A year ago, I was a new mom struggling with breastfeeding, figuring out how to raise my daughter and sleeping with one eye open to make sure she was okay. Today, I’m raising a rambunctious, brave and confident toddler. I’m also a first-time candidate, seeking to represent my community on the DC Council.
I have built a career based on public service, but I never thought I’d run for public office. I served in the Peace Corps, on the Obama campaign, on Capitol Hill, and in the Obama administration implementing health reform. I hold immense pride for the work I’ve done, because I believe the difference I’ve made is measurable and meaningful. When I ended my service in the Obama administration and began to build a home and a family on Capitol Hill, I came to realize how much our local representation falls short when it comes to having the experience, the skill, the empathy and the effectiveness to truly serve our community.
This has only become more true over the last four years. I watched the DC Council cut corporate and estate tax rates, while housing became less affordable and economic security became less attainable. I watched longtime members of our community leave because they couldn’t afford to stay. And I watched our elected officials get away with it, because nobody was willing to challenge these very comfortable establishment politicians, even as they left many of our neighbors behind. I hoped someone would enter the 2018 Ward 6 Democratic primary to end this cycle of insider politics and bring the change that people in our community deserve. But nobody did.
And so I stepped up. I started building a campaign in my living room, with nothing but my laptop and a few ideas, about how to lift people up, rather than leave them behind. I wish I had a flashy story to tell about how I’ve been preparing for this over the course of years, but the truth is, it all happened very quickly. I’m not a self-serving politician; I’m a mom with enough public service experience to know what good representation looks like, and enough empathy to know how much it matters. Having not seen this in my own elected official, I got fed up and decided to do something about it.
With the help of my husband and some great friends, we filed paperwork, set up a website and a fundraising structure, and got to work. I launched my campaign in October, coincidentally on the same day the DC Council held a hearing on paid family leave. To my deep disappointment, as constituents poured their hearts out, my council member wasn’t there to hear them. We learned he was filming a television promo, with a developer who is one of his major donors. It affirmed everything I already knew about him.
I am up against a local political system that has been built over decades to support its chosen candidates and reject challengers like me. As a woman going up against a man who has been working on the DC Council for the past 12 years, I knew I’d face backlash not only from the establishment, but from many others -- simply because I was a woman who had the audacity to run. The almost-daily messages I receive show me that I was correct. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they have all come from middle-aged men.
But the backlash isn’t just from individuals, it is very much institutional, even in a progressive community like ours. Early on, I met with the president of the Ward 6 Democrats, who told me they’ve handpicked the last few Ward 6 council members, and I wouldn’t be one of them. I’ve been called angry, unqualified, undeserving, and other names, by current and former ANC Commissioners who support the incumbent. One line I often hear from my opponent’s supporters is “run for school board.” Many have asked how I can possibly campaign and still be a good mom, as though I should feel guilty because one role must necessarily take away from the other. None of this discourages me; I was fully prepared for this response. Our system is designed to support a lineage of men to occupy the coveted council seat, while other men reap the benefits of association. These men, the supporters, are afraid of change, because change means they will lose their access and power.
If people want to know why I’m willing to take on such a dysfunctional system, they need look no further than the tens of thousands of DC residents who spend most of their paychecks on rent, and aren’t sure they can afford to stay in their communities. Or those who work unpredictable hours at jobs that don’t pay a living wage. Or the neighbors who express concerns to their elected official, only to be ignored and see nothing change. DC government works well for many of us, but anyone who takes a closer look around will see that the status quo is unsustainable, unfair, and at times inhumane for too many in our community.
I am so proud to have an opportunity to listen to, and speak for, so many people in our community who don’t feel like they have a voice. I’m not doing this for my resume, or to draw a bloated salary from the DC taxpayers; I’m doing this to help people, and I’m doing this because our community deserves a real choice. If elected to serve on the DC Council, I will work tirelessly to take our politics back from wealthy developer donors, and invest in affordable housing rather than subsidies for commercial development. I will fight on behalf of our homeless neighbors and push legislation to provide protection from discrimination, and access to the services they deserve. I will make sure there is no question about where I stand when it comes to a woman’s unequivocal right to access reproductive services, I will fight to pass legislation that keeps women who work in restaurants from being harassed in the workplace, and I will finally fund the tampon tax repeal law. I will fight to pass legislation that protects low-wage workers from wage theft and unfair scheduling. These are all policies and bills my opponent has opposed during his time on the DC Council.
I’m so inspired by everyone I have met, and by my team of fearless volunteers, who represent every demographic of our diverse, wonderful community. While many moments of this campaign have been difficult, I take such great joy from working with and for such inspiring people. Everyone in our community deserves a voice in 2018, because many literally can’t afford another four years of this. Regardless of the outcome, I’m humbled to have the opportunity to listen to so many of those voices, and amplify their stories.
On June 19th - Election Day in DC - I hope you’ll make your voice heard, too.
Lisa is running to represent Ward 6 on the DC Council. She's built a career in public service, first as a literacy teacher in the Peace Corps, then as a member of the 2008 Obama campaign team and subsequently in the Obama administration as a political appointee to the Department of Health and Human Services. Since then she's worked at a local health care firm analyzing the complexities of health care in the United States. Lisa holds a bachelor's degree from Vassar College and a master's in Public Policy from Georgetown. She lives on Capitol Hill with her husband, daughter, and dog Oscar.
If you're interested in learning more about what it’s like running for office and would like to join our team of volunteers, please visit www.lisahunterforward6.com/getinvolved!