Jonathan Lewis grew up in a family that valued giving back. And now, he’s stepping up as a Scarsdale Citizens’ Non-Partisan Party candidate for a seat on the board of trustees.
“My father was a decorated World War II hero,” Lewis said. “He fought in the Pacific, he commanded an infantry war dog platoon, which was really experimental at the time. There were no satellites, there were no drones, there were no spy planes. If you were trying to locate and scout out where the enemy was, you went into the jungles with dogs.”
His father was at the front leading his men to figure out the positions of the opposition.
“He came from that experience of being an officer in World War II very transformed by his service and his entire adult life,” Lewis said. “My entire childhood was volunteering or leading in some way in the community. I was taught that’s how we lead our lives.”
Lewis, 56, lives on Woods Lane with his wife Laura Daniels. The couple has two children, Hannah and Steven. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has an MBA in finance and management from Columbia University and a master’s degree in history from New York University.
He worked in the Wall Street finance industry, then in 2004 Lewis co-founded a company called Samson Capital Advisors.
“Our specialty was municipal bonds and municipal finance,” he said, “investing in securities issued by school districts, intelligence, estates, etc.”
The company grew to manage $7 billion in assets. In 2015, when the company was acquired by Fiera Capital, Lewis kept his title as chief investment officer through the transition.
“There was a major transformation going on in financial services from the late ’90s into the early 2000s,” Lewis said. “By the early 2000s, I was working for a boutique that had been acquired by a big bank that had been acquired by another big bank.”
He said a number of the employees felt the transformation that was occurring wasn’t in the best interest of the clients or the ability to deliver services.
Even through the 2008 recession, Lewis said, he and his company continued to thrive because of their strategies.
He’s served on numerous boards regarding policy and has published two books with Yale University Press on the U.S. intelligence community — “Spy Capitalism: Itek and the CIA” (2002) and “Reflections of a Cold Warrior” the memoir of Richard M. Bissell (1996) — so he’s become fluent in postwar foreign policy and geopolitics.
As a volunteer closer to home, Lewis has volunteered for the Arthur Manor Neighborhood Association and helped with all the area’s events. He also was a former member of the Scarsdale Board of Education, worked on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (now JDRF) — where he got to know fellow trustee nominee Rochelle Waldman — and is on a board for Yonkers Partners in Education, a college-readiness program serving low income students and their families in that urban school district.
As a volunteer for the Scarsdale Historical Society, he helped organize a series of Saturday morning events for families and stage a replica of a 19th-century baseball game that turned out to be a good fundraiser.
In addition, he was president of the Scarsdale Forum in 2008 and 2009, a stressful time for people in the community and for the board because of the financial crisis. But it was also a time when people stepped up and started serving more than usual, Lewis said, and his financial work and investments on behalf of the forum helped the organization grow.
“I’m particularly proud of that stewardship because it’s very quiet behind the scenes work we all do to make our community stronger and better,” he said.
Lewis’ term on the school board from 2011 to 2014 coincided with the implementation of the tax cap. Yet he was an early and enthusiastic supporter of funding for the district’s nascent Center for Innovation.
“It’s a very important value for us to be innovators and to preserve our heritage as a leading education institution, and I’m pleased to say that while I was on the board, we took steps to secure and advance the Scarsdale Center for Innovation,” he said.
Lewis isn’t a new name for The Inquirer.
Last June, Lewis took his civic-mindedness a step further by vying in the Democratic primary against longtime incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel for New York’s 16th District to the U.S. Congress.
Though he didn’t win the primary race, Lewis felt he made the point he set out to make.
His daughter has Type 1 diabetes and was chosen to be a delegate to the JDRF Children’s Congress. Every two years, more than 160 young people living with Type 1 diabetes gather in Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S. lawmakers. The youths come from all over the country to help members of Congress understand what living with Type 1 diabetes is like.
“Through that process of meeting with people, several things came to our attention, [which] related to my run for office in the Democratic primary,” Lewis said.
He said Congress is rife with many conflicts, such as how people are financing their campaigns with Political Action Committee (PAC) money and where that money comes from.
“I became aware of the fact that people who are … advocates for Type 1 diabetics were also taking money from the PACs of companies that profit off of Type 1 diabetes, that make insulin, or taking PAC money from sugar companies,” he said. “It seems very difficult to reconcile being an active supporter of Type 1 diabetics … and taking money from sugar companies and pharmaceutical companies.”
Lewis ran a three-month campaign to challenge Rep. Engel in the primary, contrary to the typical year and a half most candidates spend on their campaigns.
“I focused on campaign finance reform and the need to take PAC money out of the political equation,” Lewis said. “I also focused on issues like term limits, so basically, it was a good governance campaign.”
The primary was June 26, and Lewis was back to work in his office the next day with no plans to run again.
“I’ve made my point … I’ll find other ways to raise those conversations,” he said.
Now that Lewis has been tapped to serve as a village trustee, he said his focus is on how to best serve his community.
“I believe it’s a privilege to live here and what makes it a privilege to live here is the work of everyone who came before us,” he said. “Scarsdale is not a historical accident. It’s here because of the vision and the work and the consistency of effort of neighbors.”
He said the role of a trustee is to evaluate, understand what the values of Scarsdale are, values of neighbors and to be a steward of that. So, while Lewis doesn’t have a personal agenda, he said he’s looking forward to being a successful steward, balancing ideas from the community, while bringing his own experiences and strengths to the dais.
“We’re a group of people in Scarsdale and the nominees of the [Citizens Nominating Committee] are rich in life experiences,” he said. “I’m no more unique than any other person who is on the CNC ballot. Each of us brings a different perspective. And so we become like a jigsaw puzzle.”