit Wilson Sayre / WLRN

  Burstein is also working with the city of Miami Beach to lower the voting age in municipal elections to 16.  And it looks like it actually could happen. He’s got a sponsor and four supporters to get the issue on the November ballot alongside the presidential race.

Burstein’s mom insists the passion for politics doesn’t come from her.

“We don't really talk politics that much at home, to tell you the truth,” says Melisse Burstein.

“His interest, I will tell you, did not come from either my husband, or I. And actually, for his age, I do know Ben's certainly a little bit more conservative than most 16-year-olds, I would say. But, I asked him if there was any particular candidate he was leaning more toward and you know he just says he was interested to hear what they said.”

On Wednesday night, Benjamin Burstein said it was easier to pay attention to the debate in the press room, than at home with his parents.

“I mean it’s definitely a lot more focused here, when you’re in a room with 200 different people that are watching the same debates and writing about them. It’s definitely a little more intense and just a different atmosphere overall,” said Burstein while packing up to go home — at close to 11:30p.m.

Burstein didn’t get credentialed for the Republican debate Thursday night, so he watched from home drinking a couple of Cokes to help keep him awake; he was tired from the night before.

He wished he were back in the press room.

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