Estelle Atkinson and Josh Woo
This year’s midterm elections have generated a nationwide conversation over the future of American politics. On November 6th, America will determine whether the Democratic or the Republican party will hold the majority of seats in the House and Senate. The outcome of this election could drastically change the political environment on Capitol Hill. However, just as importantly, our future as residents of Pennsylvania will also be determined by the elections for positions in Harrisburg.
Radnor, in its currently gerrymandered state, will vote for a representative for the State House of Representatives from either the 165th district or the 166th district. The race for representative from the 166th is between Democrat Greg Vitali, the current incumbent, and Republican Baltazar Rubio. Your ballot and polling place is determined by which of Radnor’s seven wards you live in. If you live in either Ward 01 precinct 2, Ward 02, Ward 03 precinct 2, Ward 05 precinct 1, or Ward 07, you will vote for either Vitali or Rubio on November 6th. However, if you live in Ward 01 precinct 1, Ward 03 precinct 1, Ward 04, Ward 05 precinct 2, or Ward 06, your ballot options will be Republican Alexander Charlton or Democrat Jennifer O’Mara for Representative to the State House. To find out the races you will be voting in, visit https://www.vote411.org/ballot and enter your address.
Two Radnorite reporters, Josh Woo and Estelle Atkinson, recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Jennifer O’Mara, a candidate whose campaign has become a microcosm of the energy and hope surrounding the 2018 elections. Although she is new to the political sphere, her candidacy has proven to be especially impactful in Radnor, Springfield, Marple Newtown, and beyond.
Atkinson first heard of O’Mara’s campaign at a Radnor Democrats committee meeting in September of 2018. Elaine Paul Schaefer, former Radnor Township Commissioner and former candidate for state representative in the 165th district, stood up and announced that she would have an event at her house later in the month in support of Jennifer O’Mara. She extended her invitation to the high schoolers in the room; she wanted us to meet such an inspiring and driven young woman, and the invitation was eagerly accepted. At the event, where the next youngest guest was a student at Villanova University, O’Mara was incredibly welcoming and conversational towards the students in the room. This seems to be a common first impression for her.
In October, O’Mara attended a Meet the Candidates event at Valley Forge Flowers hosted by the Radnor Democrats. When approached with the idea of participating in an interview for the Radnorite, she enthusiastically agreed.
On Tuesday, October 23 we met O’Mara after school at the Gryphon Cafe in Wayne. We had rented out the upstairs space: a collection of charmingly mismatched sofas, chairs, and coffee tables with tall windows that offer a pleasant view of Lancaster Avenue. O’Mara walked up the stairs, exchanged a quick hello with the staff, and then proceeded to say hello and introduce herself as Jenn. She seemed incredibly down to earth; it was as if we were talking to a familiar teacher.
Our first question was simply, “Could you tell us a little bit about your backstory?”
“Sure. I grew up in Southwest Philadelphia, I went to Catholic school, St. Barnabas Parish. My dad was a firefighter in the city, and my mom was a stay at home mom. I had, at the time, two younger brothers, and, when I was thirteen, we lost my dad to gun suicide. That’s what brought my family out to Delaware County. I was the oldest, so I had to step up and help my mom. We went to public schools out here, we had CHIP for a little bit, until my mom got back on her feet. My mom got a job as a school bus driver in Upper Darby, and that meant she left the house really early, so I, as early as fourteen, started getting my brothers ready for school, and doing homework with them when they would come home, and start getting dinner ready, and that kind of stuff. Growing up as the oldest, when you lose one of your parents, you step up in a lot of ways, and so I think I grew up fast.”
Her campaign finds its roots in her childhood story. In telling it, O’Mara never sugarcoats her experience. Her genuine account of it has allowed her to connect with people on a very personal level. The ease with which she’s able to leave lasting impressions on potential voters can also be attributed to her education. Our analogy to talking to a familiar teacher is no coincidence; O’Mara is a certified social studies teacher. She dedicated herself to her education, and developed a work ethic that forms the backbone of her campaign.
“I graduated from Interboro High School. I went to West Chester University; I was a first generation college graduate. I navigated FAFSA by myself, I worked three jobs, drove home every weekend to work in DELCO, and graduated in 2011. I have my teaching degree, social studies 7-12, I studied revolutionary America, and the founding of the country and the constitution; that was my area of history. When I graduated there were no social studies teaching jobs, so I ended up going to work at a college because they would help with your graduate degree, and I knew I wanted to go and get my masters. So I started working at Penn about three weeks after graduation from West Chester. I started as an administrative assistant in development. I ended up getting promoted a couple times; I’m now the assistant director of University Stewardship at Penn, and I graduated, finally, last May with my masters degree. I studied English and History, so my degree is in Liberal Arts. It was definitely worth it. It took a long time to go to school part time while you work, but now I’ve got the degrees, and I’m done and don’t think I have to go back to school at all, which is exciting!”
Josh Woo asked, “So what motivated O’Mara to make the decision to run for office instead? With the different experiences in your life, how has that helped motivate you to run for office, especially at such a young age?”
She responded, “I would say that it was soon after the presidential election in 2016 that my husband and I just started talking about the different things in our lives that we depended on at certain times that we saw were no longer be valued, or were at stake, like public schools, or public school funding, CHIP, for a little bit in 2017. I think I realized that my story is sad in some ways, but it isn’t unique in a lot of ways. There are families all over this county and all over our state, all over the country, that have very similar struggles. And I felt like our elected representatives have gotten so out of touch with the average working person that they don’t understand what we are going through; they don’t get the daily struggle that most people are facing.”
The quote “my story is sad in some ways, but it isn’t unique” exemplifies the perspective O’Mara wants to bring to the table at Harrisburg. Estelle Atkinson followed up, “Your story resonates with so many people, as you said. Your values are clearly the result of difficult experiences; what are some of your values that you feel have shaped your campaign the most, and what parts of your campaign do you believe resonate the most with others?”
O’Mara’s response incorporates her recurring idea of hard work and determination: “Hard work is the value that is the most, you know, driven from me, and has translated into my campaign. Whenever I hired someone, or brought on an intern or anyone on the team, I told them, ‘I’m most likely going to work harder than you, and I need to feel comfortable that you’re going to work just as hard, or try to work just as hard.’ I think that has showed in our campaign, right? We’ve knocked so many doors, we’ve reached out to voters, we’ve had so many events, and you don’t do that without working really hard. I would say, also, trying to be transparent and held accountable by people, and that’s because I always try to live my life being honest. In a lot of ways I’ve done that in the campaign and people are always telling me that I’m a very honest for a politician, and it surprises them. And then I say that ‘I’m not a politician, so don’t call me that, and we all should be honest.’ That’s the point. So with our campaign, we’ve tried to, you know, we have a very heavy social media presence because we want people to know what we’re doing and see what we’re up to. If they don’t like, or if they do like it, they can tell us. We also tried to talk to everyone, so that way we’re giving people a chance to participate and be involved, and let their voice be heard, even if it’s a voice that you don’t always agree with. It felt like it was really important to make sure we were working towards that in the campaign.”
Through her statements it became clear that O’Mara made intentional efforts to connect with the community. Even so, her hard work wasn’t always the focus of attention. People often took interest in the new and young “female politician.” While the increase in female candidates is not just promising, but rather crucial for political progress, the focus often seems to fall disproportionately on the gender aspect rather than policy aims and overall candidacy. O’Mara actively refutes this phenomenon through her engagement with various programs, such as Emerge America, as well as her own identity as an impressive and effective candidate who is not limited or defined by her gender. When asked about her association with Emerge America (an organization that helps attract women to the political sphere) and the challenges/benefits of her being a woman, O’Mara responded by stating:
“For the last seven years I’ve worked at a team at Penn that was all women, and it’s a very high performing team. We don’t even think about the fact that were women; it’s just how we work, and we work well together. Running for office was the first time that my gender was something that was talked about constantly by everyone, men and women alike. I think it was a challenge in the sense that I don’t want to be defined by my gender. I want to be a candidate. I don’t want to be a female candidate, because those stereotypes aren’t often applied to male candidates in the same way. So getting people to stop looking at me and only seeing that, was definitely a challenge at the beginning. The same can be said about being young though. I also had to deal with things that I also don’t know if male candidates have to deal with. I’ve gotten a lot of emails with unsolicited advice on my clothes, on my hair, on the length of my hair, on the shape of my pants, on the shoes that I- like, you wouldn’t believe the advice that people give you and I don’t know- I’ve asked male candidates before, and they said they’ve never been talked to by strangers about their appearance. And then, as a woman that’s newly married, I also felt and heard a lot of people ask me ‘What are you going to do if you have kids?’ and, you know, ‘Why are you running and not your husband?’ or, ‘What’s your husband doing if you’re not at home taking care of the house?’ My relationship is the opposite of many stereotypes.”
O’Mara’s husband, Brad, is a disabled veteran and two-time Purple Heart recipient.
“I work; my husband stays at home. He doesn’t work because of the campaign, and he does all the food shopping. Today he did laundry and cleaned the house. When we tell people that, they’re so surprised. So living the opposite of a gender stereotype is a cool experience, because we get to show people, ‘hey. It doesn’t always have to be that way. In your relationship, figure out how it works. Don’t worry about the gender.’ I think trying to let people know that it’s great that women are running, and we need to, but we shouldn’t only talk about that.”
O’Mara stated, “I don’t want to be defined by my gender. I want to be a candidate.” As a candidate, she has reached impressive levels of engagement. Out of supporters, family, and friends, we wondered, “Is there anyone in particular who has inspired you on your journey?”
O’Mara paused, before replying, “Has inspired me? That’s a good question. I’ve been surprised by the people who have been interested and engaged, for sure. I think the biggest inspiration has been the reactions that I get from people. The night in Radnor, when we spoke a couple weeks ago, I was just walking through the crowd, and people were pulling me aside to say ‘You have inspired my daughter,’ or ‘my granddaughter,’ or ‘my son,’ or whatever. I think what’s also inspiring is seeing people get engaged in a campaign who have never been engaged. My staff and my volunteers inspire me, because they show up all the time, they work so hard, they email throughout the night. Volunteers canvass endlessly, and they keep coming back, and they drive from all over the place. To feel like you’ve been able to create something bigger than yourself, I think has definitely been the best part of running, for all of us.“
Josh Woo continued, “When it comes to, what you have talked about, engaging directly with the community, I believe one of the things your campaign is known to do is to go door to door and directly speak with people. What, in particular, inspired you to do this, and are there any particular encounters that have kind of stuck with you?”
The campaign office sees a steady stream of volunteers going out to canvass every week, but O’Mara also goes door-to-door herself. She talked about her experience: “I definitely wanted to start canvassing after the presidential election, because I feared that we were all getting so lost in our partisan ways, that we need to have conversations. That was the only way we were going to fix things. But it was last summer, summer 2017, I was at an Indivisible event in Marple, and a young woman said to me that she’s never voted before, she does now, but at the time, she had never voted before because she was never asked to. And it made me think how many people don’t participate in politics not for not wanting to, but for not knowing how, or for not knowing who the candidates are, or for not having the time to educate themselves and feel, you know, responsible in their vote. And so I thought, we need to start asking people. We need to start reaching out to people. We need to register voters. We need to, you know, tell disenfranchised voters why government can work for them and why voting is the best way to do it, and so I started canvassing. The things that stick with me the most are the experiences- it just happened last night- where they say ‘no one has ever knocked on my door before.’ That has happened more times than I can keep count, and it’s surprising because we’re in a very easy-to-walk area. We should be canvassing! And I’ve also- I ask at the door, every door that I knock, ‘I’m here to introduce myself and ask what issues are important to you and your family.’ People are often stumped, or speechless, and they say, ‘You know, people don’t normally ask me what I care about; they’re just asking for my vote.’ And I’ve been, you know, I knocked in the summer when there’s no election happening, and they don’t understand why I’m there. But then when I think people realize that I genuinely just want to learn about you, what issues are going on, so that way I can fight for those issues in Harrisburg, I get people talking. I canvass a lot, but sometimes I take longer than volunteers, because I have longer conversations with people. But it’s really important, and we are now canvassing through the district for our second and third time, so I’m knocking doors of people who remember me from coming back, and they’ve said- you know, just the other day, I knocked on a door that had the signs up of the opposite party. But, it was on my list, and it felt important to go up and say hi. The man I talked to said ‘I’m voting for you, because you stopped, and you made an impression, and that’s more than I can say for any other politician.’ So I think it’s the key to winning.”
The race began early for O’Mara, as she said, “I knocked in the summer when there’s no election happening, and they don’t understand why I’m there.” Estelle Atkinson highlighted this: “You’ve been campaigning for a while, and now it’s getting really close; what has been the most challenging about campaigning so far, and also the most rewarding?”
Such a journey is guaranteed its ups and downs, and O’Mara walked us through hers: “The most challenging thing about campaigning was starting, because as a newcomer in many senses, no one believed I could do it. Everyone was telling me to wait. That made me want to run more, because it seemed like no one believed that I was capable of doing it. People thought I would quit my job and not- which, you know, that’s not an option- so they were like, ‘well, you won’t have the time’ or ‘you can’t raise the money’ or whatever. And so, it made me work harder, and it made me want to prove myself more to people. And so, what has been the most exciting, is now, all of those same people who didn’t believe now want to take credit for all of the wonderful success that we’ve accomplished. And, you know, we’ve done a really great job. I raised a lot of money. We’ve knocked so many doors that we have senators coming to visit our office and launch canvasses, and we have other people who now want to, you know, tack on to the train, and so it’s now really- for my team as well, because my team- every person I hired I was told not to hire by other people, that they weren’t experienced enough, or that, you know, I could find someone better. I made those decisions anyway, and now we’ve proven that when you work hard and you, you know, you do your homework, you can be successful, and young people, who are new to politics, can also be successful. And not even just young people in the sense of age; everyone on my team is new to politics whether they’re older or young, and so new ways- it does work. Proving that to people is really exciting.”
The term “new” is very applicable to O’Mara’s campaign. O’Mara is new to politics, as are her staff. Her approach is also unique, in that it is not your typical, polarizing, partisan campaign. Josh elaborated, “So you were talking just then about the new ways, or like hiring and employing people that are new to this kind of political sphere. How do you balance between bringing in new change, which is kind of like the model of your campaign, with how do you respond to advice from people who are more experienced in this field?”
O’Mara responded, “I recognize that people are 100% more experienced and have plenty to offer us. And so at the beginning, all I did was meet with people who have been working in politics, or running campaigns, or working in Delco for the last ten, twenty, thirty years. Because what we do, I think, what our team does successfully and not all other new or younger people or candidates do is we respect what the people who have been doing this have to offer us. And we know that, you know, just because they didn’t win elections doesn’t mean what they were doing was not successful, because we’ve seen progress in Delaware County. And so I tried to, you know, pay homage to the people who have come before us and take what we know is good advice and also know that not everything they’ve done worked, and so we need to have a blend of both. I think that is why we have been able to get- I mean I think my campaign has support from factions of new to politics and people who have been doing this for a long time because we are able to do that and sort of bridge the gap between the new and the old.”
This idea of being new to politics or not, as well as level of political engagement is a dividing factor among people, not just politicians. Whether it be political affiliation, religion, class, or race, the argument can be made that we, as a nation are divided in our ways. While some truth can be found in this statement, O’Mara believes that there is more that unites us than divides us. Estelle inquired, “So that’s kind of one dividing factor, new to politics or not, among your supporters as well as just people in the area. Your slogan is ‘There is more that unites us than divides us.’ We have seen a lot of current division, and it’s refreshing to see this slogan in our current political state. Why do you believe this, why do you think we have become so divided, and what do you think we should do about it?”
O’Mara responded, “The reason I started the campaign with the slogan ‘There’s more that unites us than divides us’ is because of my own family history. I was raised in a Democratic and Republican household. Both my grandparents and my parents, you know, we had people from all political parties on both sides of my family, and we were able to get along. And I also realized that we all wanted the same things; we just looked at it differently. Then I started canvassing. When you knock door after door after door after door, and they’re all different registrations but you’re hearing the same issues: health care; too high, taxes; too high, worry about my kids safety, we need good schools, you know, from every household, I was just proven right. There is more that unites us than divides us. We just get very holed up, and I think the media divides us even further, because, you know, we’re looking at an outlet that only is really reporting one side of it or an outlet that is only is reporting the other side of it. We’re also falling into that trap, and I wanted this campaign to show people that that’s not true, and let’s get back into our own backyards. Let’s have conversations. Let’s get outside and talk to one another. Just this Sunday we had a meet and greet in Springfield where there were people- there were Democrats, Republicans, and Independents at that meet and greet. We all were able to get along, we all talked about really important issues, we shared our different perspectives. You know, I studied, like I said, the founding of America, and we were a nation that was built upon the idea of other people, you know, coming together from all walks of life to fight for freedom. I think we have forgotten that: that we are all different, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have things in common, and we just have to talk to one another and keep community.”
Josh continued, “Could you elaborate a little bit on that experience you had reconciling the Democrats and the Republicans at the meeting that you referred to?”
“Yeah, so we- it was Sunday night, we had a meet and greet, and I gave my normal pitch, and then we started taking questions, and schools came up. We heard, you know, from one side, someone say, ‘well, we need great public schools, and this is why,’ and then another senior citizen say, ‘yeah, but I am having trouble paying those taxes,’ right? And it just so happened that it was a Democrat saying one thing and a Republican saying the other. We were then able, in sort of a conversation, to talk about, ‘well yes, you’re both right. We do need good public schools because it makes our property values better and helps our community, but we can’t make it so that our taxes are so high that our own residents are leaving. So where can we find a common ground?’ Then I talked about how, in Springfield, I know we’re in Radnor but I live in Springfield, fifteen percent of our funding comes from Harrisburg for the school district. Seventy five percent comes from taxpayers, so we have a mutual enemy here, right? Our state government is not funding us properly. When I led the conversation there, we were kind of all able to say, ‘oh ok, well if we can get better funding from the state, our tax dollars can go down, and we’re still going to have these strong schools that we all moved here or want to have here in the first place. So again, it was just having conversations, and what I also realized is letting people be heard. Often people just want to express themself, and if they do that, and you do the same thing coming from another side, then they can hear, ‘oh ok,’ and it makes people think. It starts getting you to see how other people may be thinking about something. I think, as a history- I studied history, and in my historiography class you learn about bias and that it innately exists and that you have to try and put yourself in other people’s shoes in order to understand how or why we’re going about a certain issue. That’s what I’m trying to do when I’m taking questions or talking with people, is put myself in their shoes so then I can think about why they’re coming at it in that way.”
It is evident that O’Mara has taken the time to hear about the issues voters care about and will continue to do so. Though most high school students cannot vote yet, the decisions made in Harrisburg can have a direct impact on our lives. One example of this is the issue of making tertiary education more affordable. Estelle Atkinson asked, “So you talked a little bit about education. One issue that is kind of gaining momentum right currently within the Democratic party is the idea of making secondary education more affordable. Having received your education from a public institution and having worked for a private institution, what is your position on the cost of universities nationwide?”
O’Mara has been vocal about this topic; it is discussed under the “Meet Jenn” tab on her website, https://www.voteomara.com/ . She explained her position on this issue: “It is increasingly so expensive, too expensive. Pennsylvania students graduate with the most student debt out of any state in the country, and I’m one of them, so I know we’re not doing enough. I feel like we’re especially not doing enough to help low income families. We have the FAFSA application is not- and I know this from now working at a public- I applied for a public system, I work at a private institution- and the private institution looks at parents’ income in a more holistic way than the FAFSA application. The FAFSA application essentially takes your taxes and makes decisions only looking at numbers, whereas a more holistic approach looks at, you know, how many other family members, how many other kids, where are their other debts, where is their other income coming in, or not, and it provides more support to students. So I think we need to look at that application; we need to do more to grow our grant programs and our scholarships. And then I also know that as a private institution, we raise a lot of money for scholarships, so maybe we can find ways to bolster the foundations that support our public institutions, because I used to work at the WCU foundation, at the public institution, and I know that they were understaffed and underfunded. So how can we support those places that make public school more affordable? I also think that we need to have different conversations with high school students about their choices after high school. I obviously love school; I went through it for I don’t even know how many years, but school is not for everyone. I have four brothers, or three brothers and a sister, sorry, and I know school is not- we’re not the same. I think our high schools do a lot to push college, but they don’t do a lot to push other alternative means to successful careers, and we need to start reinvesting in that sort of training. I think vo-tech has become a place where you don’t want to go, but it used to be a place where you could go and learn really valuable skills, and I think we need to sort of change the way we’re looking at that and invest in alternative, really alternative means of training workers. Because it’s not all college; it’s not all a four year degree.”
While few high schoolers may be able to vote, there are many students who care deeply about the state of politics in the nation and contribute by donating their time. Equally, there are countless students who want to make an impact in their community, whether it be in the field of health, education, the environment, etc. Josh wondered, “What advice would you give to those younger students who are hoping to make a difference, whether it is by furthering their education immediately or maybe getting engaged with the community right after high school?”
At 28 years old, O’Mara offers direct insight into the youth perspective. She is a candidate who understands the influence young people can have, and that age should not be a limiting factor to one’s success. She replied to Josh, “My advice would be to find what you’re passionate about and pursue it, because you need to enjoy what it is that you’re going to do. If you’re passionate about politics, find a candidate to work for. If you’re passionate about your own education, go to visit all those colleges, you know, make all those- apply everywhere, don’t let any stereotype or don’t let any fear hold you down. You have to make these risks and these choices now. As someone who went to college thirty minutes from home, I regret now not looking farther. But I didn’t want to leave my brothers; I didn’t want to leave my friends. I think had I been a little bit more focused on myself and made decisions for myself- I think young people, we often think about the older people in our lives and what expectations they put on us, and what they want of us, and for us, and knowing that they want the best, and they love us, mostly. It’s hard, and you sometimes feel selfish if you take a step back from those expectations and instead think of your own expectations, but I think it’s important to do that. I think it’s important to think, ‘no, not what my teachers, or my parents, or my professors, or what do they want, what do I want?’ Answer that question, and then pursue it. And if you’re having a hard time answering it, write it down. Literally write on a piece of paper, ‘the thing that I want to do is,’ and just keep going until you’re done. I have a lot of journals of started questions that ended up leading into things, because you’ve got to give yourself a chance to unwind. We’re in a very hyper connected world, and it’s good to sometimes unwind, take a step back, and be a tiny bit selfish for yourself.”
Her value for the individual is apparent in many of O’Mara’s responses. Her independence is part of what makes her unique. Nonetheless, we wanted to know if there were any other people who had been pivotal throughout the campaign. Estelle asked, “So having talked about the value of being an independent person and relying on yourself to make a difference, additionally, are there any mentors or people that have guided you with this process?”
O’Mara replied, “Yes. Definitely. My boss at work has, surprisingly, been my beacon through this whole thing. She was the first person I asked about running, and I knew if she told me not to do it I would’ve thought that was crazy. And I’m not sure why; I think working for someone for four years, you know that they know you and they know what you’re capable of, and I knew if she encouraged it it meant I could do it. I also have been in touch, a lot, with one of my high school teachers. He actually wasn’t my teacher; he was my student council advisor, and he is the director of a summer camp that I still work for. I called him very early on and asked him what he thought of the idea, and he was all in. He said ‘oh my god, of course, this makes perfect sense for you,’ and since then he’s been in my mail, he has been a part of all of the journey. And then my husband. I think Brad has been a constant source of energy, motivation, inspiration. You know, there are some days on a campaign that are not easy, and there are some days that you just want to quit and go back to your regular job and your normal life and sleep and watch TV. But Brad kept saying ‘you have to will the victory, you see it happen,’ and he said- he served two tours of duty in Afghanistan- he said, ‘both times, I thought to myself the whole time, ‘I’m coming home. I’ll get back,’ because if not, it won’t happen.’ So everyday that I get down, he wills me into positivity, and we just stay focused on the end.”
O’Mara mentions the more difficult days she’s experienced: “there are some days that you just want to quit.” Despite this, her campaign is incredibly positive. Josh coined the term “willful positivity” in his next question. This phrase embodies the values that we have discussed throughout the interview, hard work and determination, as well as the optimistic outlook presented by the slogan “there is more that unites us than divides us.” Josh Woo inquired, “That willful positivity that you referred to–how does that translate into your long term vision for both Pennsylvania and the Democratic party as whole, for the nation?”
O’Mara said, “I am very excited and hopeful with the amount of engagement that we’re seeing around a midterm election, right? And I know that we have many reasons to be down; I had to turn my news alerts off because it’s just an onslaught of terror. But, I have never seen so many young people engaged in an election before. I have never seen so many first time candidates running. I’ve never seen a ballot filled with governor- you know, there’s a seat filled in every spot. Sometimes there’s open races and uncontested races in Pennsylvania. This year, the Democrats have more state house candidates running than it ever had, and that kind of energy isn’t going to go away after this election. I think what we can collectively appreciate out of the 2016 election is it spurred a political awakening. I think many generations have an event that got them excited and ramped up and engaged for the next decade, you know. My dad was alive during Vietnam. My grandmother, you know, her dad was in World War II. My mom, though, was younger than my dad, and she didn’t really have any events that got her fired up. And then I was alive for the Obama- I mean I voted in the 2008 election for Barack Obama, and this is the first election that feels like that, because, you know, there are lines out the door to vote. There are college students registering other college students to vote. I think we have a lot to be hopeful for, especially for the Democratic party. I don’t know if our leadership is representative of the real grassroots movement that is happening within our party. I think that our leadership is a lot older than the people that are newly engaged, and I think if we stay committed, and if we recognize that to create true change we have to stay committed and we have to keep going, we’re going to eventually see these people that are just starting be the leaders of the party. That’s what I think is so exciting about being in this wave of so many first time candidates. And there are more millennials running in Pennsylvania than in forty eight other states. It’s Missouri and then Pennsylvania in the number of millenials just running for office, and that has me very excited.”
Politics today is not often discussed in an especially positive light, which can leave many citizens feeling discouraged. However, we are seeing a pattern of increased energy and enthusiasm, such as that surrounding the midterms, which O’Mara traces back to the results of the 2016 election. This “political awakening” provides many with a newfound hope, but all the same the news continues to ingrain American citizens with worry. Estelle Atkinson followed up: “Given the tumultuous political environment right now- I agree, it has been amazing to see this kind of hope among people- but do you have any advice for people who may not feel this hope and are still worried about the future of American politics?”
O’Mara’s initial answer was simple: “Vote.”
“Vote and bring five people with you. Use your one, one voice that we have, that we all have, and participate, because it’s not going to change until we vote. It’s not going to change until we elect new people on both sides of the aisle. And I would also say, if you’re feeling completely disgruntled, and the news is so much, it is ok to take a step back. It is ok to not watch the news for a couple of days, and to unplug, and to take care of yourself. And then get back into it. Find an organization and volunteer with them. It doesn’t have to be a campaign, you know, there’s a lot of issue based organizations right now. What’s your issue? If it’s the environment, go work for the Sierra Club or volunteer for PennEnvironment. If it’s gun safety, Moms Demand would love to have you. Do something, because you’ll feel better once you do something. But if you’re just reading, and intaking, and you’re not doing anything to release all of the anxiety or release whatever feelings you have, it will take you over. So, just find something to do, and go do it. And vote!”
Our future lies within our hands, and we can fulfill this role by using our “one voice that we have” to elect people who will represent us. Jenn O’Mara proved in this interview that she wants to work hard, and she wants to work hard for us. Estelle Atkinson asked one final question, “If you are elected and go to Harrisburg, what are some of your goals?”
O’mara responded in a tone of utmost certainty, “I want to try and make it so Harrisburg is functioning better and more ethically. Right off the bat, I want to make it so legislators don’t get paid if they don’t pass a budget. We don’t get paid if we don’t do our work. I want to work on strengthening the DEP and making sure that our environment is protected in a state where we do have fracking. I want to work on common sense gun laws because we, in our district, just had a scare at the Springfield mall on Saturday, and people are very upset. It can be anywhere, and we don’t want it to be here. And I also, this is like, really- you’re going to be like, ‘why is that what you want to do?’- I want to work on fixing the PA house and the PA senate website. It is so hard to navigate. If you want to find a bill and just see what’s being voted on, you almost have to have a degree to navigate it. And, you can’t click on an amendment and read what the amendment vote is. You can only read the bill. For amendment votes, you have to do a right to know request. I just feel like that website is archaic, and we need to make it easier for voters to digest the information. So on my website, I want to have a, you know, here’s what’s voting and here’s how this might affect our district. Here’s what you need to know; call me and tell me what you think about it. I want to try and hear from people more and educate our voters on what’s happening in Harrisburg, because Harrisburg impacts your life more than DC does. But you don’t hear about it, because there’s one journalist that covers Harrisburg. It’s absurd, and they’re very happy to not have us paying attention. My final thing, I would say- well, two things- we need to get the fair funding formula expanded fully in Pennsylvania: right now only seven percent of funds move through it, we need a hundred percent, and a census is coming. 2020. And then we’re going to redraw our district lines, and they’re very gerrymandered right now. We need to everything we can to make sure that that does not happen when we redraw these lines, for state senate and for congress. So I have a lot on my to-do list. But hey, I’ve already been told I can’t run a campaign, and we did, so imagine what I can do if I get there.”
With that final statement, we stopped recording.
O’Mara’s last statement, “imagine what I can do if I get there” is commands her listener to envision the effect of not just O’Mara on Harrisburg, but Harrisburg on the people of Pennsylvania. Her campaign in itself has proven that, with a strong work ethic and the right motivations, real difference, even at such a tumultuous point in time, can be possible.
From the description of her humble background to the inspiration that motivated her campaign, O’Mara seemed to value her status as a normal citizen. Her comments were not decorated with political promises, nor were they stained with the spiteful jabs towards her opponents.
Through her canvassing efforts and bipartisan meet and greets, O’Mara has presented a message of inclusivity. Her campaign does not seem polarizing or exclusive. The idea of unity is refreshing in a divided political realm, and on Tuesday, November 6, DELCO will decide whether Jennifer O’Mara will bring these values to Harrisburg.
We reached out to Jennifer O’Mara’s opponent, Alexander Charlton, for an interview, but did not receive a response.