3 Kalamazoo College alums running for Congress

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Three alumni from the same class at Kalamazoo College are running for Congress — an unusual first in the history of the 184-year-old liberal arts school.

Classmates Matt Longjohn of Portage, Rob Davidson of Spring Lake and Mike DeCillis of Brooklyn, New York, graduated together in 1993 with 223 others in their class.

Andy Brown, the college’s director of media relations, said the school believes it’s the first time that three alumni are campaigning for Congress at the same time — much less three from the same graduating class. Four former Kalamazoo students have been elected to Congress in the college’s history, according to the alumni office.

“It’s the first time that we know of,” Brown said. “This really surprised me — to have three from one class, period, not to mention a class this small.”

The three 46-year-olds are running as Democrats in districts held by Republican incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives, and, yes, they remember one another from their days at “K.”

“It was hard not to run into and know everybody,” DeCillis said.

Longjohn and Davidson are running in western Michigan against GOP Reps. Fred Upton of St. Joseph and Bill Huizenga of Zeeland, respectively.

A Staten Island native, DeCillis hopes to unseat GOP Rep. Dan Donovan in a New York district that includes DeCillis’ home borough and parts of south Brooklyn.

The classmates say Kalamazoo’s curriculum, with an emphasis on social justice, studying abroad and experiential learning, set them up to be independent thinkers motivated to serve their community.

Students in their class were urged to spend a semester abroad, a semester working in the field, and a year researching a capstone project — a curriculum known as the “K plan.”

“We were encouraged to take our book and lab learning to the real world. We were encouraged to challenge dogma with a sound argument based in data,” Davidson said.

“I think there is something about going there at that point in my life that translates into my desire to run. It’s a unique place that challenges students to think of others over self, and to challenge oneself outside of one’s comfort zone.”

Longjohn and Davidson both majored in biology at Kalamazoo and went on to become physicians. Until recently, Longjohn served as the national health officer of the YMCA, where he ran community health programs. Davidson is an emergency room doctor at Gerber Hospital in Newaygo County.

The pair met while Longjohn was working at a neurology clinic in their sophomore year. Davidson — a defensive tackle for the football team — recognized Longjohn and said hello from a gurney as he was being wheeled in for a magnetic resonance imaging scan of a neck injury.

They lived around the corner from one another that year in DeWaters Hall, where hours were spent studying, playing cards and hanging out with their girlfriends, who were suite mates.

“The curriculum, the faculty — it really set us all up to be very independent. You can’t spend a year abroad living on trains and things like that without figuring out how to solve your own problems and get through the day on $5,” said Longjohn, who spent a year studying in Strasbourg, France.

“It’s not surprising at all to me that the school produces folks with an idea of social activism.”

DeCillis studied music at the college but also went into medicine, working for eight years as a paramedic in Kalamazoo. He later became a police officer in New York City and now teaches special education there, he said.

DeCillis felt moved to run for office after the election of President Donald Trump last year, in part because the health care and education systems were being “threatened,” he said.

“I’m not surprised we’re all running, given what they have done for a living and what I’ve done for a living. This was a natural trajectory for all three of us,” DeCillis said in a phone interview.

“We’ve said we’re actually going to run and change the system as it currently stands.”

Kalamazoo College says several of its former students have served in Congress.

Two succeeded one another representing the 3rd District. Democratic Rep. Paul H. Todd Jr., was elected to the U.S. House in the Democratic landslide of 1964 that coincided with the election of President Lyndon Johnson.

Todd, who attended but didn’t graduate from Kalamazoo College, was among the “Michigan Five Fluke Freshmen” — elected in 1964 and defeated by GOP challengers after one term in office.

Todd was unseated by Republican Garry Brown — Kalamazoo class of 1951 — who went on to serve in the House until 1979.

Grant Hudson, class of 1894, was a Baptist pastor who later represented Michigan’s 6th District in Congress from 1923-31. George Willard, class of 1844, represented the 3rd District from 1873-77 and later served as editor of the Battle Creek Journal.

Another notable alumnus, retired Detroit U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen, unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1982 against Democratic U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin of Royal Oak, who hasn’t lost a congressional election since that first victory. Rosen graduated from Kalamazoo College in 1973.


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