Boy Meets Congress

Ben Savage, who rose to fame as the teenage lead in the ‘90s sitcom ‘Boy Meets World,’ has a new audience: voters

Ben Savage rose to fame playing an adolescent boy on the journey to adulthood as the main character in the ABC sitcom “Boy Meets World,” a 1990s staple. 

Now, the former child star is hoping to win over a new, grown-up audience — the voters of California’s 30th Congressional District. 

“I was always involved with projects that intended to do some good and intended to bring people together and intended to encourage a positive message,” Savage, 42, said of his acting days in a recent interview with Jewish Insider. “It’d be great to see some of that in Washington, D.C.”

The West Hollywood resident is facing long odds in the crowded race to replace Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who was first elected to Congress in 2000 and is running for California’s open Senate seat in 2024. He faces West Hollywood Mayor Sepi Shyne, Los Angeles Unified School District school board member Nick Melvoin, former Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, state Assemblymember Laura Friedman and several others. 

It’s Savage’s second run for office, after he earned 7% of the vote in a bid for West Hollywood City Council last year. “What I took away from that experience is how much I enjoyed connecting with the community,” said Savage. The 30th District stretches from West Hollywood to Pasadena.

Savage is pitching a well-worn message to voters: Elect him to bring a new, positive voice to an institution mired in gridlock and full of stale solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. 

“There’s so much division coming out of D.C., and there’s a negativity that I think is turning people off from the political process,” he explained. “I’d like to see younger people involved. I want to see newer voices involved. And I want to see people that are there to actually get things done and fix things.” 

His biggest focus is “medical innovation,” and working to develop cures for major diseases. “I think we have a culture in the country which is about providing Band-Aids and temporary solutions and temporary fixes to a lot of diseases and ailments that are affecting American families,” said Savage, who lost his father and grandfather to cancer. “I think that we’re the most advanced industrial nation in the history of the world, that we should be actually solving diseases.” 

For voters in the district, the concerns are more local: “It’s homelessness. It’s healthcare. It’s lack of affordable housing,” said Savage.

Born in Chicago, Savage and his family moved to California’s San Fernando Valley when he was young. His first Hollywood acting role came at age 7 — his older brother, Fred, had by then already been booking gigs for a few years — and Savage touts his nearly lifelong membership in the SAG-AFTRA union as a mark of his liberal bona fides. 

“I grew up working union jobs since I was 7 years old, and it was instilled in us very, very early on that you’re providing for others and you’re helping others,” he said of his union membership. “Every time you work, you’re allowing and creating jobs for a couple hundred people.” Savage is otherwise not making his acting career a major talking point on his campaign, although he pointed out that his team recently purchased the domain name BoyMeetsCongress.com, which redirects to his official campaign site. 

Growing up in the 1980s, not yet too far removed from the tumult and promise of the 1960s, Savage said his family “revered” the Kennedy political dynasty and “spoke very passionately about John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.”

“Like many Jewish households, I grew up in a very passionate household, [where] politics were discussed regularly,” he recalled. “The importance of standing up for your country, for your community, of getting involved and helping the less fortunate, of staying active — that was kind of instilled in us from a young age, combined with a sense of the blessings and how lucky we all were to be living in this country.”

Savage’s grandmother was born in Eastern Europe, and half of her siblings stayed behind after she immigrated to the United States. Those who stayed did not survive the Holocaust. He grew up knowing her story, but she rarely spoke about it. (Savage’s sister, a teacher at the Brentwood School, recently staged a play about the Holocaust at the private secondary school.)

“In the Jewish culture, it’s all about celebrating life and being excited about things that are happening now and being passionate and, you know, L’chaim,” he said. Savage became a bar mitzvah at the Stephen S. Wise Temple, a Reform congregation in Bel Air. In 2020, he played the Jewish love interest in “Love, Lights, Hanukkah,” one of the few Hanukkah movies produced by the Hallmark Channel.

Fighting antisemitism is front and center in Savage’s campaign. “There needs to be a much bigger conversation about antisemitism in this country, and the way we deal with it,” said Savage.

“I’ve seen popular national figures make disparaging antisemitic remarks and make insulting remarks and then pass it off as, they were only kidding. ‘It was a joke, or ‘Lighten up,’” he said. “Little by little those jokes add up, and then it becomes acceptable, and then it becomes OK. And then there’s not a big deal when there’s a shooting on Pico Robertson and a transient says that he was motivated because he’d read online that Jewish people are all greedy.”

He said that combating antisemitism takes “awareness” and “encouraging more civility, and increasing stronger anti-hate legislation. But obviously that comes up against the free speech debate,” Savage noted, suggesting that legislation to fight antisemitism might infringe on people’s free-speech rights. “I know that that’s a constant debate.”

Savage has not traveled to Israel but hopes to do so soon. “Everyone I know that visits there just talks about how it’s such an inspiring place to be and how it reinvigorates their love of Israel and also being Jewish, which is really special,” said Savage. “It’s the only Jewish state in the world, so I think we should be doing all we can to make sure that Israel is safe and protected.”

He said the U.S. has a role in bringing peace to the region but stopped short of saying how he would hope to do that. “I’m in favor of anything that can be done to achieve peace in the region and ensure a long-lasting peace,” Savage said, calling a two-state solution “obviously the ideal goal.”

Savage did not share an opinion about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reforms, but said that the scenes from the country in recent weeks are “not a good look.”

“I’m going to let the people of Israel and the Israeli government work out their issues,” he said, but “it’s just not a good look for Israel to spill out all their domestic turmoil for the whole world to see, to watch, to unfortunately encourage Israel’s enemies.”

His overarching goal when it comes to foreign policy is “making sure that America maintains its role as a leader in the world, and we provide examples for people and we take care of people,” Savage said. 

The primary election is a year away, and at this point, Savage is sticking to broad messaging rather than proposing any particular legislation — on foreign policy or other issues. So if he wins the election, what does hope to work on first?

“It’s almost like saying to a kid in a candy store, ‘You can pick anything you want,’” Savage said. “There’s so many issues that I want to get involved in. But the medical innovation, to me, is the most important.”

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