Why did you decide to run for office? During first campaign
I made the decision to run for office because Elna Spaulding and Josephine Clement, two women I admired, were County Commissioners. When Mrs. Clement decided not to seek re-election, I was approached and asked to run for her seat. I was interested in public education, social services, and health, all areas Commissioners influence. I was very interested in children’s issues and saw the role of County Commissioner as an avenue to help children. My ability to work with people did allow me to be instrumental in getting more resources to help protect vulnerable children and to improve their quality of life.
What did it feel to be recruited to run for office?
It was scary. I was surprised and asked the recruiters “why me?” They said I had the right demeanor and I was seen as sensible and practical by others in the community. I had been politically active in college and held student leadership roles. I enjoyed that work and the opportunities it gave me to meet new people. I enjoyed the feeling that I was helping by getting people registered to vote. That piece of the political knowledge was a part of me, but I was not thinking of being in politics at that time. At the time, my community work had been centered around my sons. I was spending most of my time focused on my children and family so I was surprised that I was asked to run for office. My husband told me to “go for it” before I even finished telling him. The rest is history
What are the benefits of being a women while campaigning and serving?
Once I became a Durham County Commissioner I realized how unusual it was to have a woman in that role, and have that also be an African-American woman. At the time, most county commissioners were white males. That was a surprise for me. What I brought to the county commission and the General Assembly is the knowledge of social services, healthcare, the experience of being a wife and mother and balancing a job, family, and politics. I wasn’t naive. I had to work hard to gain acceptance among some of the men. I remember bringing my mother to a national conference and someone said to her, “MaryAnn has no business being a county commissioner. That’s a man’s job.” My mother’s response was, “Who is this man? Who thinks a woman can’t lead? Women are great leaders.” It takes a diversity to represent the population well. Most women aren’t quick to jump, we’re very thoughtful about the decisions and the impact. When campaigning, I am well received. Most women are well received during the campaigns. I do think men must think carefully about how they position themselves when they’re campaigning against a woman.
Why are you pro-choice?
I have seen evidence throughout my life that the choice that women must make to plan their lives and families should not be taken away from them. I stand by my voting record to support women’s reproductive rights.
What do you hope to accomplish for women while in office?
Along with Rep. Becky Carney, we are working on a bill for women’s cancer research with an emphasis on cancer’s effect on women of color. This bill passed the House. We are passing a bill for a study to research cancer on black women and to study how income affects cancer treatment. We want to find out why women of color are frequently given a worse prognosis than white women with a similar disease. I am also interested in aging so I am looking at bills that will protect our aging population. Since women typically outlive men, we are looking at improving retirement homes. I am working on an early childhood education bill to help children and the women who care for them in daycares. This bill pays for daycare teachers to go back to school at a community college. It also raises the wage for daycare workers and they can then go onto a four year college and use their knowledge to take better care of our children.
Who is your favorite fictional politician?
My favorite fictional politician is written about in the Second Helping and other Blessing Books by Beverly Jenkins. Bernadine Brown is the mayor of Henry Adams a town of 70 people which she grows into a larger town. Bernadine appears in several of Beverly Jenkins novels. I like this mayor because she had a passion for helping children and cared for several foster children, some of whom were difficult children. She was also instrumental in getting people in the town to adopt some of the children. Beverly Jenkins created Bernadine to be a great business leader and good politician. Bernadine knows how to grow wealth and protect her town and its people.