MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We’re going to turn our attention now to state and local elections that took place in parts of the country this week. Republicans held their own in some of their traditional strongholds, but Democrats flipped seats in some key races in states like Virginia and Pennsylvania, the second time since the 2016 election that a so-called blue wave has unseated a number of Republican incumbents.
This was especially true in a number of suburban areas where national trends show support for Republicans is slipping. But this time, the wave spread to local races – to city councils or county councils or commissions – with a number of candidates who do not come from the traditional political pipelines.
We wanted to know more about who some of these newly elected political leaders are, what their ideas are and what they think their victories might mean for the 2020 election, so we’ve called on Juli Briskman. You may remember a photo that went viral in 2017 when a cyclist extended a certain well-known hand gesture to President Trump’s motorcade. That cyclist was Juli Briskman, after which she was terminated from her job with a federal contractor. Well, she just won a seat on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. That’s a county outside of Washington, D.C.
Juli Briskman, welcome to you. Thank you so much for joining us.
JULI BRISKMAN: Thank you.
MARTIN: We’re also joined by Safiya Khalid. She’s the first Somali immigrant and, at 23 years old, the youngest person ever elected to the Lewiston City Council in Maine.
Safiya Khalid, welcome to you as well. Thank you for joining us.
SAFIYA KHALID: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: And, last but not least, we’re joined by Kendra Brooks. She is a member of the Working Families Party. She just became the first candidate from a third party – which is to say, not a Democrat or a Republican – to win a seat on Philadelphia’s city council in a hundred years.
Kendra Brooks, welcome to you as well.
KENDRA BROOKS: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So let me just start with your backgrounds. And, Kendra, I will start with you. Perhaps – I’m guessing a number of our listeners don’t know what the Working Families Party is. Just tell us a little bit about what it is and how you decided to become involved.
BROOKS: Yeah. I was really proud to run as a Working Families Party candidate because they share my same values. You know, we all talk about we want America for many and not the few. And the Working Families Party represents that not just locally but across the country.
MARTIN: Safiya, as we mentioned, you’re an immigrant from Somalia. You’re the first in your family to graduate from high school and college. And many people may know Lewiston as the home of the former governor Paul LePage, who employed a lot of the same tactics and rhetoric as President Trump, particularly regarding immigrants, whom he characterized often in very negative terms. What is it that made you want to run for the city council?
KHALID: You know, for someone who was not born in the country and came here at the age of 7, Lewiston welcomed my family. And running for office and giving the same opportunities that I received when I came here was the biggest reason why I decided to run – so that Lewiston can continue to welcome and be progressive and, you know, inclusive.
MARTIN: And, Juli, what about you? As I mentioned that – a number of people have heard about your story, and one of the local columnists for The Washington Post wrote about it. What made you decide to run?
BRISKMAN: There’s no doubt that the photograph and my unjustly getting fired from my job kind of kick-started me into activism. I learned about this seat in 2015 when I helped my friend Andy Resnick run. But definitely, after I got fired, I immediately decided I was going to be active because the Trump agenda is not – does not represent the values of most of America. And, as a matter of fact, it’s quite offensive. After I decided that it was something that would, you know, fit with my – you know, my personality and my character and all that, I thought, OK. Yes, I am going to run. I’m going to put myself out there and do it.
MARTIN: And, Kendra, what about you? What do you think resonated with the voters around your candidacy?
BROOKS: I think it was, like, the fact that this was – I’m an activist and community organizer. And part of the conversation was Republicans out, Working Families in. And with those seats being held by the Republican Party for so long, we felt that we were building a movement of working-class people in the city pushing back against the status quo and saying that, you know, we’re tired of politics as usual.
MARTIN: And, Safiya, you defeated a fellow Democrat in your election, and you won by a very comfortable margin. But I also want to point out that you faced, you know, a real kind of hate campaign directed at you that I don’t think was strictly limited to Maine voters. I think it attracted attention, like, outside of Maine for people attacking the fact that you wear hijab, the fact that your – you know, your background. And, like, a lot of the tactics that other candidates, you know, have seen, but I would say particularly sort of vicious.
And I just wanted to ask, first of all, what do you make of that? And, secondly, how did you respond to that?
KHALID: I had to, you know, delete my social media accounts so that I can stay focused on my doors. And I think all that hate – like, you know, you said, majority of it came from across the country, you know from Mississippi to Alabama. You know, people saying that I’m going to shoot you and just the most terrible that – and, you know, and what people were saying on social media was completely different than what I was experiencing at the doors. Because at the doors, I knocked over thousands of doors, and I met the most genuine, welcoming people that I never met before.
MARTIN: So now that each of you is – has been elected, what will be your metric of success? Like, how will each of you – you know, now that you’ve gotten the job, now each of you has to do the job (laughter). What is going to be your metric of success? Like, say, Juli, do you want to go first?
BRISKMAN: Sure. For me personally, the biggest objective is going to be fully funding our schools. And I have some specific things I want funded that were taken out of the school budgets. Our schools haven’t been fully funded the last six out of the eight years. And then the other thing that I really want to work on is our energy plan and, you know, our environmental impact. Since I’ve lived here, our county has gone from 90,000 people to 400,000 people.
MARTIN: Wow. OK. Kendra Brooks, what about you? What will be your metric of success? How will you know you’ve done what you set out to do?
BROOKS: Fully funding for our public schools here in the city. Doing something – we have a series gun violence epidemic happening here in the city and also include conversation about criminal justice reform here in the city. And then continue to lobby to increase minimum wage because our issue in Philadelphia is poverty, and how can we combat poverty on a local level to make this city a place where everyone can live and thrive?
MARTIN: Interesting. Safiya, What about you? How will you know you’ve succeeded in your job?
KHALID: I want to, you know, focus on ways to bring outside investment into our city, so – and also support our small businesses by, you know, growing our economy. And we – you know, we also have old housing stock, so I want to focus on that – you know, creating affordable homes where – so that kids don’t – kids have – kids and families have a safe and decent home to go to.
MARTIN: So it’s interesting. I’ve asked each of you this question, and all of you focused on obviously important local issues. Of course, the national folks looking at these races are looking at this as a – with a question about whether this – what has your success, the success of candidates – of you as candidates and candidates like you – what does this mean for 2020? So what do you think? I mean, do you think that this – your victory signals anything about 2020? Or are we overthinking it? Juli.
BRISKMAN: I don’t think we’re overthinking it at all. I think that the Trump effect was in play at every level. And I think the reason is because it’s about values. It’s about values of equity and parity. It’s about values of not, you know, using hateful rhetoric or discriminating against our neighbors.
But the other thing – I mean, just looking at this panel here today, it also says that women are the root of so much revolution that’s happening in our country right now. So many women have been elected to office. And not only that – so many women have played a huge role in making sure that we get into office. And so I think, look out 2020 because we’re not going back to sleep. The women of this country are energized, and we’re ready to make a difference.
MARTIN: Kendra, what about you? You’re technically not a Democrat. There isn’t anyone from the Working Families Party running for president at this moment. But what do you think? What are your thoughts?
BROOKS: We are sending a message towards 2020 to build a stronger Democratic Party – that we can do it grassroots. Local politics matters, and just getting people motivated to get back into the process.
MARTIN: OK. Safiya, final thought from you?
KHALID: Yeah. You know, as the youngest ever to serve at the age of 23 and the first, you know, Somali to serve on the city council, that sends a clear message to the entire country that America is a place for everyone. And Trump’s racism and hatred towards minorities and people of color and marginalized communities – he does not represent everyone here in America.
MARTIN: Safiya Khalid, thank you so much for joining us.
KHALID: Thank you so much for having me.
Kendra Brooks, thank you so much for joining us.
BROOKS: Thank you so much for having me.
MARTIN: Juli Briskman, thank you so much for joining us.
BRISKMAN: Pleasure to be here. Thank you.[POST BROADCAST CORRECTION: A previous version of the audio and transcript mistakenly identified Lewiston, Maine, as the home of L.L.Bean. In fact, the company was founded and is headquartered in Freeport, Maine. L.L.Bean does some of its manufacturing in Lewiston, Maine.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.