Finding My Political Voice

After nearly a year campaigning as a progressive Democrat for US Congress, two weeks ago today the voters of Maryland entrusted me with nearly 30,000 votes. But it was not enough to win in a nine-candidate primary race where the three front-runners, two men and myself, divided more than 100,000 votes. I am, of course, disappointed, especially because I feel a deep sense of obligation and gratitude to the people who believed in my campaign. Since Election Day, I've been focusing on the lessons I learned, and how to pay it forward.

Last week I had a chance to address 20 women leaders from all over the world who were convened by the U.S. State Department, Fortune, and Vital Voices, a non-profit that gives voice to women as agents of change in their countries. They came from Myanmar, Egypt, Russia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Vietnam. And like me, they are women struggling to make a difference in their communities, as entrepreneurs, political candidates, and heads of non-profits, and as women who face significant obstacles towards full equality. In responding to their questions about my career path and latest chapter as a candidate for political office, many of the thoughts that have been swirling in my conscious and unconscious mind crystalized.

First, I am proud of the reasons that compelled me to give up a rewarding corporate job with Marriott International, the world's largest hotel company, and run for public office last June. After 40 years in business and journalism, I wanted to serve my community and country, and because of my career success and savings, I was in a position to give up my salary to run full-time.

As a working mother, global business executive, and citizen, I was frustrated by the partisan gridlock in Congress that was preventing our government from taking the necessary steps to address the growing economic insecurity among America's women and working families. I was passionate about raising the minimum wage, earned disproportionately by women and closing the pay gap between men and women's wages. I wanted to be a voice for safer communities through smart gun safety laws, and take action to combat climate change to protect our planet and protect our children's future.

I also believed that it was important for more women to run for office to address the gender gap in Congress, where fewer than one in five representatives are women. Only by getting off the sidelines will women change the dynamic and make sure their voices are added to the mix. These were issues that I could not address in my job at Marriott, even though my position had allowed me to have significant social impact by creating jobs in the global economy for women and disadvantaged youth, promoting opportunity and inclusion, particularly for women and the LGBTQ community, and addressing climate change through responsible business operations.

As with any new endeavor or job, there are some challenges you find easier than expected, and others more challenging. As a TV reporter for 25 years, I have become a quick study on a myriad of local and national issues, a good listener, and I was comfortable addressing crowds of strangers and skeptics. Speaking at 25 candidate forums and meeting thousands of voters at subway stops, shopping malls, and in people's living rooms was the easy part. More difficult was finding my own political voice.

As a local TV news reporter, I had always considered myself a story-teller, but also an advocate for smarter policies and programs in our community to improve education, combat crime, and confront other challenges. My job had allowed me to become deeply involved in community programs supporting disadvantaged women and children.

That's not how the voters saw me, initially. I had to convince them that I was more than a narrator of the region's problems, I was committed to solutions, and had the vision and political skills to get it done. As a global business leader, I had enjoyed great success in my company and in the travel industry as an advocate for progressive policies around equality and diversity in the workplace, corporate social responsibility, and creating hospitality jobs that came with the expansion of global travel, from Haiti to Rwanda to India and the USA. In my campaign, I had to convince voters that those skills translated into the political realm and would make me an effective leader for Democratic values in a Republican-controlled Congress.

My business career had taught me to build teams, develop a plan to meet objectives, and be results-oriented, but the corporate culture also reinforced a certain anonymity. In many ways, it had taught me to sublimate my own voice. In the early days on the campaign trail, I found it hard to describe my experience at Marriott without saying "we," and I had to learn to express what "I" believed and would do. Similarly, my career as a journalist had trained me to hold back on partisan rhetoric, even on issues like marriage equality, reproductive rights, and immigration reform, where I had real passion. Over time, I learned to own my point of view, yield to my strong sense of purpose, and convince volunteers and voters alike that I had the knowledge, passion and commitment to be an agent of change on their behalf.

In the end, I found my voice, through practice and as I channeled the voice of the people who believed in me. Going forward, I remain committed to the 500 volunteers who knocked on doors and made phone calls on my behalf, to the donors in Maryland and across the country responsible for 10,000 contributions that helped fund my campaign, and the 30,000 voters who placed their hopes and trust in me. I pledge to use that voice to make my community and country stronger, whether it's around empowering women in our society, advocating for tougher gun safety laws, climate action, or supporting women candidates for office. And I haven't ruled out running again.

Winning isn't everything. Running itself is a victory, if finding one's voice can be used for the greater good.