By Olivia Ewing and Ke’Aira McDowell
While many people are motivated to make a difference, getting started on a path to public service can be overwhelming. Senator Valencia Seay and Representative Teri Anulewicz both started “local” before running for the Georgia General Assembly.
Rep. Teri Anulewicz “always” knew she wanted to be in public service, even dressing
in “Presidential Attire” for her second grade career day. After moving to Smyrna in 2005 and leaving full time employment to care for her young children, she found herself frequently pushing a stroller past city hall. With a professional background in government relations, public relations, and advocacy, she realized her skill set might be a perfect fit for helping her rapidly growing community. After the man who had held her local council post for 19 years did not respond to phone calls or e-mails, she decided to run against him. She won!
“I realized Smyrna was booming. A lot of young families like mine chose to make their homes in Smyrna. There was no representative for these young families on the city council,” she said, noting there was one woman on the council at the time but nobody under the age of 40 with school age children or babies.
She served 10 years on the city council, rising to mayor pro-tem before deciding to run in a special election in 2017. Surprisingly, and this is an extremely rare occurrence, she faced no opposition in either 2017 or when she ran for re-election in 2018. “I had not presented myself in a partisan way, but rather as a local representative there to listen to everybody and to serve everybody. I think people respected that approach,” she said.
“I have always believed municipal government is the primal form of government – you’re talking about the police department and whether the water is safe, the sewer system is working efficiently and the potholes in roads are getting filled quickly,” she said.
“The council person is concerned with whether you are spending tax dollars wisely. The Smyrna annual budget is about $97 million and so serving on the council is like being on the board of directors for a $90 million company with 350 employees. That’s a big deal,” Rep. Anulewicz said. “As a council person you represent 50,000 people who have a wide variety of incomes and cultures. You have to be sure you represent all of them.”
By contrast, Sen. Seay did not anticipate a future on the Clayton County School Board. She felt compelled to run for office when her eldest son had a challenging transition between middle school and high school. “I went to speak to the school board about my concerns and they looked at me as if I was a ghost. It just stirred something in me,” said Sen. Seay, who soon became an empathetic ear for citizens on the board which had ignored her. “I challenged the sitting board member and he chose not to run,” she said. “I felt selected even before I was elected.”
“Education is the key to freedom,” Senator Seay said. “We demonstrate how much we value our children by the education we provide them.”
Both women have found their local service helpful as a framework for crafting policy while serving under the Gold Dome.
For Rep. Anulewicz, serving on the city council and as mayor pro tem of Smyrna gave her credibility and connections for legislative success. “A lot of the older folks in the legislature knew me and had known me for years due to my city council service. They knew I knew my stuff, and when I arrived as a freshman minority party legislator, it was a lot harder for them to dismiss me,” she said. She fels this gave her a tremendous advantage for serving in the House.
Sen. Seay, who served one term in the House and is now serving her ninth term as a Senator, believes local level office is great preparation for legislative service and understanding the political process. “Whether it’s school board or commission, the ground level is really where everything comes from,” she said. “If you can do local, you can definitely do the state level. Serving on the school board gave me a stronger foundation for becoming a state legislator and understanding the political process.”
Senator Seay is a strong advocate for electing more women and Georgia WIN List. “In Georgia, when women WIN, all of Georgia WINs. Women are the backbone of families and households and we vote in higher numbers. We must continue to support organizations like Georgia WIN List so we can continue to move Georgia forward,” she said.
There are 3,050 elected municipal offices in the 535 Georgia cities and towns and half of them are on the ballot in November 2020. For decades, incumbents for municipal office in Georgia have run unopposed. Georgia WIN List will soon be offering “Ignite Your Inner WINner” training sessions which will help women considering a run for office make the best decision.
While Georgia WIN List does not endorse in municipal or county races, we see these local offices as an important pipeline for future legislative leaders or statewide candidates. The same can be said for judicial races and contests for district attorney.