Back in September, I got a request to speak to elementary and middle school students at a local Jewish day school as part of a day of election events held on election day itself. I’d asked in advance for an idea of what they’d like me to address and I thought publishing those remarks here would serve as a decent re-intro to what I’ve been doing and how I see things. The Cleveland Jewish News published an article about the students’ day, “Gross Schechter students pick presidential winner”.
Q: How do you feel about being a woman and having the first female presidential candidate?
Our former US Representative, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, used to say, “If you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu”. That pretty much sums up my approach to being a woman and having the first female presidential candidate: we have been working to be at the table for two centuries and it’s time.
I have had many of the common instances you hear or read about happen to me in terms of being a woman, and some not so common:
The more common include presenting an idea, but only after a man says it does it seem to be heard. Or, while describing that idea, I will be interrupted to the point of not being able to go back to it.
The less common in daily life, but not uncommon in political life: When I first ran for city council  and would go door to door with my children, residents would ask me why I wasn’t running for the school board – since I had children. Wouldn’t I be more interested in school board-related matters and policy? Why would I want to be on a city council and deal with that kind of content?
It’s just critical we keep ourselves in the pipelines of leadership in all sectors of life, but especially public service, where policy that affects all of us gets made.
Q: Touch on what it was like as a Jewish woman running for a position
There are very few Jewish elected officials in the Ohio statehouse. This means there are few voices with our first-hand experience. In addition, tikkun olam has been something that’s driven my choices for my entire adult life even though I’ve not always associated it with being Jewish, though of course it was a big part of my growing up and still is.
So going back to the theme of being at the table, it is wonderful to have allies and people who support us and feel they understand us, but that isn’t the same as us being at the table. When people don’t serve next to you, go to school with you, play sports with you or have anything other than movies, television or books to learn about being Jewish and Jews, then they put things together based on what they do know. That’s just not good enough.
As an experience, yes, being Jewish did make a difference but possibly not in ways you might imagine. Some ways you might imagine: I had to plan campaigning and attending events around the Jewish holidays. I also had to manage invitations for my kids’ bnai mitzvot carefully so people didn’t read too much into whether they did or didn’t get invited!
But also, there were instances such as when one Jewish friend suggested I not post so much content [to social media] that was openly Jewish if I wanted to win. The concern was that it could alienate people and I would be seen as “too Jewish” for people to vote for.
The worst experience was when a neighbor I’d known for over 10 years asked me what my faith was and after I told him, he said, “There are too many Jews already and I’m not going to help you”. That was earthshaking.
Q: Who is your inspiration?
Ella T. Grasso – the first female goveernor to be elected in her own right in 1975, when I was 13 years old. I remember her being elected very well and I remember being very proud to have the first woman governor elected after she ran for and won the election. It was a seminal event for me. And that was still 55 years after women got to vote!
Q: What does it feel like to wait for election results – how did you prepare for results either way (win or loss)?
Since I’m running someone’s campaign, I’ve been able to rely on that as an excuse for immersing myself in all things election. But that also has meant that I’ve been up since 4:30am and went to bed only after making sure many things were set last night for today. In other words, I’m not exactly waiting for the results because we’re just focused on working every minute of the day to be sure everyone gets out to vote. That’s a great distraction! Now, once 7:30pm hits [when the polls close], ask me.
Previously, it was both a pleasant and an anxious time – everyone is coming to congratulate you on the work you put in and has nervous energy. When I ran for city council, people came to our home and I recall sitting in our kitchen hitting the refresh button on my computer for the results. But eventually it was faster to go around to the polling locations to get the information from the doors where the results were posted, than to wait for the board of elections to post the results to the internet. So waiting is a time to be together and be proud of the work you’ve done – but it’s also nerve-wracking!