WMM Contributor WMM Interview

Moms on the Run: Local Working Moms Who Ran for Elected Office and Won

Have you ever thought about running for elected office to make a difference in your community? We’re sharing the stories of three local working moms who had the courage to put their name on the ballot. 

By WMM Contributor: Maura Metz

Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, Milwaukee Common Council

What made you decide to run for office? 

I decided to run for office because of the lack of leadership and planning for my area; due to all of the closures. A neighborhood is devastated when there is one major big box closing, but to have several: Northridge Mall, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Circuit City, TGI Fridays, Half-Priced Books, Sam’s Club, and many others is incomprehensible. There needed to be a plan in place to preserve the neighborhood, but there wasn’t one. 

I initially wasn’t even thinking about running, (I didn’t think I was qualified), I wanted to roll up my sleeves and help however I could to help the right candidate. I started asking around to find out who was going to come to our rescue. To my surprise, no one wanted to take on that challenge. Even then, I still didn’t think I was capable of being the voice of the community. After several months of searching for someone who would take on the massive challenge of reviving the district, I was pushed to run by others. Even then, I still didn’t think I was a viable candidate. I didn’t think I had the pedigree or background to hold such a position, so I kept pushing back on the idea and kept searching for someone who could take on this task. At the time, I was running a non-profit, and loving helping the people. It wasn’t until someone showed me the work that I was doing makes me a perfect candidate to qualify as the voice of the community. It was then, and only then, I agreed to run.

How many children do you have, and how old were they when you ran? 

I am the mother of three beautiful children; Jireh (13), Jeremiah (12), and Makayla (10). At the time of my initial campaign, they were 9, 8, and 6.

Describe what it was like to take on this endeavor as a mom. Did you have support? How did you make working, running for office, and taking care of your kids work? 

It was an absolute challenge being a candidate as a working wife and mother. My husband wasn’t on board at first, because it would take me away from being present at home. My parents and in-laws were fully supportive, however, and pushed me into it. My kids were also pumped about the idea, although, I don’t believe any of us knew what to expect. It took a village in order for me to win, or even attempt to win this seat. My days consisted of 18 hours of campaigning, 7 days a week, for 11 months. By the time the primary rolled around I was too tired to think, let alone consider attending my own watch party. The roles of the household that I normally took on had to be passed along to my parents and in-laws. From cooking, to homework, to cleaning, to laundry, to paying bills, everyone had to pitch in more than normal and fill in wherever I was absent. The two people helping me on my campaign basically lived at my house, because we all put in the same time on the campaign. If we weren’t on doors, we were making calls, if we weren’t making calls, we were strategizing in the makeshift office inside my house. As I look back on that time, I can honestly say, it was by God’s grace that we made it through. It was such a rough and trying time, knocking doors in negative temperatures, and missing my children grow up for that year. There were days I cried more than I care to say, and events and moments, I’ll never get back, but I believe the sacrifice was worth it. Now, I get to be front and center, creating positive change that I so longed for.

What was the most challenging aspect about running? 

The most challenging aspect for me would be more than one thing. My race, unfortunately is not that uncommon. As I tell my story, I run into others who have encountered the same type of bullying and downright disrespect that I had to endure. For me, the temperature was one of the challenges. We had a terrible winter season, where it was common for the temperature to be negative as a high for the day. Continuing to be consistent with knocking doors, I kept on knocking in those temperatures for hours until my walk pack was complete. Additionally, was the fact that I didn’t have a political background, so that gave some people pause about supporting my campaign. Until the victory of the primary, my team of three was essentially alone in working on the campaign, until AFSCME came on board, before anyone else did and earlier in my campaign. Another challenge, perhaps the most lasting one, was when the local Working Families Party orchestrated to “put me out” of the race. They compiled a small group to convince me it was a good idea, in fact, the best thing for the city for me to step down from my Aldermanic race, and run in the vacant county seat in my area. Having so many people approach me, all of them being people of color, except a couple, it was very challenging to face. Not only did I have to process those emotions, but I had to dig deep and find the strength to continue even though I was unsure if it would be “publically correct.” Once I threw that logic out of the window, and understood I was the best option for the district, and not someone who they thought would be best, I picked myself up and began to fight harder. It built the character and perseverance that I currently have. Now, I know beyond a shadow of doubt, I can accomplish anything if I believe I can.

What was the most rewarding part about running? 

The most rewarding part about running was the grit and resilience I now know I have. That makes me a better leader, as well as a better person. Although it was a tough race, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I believe my appreciation, love and dedication for my community, city, and this position wouldn’t be as great if I hadn’t had to fight as hard to get here. I give my all everyday I wake up to effectuate change, and to foster a sense of hope and pride in where we live (community and the city as a whole).

Do you think it's important to have working mothers in government leadership? If so, why? 

I believe it is imperative to have working mothers in office, of any level. We bring a certain perspective that can’t be purchased, legislated or found. We have a certain “je ne sais quoi” that will fight when threatened and stand until the work is done. My favorite quote sums it up; “if you feed a man, you feed a man, if you feed a woman, you feed a community.” We are hardwired to help others and to have empathy when needed, and to not be afraid of the tough decisions. We are uniquely created to handle anything, even in the face of adversity.

What advice would you give to other working moms thinking about pursuing elected office?  

My advice is simple…DON’T SECOND GUESS YOURSELF, RUN! DON’T DIMINISH YOUR GREATNESS, RUN! AND DON’T LOOK FOR SOMEONE ELSE WHEN YOU KNOW NO ONE ELSE CAN DO WHAT YOU CAN DO, RUN!

 

Trustee Jessica Carpenter, Shorewood Village Board

What made you decide to run for office? 

During the 2016 presidential election I volunteered for Hilary’s campaign. Her loss I found to be quite shocking, and this loss was swallowing me whole. I didn’t know how to move forward. A few nights after the election, my husband said to me - you have to take all this rage and energy and put it towards something good. I realized that he was right and if I didn’t do something different, it would eat me alive. There were several things happening at the time in the Village of Shorewood that I questioned, so I decided to run. I worked as hard as I could, raised more money then my two opponents, only to lose by 6 votes. It was devastating. Everyone told me I HAD to run again, but I wasn’t sure I could run a campaign again. Several people encouraged me to apply for Emerge Wisconsin’s program and I’m so glad I did. This program allowed me to hear from women who had lost and went on to win, but more importantly it connected me to an amazing network of women. I ultimately decided to run again and won the entire race - #1 vote getter! 

How many children do you have, and how old were they when you ran? 

I have 2 children. One is 8 and one is 3. During my first campaign my son had just turned 1 and my daughter was 5. 

Describe what it was like to take on this endeavor as a mom. Did you have support? How did you make working, running for office, and taking care of your kids work? 

Campaign life is crazy for anyone, it is all consuming. There isn’t ever enough time in the day and it feels like you aren’t ever doing enough. My husband and family are amazingly supportive. We also live and die by our Google calendar! I think the most important thing to juggling it all is planning and being very efficient. Also knowing that you can’t do it all, so asking for help is critical. 

What was the most challenging aspect about running? 

The way to win elections is by doing doors - talking to every. single. person you can at their door. Before getting into my campaign, I didn’t understand how hard and critical doors are to winning. Both of my campaigns were spring elections so that meant a lot of time on doors in the middle of Wisconsin winters. 

What was the most rewarding part about running? 

Having my daughter see me win my election. She got to see in real life that you don’t give up, and sometimes things don’t go as planned but you need to keep moving forward. 

Do you think it's important to have working mothers in government leadership? If so, why? 

I think our perspective is so different. Every minute of my day counts and I want people who understand the juggling act that moms have to do on a daily basis. 

What advice would you give to other working moms thinking about pursuing elected office?  

Always be your genuine self - don’t change who you are because that is what you think people want to hear, or what will make you win. You need to win on your own terms, and people can tell if you aren’t being genuine. 

 

Sequanna Taylor, Milwaukee Public Schools Board Director and County Board Supervisor and Second Vice Chair

What made you decide to run for office?

I became more involved in politics as an MPS employee when Act 10 hit us; it made me become more aware of laws and legislation and how things work. I was very involved in my union—I  was a union president at the time of the MEAA (Milwaukee Educational Assistants Association) sat on the Executive Board of the MTEA (Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association). I was a graduate of Emerge Wisconsin for 2013, and it is an organization that helps Democratic women running for office.

Initially I can't say I saw myself running for office, but I definitely wanted to know the ins and out and the process of how things work. The County Board is not an office that I looked to run for when the seat became available—people knew that I was concerned about what was happening like the position was going to part-time which was an issue for those holding the seat because they begin to have to do other things because of family-wise. I believe because I was so strong on who was going to represent the area, and knew what was going on with the constituents that with live there, people began to say why you won't run for office? I thought about it, I prayed about it, and I talked to my blessings (that's what I call my children). Martha De La Rosa, Alder Chantia, and Marina were instrumental and giving me the extra push to run.

How many children do you have, and how old were they when you ran?

I have four physical children at the time and had raised many more than my physical children. I had one who was 17 and 3 who were under the age of 17.

Describe what it was like to take on this endeavor as a mom. Did you have support? How did you make working, running for office, and taking care of your kids work? 

It was an honor, it was also humbling because you had to have patience, perseverance, determination, and thick skin. My mom, family, and even some friends were very supportive. I am the first person to run for political office in my family and also win, so it was a really big thing for us. I did not come from a political family. We didn't talk about politics growing up. I knew to vote for president when I was 18, not really aware of a local elections until like I said working in the school system and seeing all the things that are children went through.

My younger two children were more involved because they had been to marches and union meetings and spoke at the school board meetings, and so they were all a help on the doors because I would take them with me. And of course people would ask them them why would I vote for your mom?

My youngest son who we call Bam was definitely my biggest advocate and people often state my campaign manager. I had several people tell me because of him and his love for me and advocating for me, was the reason that they voted for me.

What was the most challenging aspect about running? 

One of the most challenging aspects was finding that balance with all the other hats that I was wearing at home, in the community, and work. Also, I had done doors for others in the past, but doing doors for yourself and to continue pushing yourself, knowing that you wanted the community to know who you were in the late nights and early days. For my first round on the County Board, I had two opponents who dropped out the day that the signatures were due, but I continued to do doors and reach out to the community. Some people would say you didn't have competition because maybe they were unaware that I actually had two males in the race but who dropped out.

What was the most rewarding part about running?

The most rewarding part about running was the people who had faith in me, who believed in me, who supported me, and elected me. Also the fact that I believe this can begin a legacy with my family to become more involved in voting and politics and what happens in our community. I'm often asked how do I do other things that I do, and my first statement is my face I am very spiritual and my next statement is because I am a servant.

Do you think it's important to have working mothers in government leadership? If so, why?

It's absolutely vital to have working moms and office. We bring so much to the table being able to balance family and work along with politics, as well as the tenacity to continue to move forward regardless of how we feel. It’s often stated moms don't take sick days, moms in politics definitely do not get sick. We bring the perspective of being a mom, of working, being someone who has to wear several hats and look at things that are not the status quo.

What advice would you give to other working moms thinking about pursuing elected office?

I would say pray about it, talk about it with some of your closest family and friends, think about the pros and cons. One of the things I often tell people who talk to me when they are considering running is think about how you can make things better in the community you are thinking about running in for, but even more importantly think about the legacy that you leave with the seat and if it was better off with you in the seat than without you. As well, be open to knowing that passing the torch should happen at sometime, and it is great to inspire, enhance, and give back. Remember you work for the people. Gwen Moore is another person that inspires me daily in her office in Washington DC. She says it says the people's office, the 4th congressional district. I often say it’s the people seat, and I am so glad that they elected me to represent them.

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