On January 1, Leslie Stevenson will be sworn in as a city councilor for Ward 1 in Norwood, Ohio. A 2016 alumna of the Gender, Leadership, and Public Policy (GLPP) graduate certificate program at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School, Stevenson says she was motivated to run by the need for change in her own city.
“There were things I didn’t like in my community and I wanted to move. But I thought that if I move, there could be other things I don’t like, so maybe I should just stay here and get involved,” recounts Stevenson. At the GLPP graduation ceremony in May 2016, she recalls being inspired hearing Boston City Council President Michelle Wu speak about how she is able to make a difference in people’s lives every day.
In the GLPP program, Stevenson learned that most men are elected to office by the time they are 35, so turning 35 propelled her to action. She knew she had both “support and a network--Ward 1 is the most diverse in Norwood and I didn’t have to become known to the whole city.”
Stevenson attributes her win to personal outreach: “I asked people, ‘Do you know who your council representative is and have you ever spoken to them?’ I think my ideas resonated with residents and people felt a real connection—that the person who could represent me just knocked on my door.”
Stevenson says the GLPP program bolstered her skills and experience in public administration. Concepts she learned there helped shape her platform, including participatory budgeting and recognizing the intersectional impact of existing polices. “Norwood had a strong ‘good ol’ boys’ network who created a budget deficit. If we have a budget only decided on by a few insiders, what does that mean for new residents? Women, who are heavily involved in schools and nonprofit organizations, need a policy-making ally to make our city more inclusive. I want to help the people who are trying to make the city better. I want to partner with schools to make the lives of children and families better.”
“My commitment when I started to run was to see more engagement because so many people get left out. I, and other women of color, have not seen themselves in the local process before,” says Stevenson. She believes that “having residents involved in a formal way is a path to build trust so that they don’t feel that someone is making decisions for them, without their input. There’s been such hopelessness in the local environment. But now, we can begin to focus on key priorities like infrastructure, community development, and growing revenue.”
Today, Stevenson is confident about Norwood’s future: “It will take everyone’s involvement to sustain our progress, but I know we can affect change here, right now.”