Meet The Matriots: Sarah Brandon & Michael Bowen

Sarah and Michael are Founding Members Class of 2019 and proud Cleveland residents. This power couple met at Shaker Heights High School, where Michael says he fell in love with Sarah the moment he saw her. Sarah is a realtor and Michael is an associate attorney at Taft, Stettinus & Hollister LLP, where he is a member of the litigation team. Both Sarah and Michael are active in their communities. Michael served as the Campaign Director for Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson in 2017 and recently helped Matriots endorsed candidates, Julianna Johnston Senturia during her race for Mayor of Shaker Heights. 

As Founding Members Class of 2019, why did you both join The Matriots PAC and why do you feel that our work is important?

We both have role models—especially former Shaker Heights City Councilwoman Lynn Ruffner (Mike’s mom)—who played a role in Cuyahoga County politics. We believe that women in elected office are necessary. They provide diversity in thought and leadership. Any organization that puts women elected officials at the forefront is something we must support.

Sarah and Michael, you both have been heavily involved in the Cleveland community, from your perspective what makes Cleveland special?

We were born and raised in this town and we have loved living here. Cleveland is a place full of culture and vigor.

Michael, you’ve been involved in politics most of your life, can you share with our members what you learned from your experiences and what drew you to work in politics?

I caught the political bug early helping on my mother’s campaigns. The number one lesson I have learned about politics is what appears to be going on with the naked eye is not necessarily true. Being one-step ahead of what is actually happening is key.

Sarah, in 2018, The Matriots endorsed our very first class of endorsed candidates. Can you tell our members about a candidate who inspired you and why?

A candidate that inspired me last cycle was Juliana Johnston Senturia, candidate for Mayor of Shaker Heights. And that is not just because my husband ran her campaign! She is a Jewish woman like myself and it was so empowering to see her put herself out there. Regardless of what came up during the election, and it was a tough one, she stayed positive, stayed true to herself and kept working hard until the very end.

Now for something fun! You two recently got married, tell our members how you met and when you knew the other was the person you wanted to spend your life with.

We met at Shaker Heights High School Sarah’s freshman year in 2001. Mike fell in love with her the moment he saw her in the cafeteria that first day. The feeling was finally mutual 10 years later.

Meet a Matriot: Tom Grote

 

Tom Grote is Matriarch and past member of The Matriots PAC board of directors. He was instrumental in our organization’s early growth and  is active in his community. He currently is leading the opening of the Grote family innovation center and is a partner at Grote Turner, which works with companies and non-profits to clearly define and align purpose in their organizations. He sits on the COTA board of trustees and previously served on the board of trustees for the United Way of Central Ohio. He helped found Equality Ohio, and most recently co-chaired the capital campaign for Stonewall Columbus. Tom lives in German Village with his husband, Rick Neal, their daughters Amoret (9) and Sophia (7) and their newly adopted dog, Muppy.

You joined the board of directors of The Matriots PAC when it first formed. What drew you to our work and how did it feel to be the only man on the board of an organization dedicated to women’s leadership?

My husband and I and our girls, Amoret and Sophia, participated in the DC Women’s March in 2017.  I was impressed by the energy and tone of the March. There were thousands and thousands of mostly women, and it was intense.  But intense in a peaceful, determined way. It was powerful. And I was proud that my girls had that experience. Amoret’s take away was one of the chants, “My body, my choice.”  She uses this as a way to claim her own power about all kinds of things. She has internalized this and her daddies could not be more happy and proud.

The women who founded The Matriots were also at that march.  And that is what drew me to them. They have that same peaceful determination.  The Matriots are right that we need more women in office. Because we need more of that peaceful intensity making the decisions that affect our communities and our children’s futures.  

I was proud to be the only man on the Matriots’ steering committee and board.  There is a different dynamic in a group of women rather than a group of mostly men.  Most of the dynamics are better in that there was more discussion and more sensitivity to points of view, and less worry about who got credit.  There were some tears and sharing that were helpful as well. There were comments made that are not typically made in front of men, I think. Some were surprising to me, but I will take them to the grave 🙂

You were instrumental in the founding and success of Equality Ohio, a statewide organization that advocates and educates to achieve fair treatment and equal opportunity for all Ohioans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Are there similarities between that experience and helping to get The Matriots off the ground?

So many similarities.  Both statewide, political organizations led by highly motivated volunteers seizing a moment in history.  Both working with many constituencies, challenging them to come together despite differences and backgrounds.  Most importantly, both with an opportunity to define a bold vision and inspire folks to donate time and treasure.  I was able to lean on my experience with Equality Ohio, particularly around challenging us to be bold and clearly define our vision.  The Matriots’ bold goal: 50% of all officeholders will be women in ten years! It is bold, but achievable. And achieving it will make Ohio better.  

In addition to grassroots organizing, you have spent the last year helping your husband, Rick Neal, campaign for US Congress. How was that experience and did it change your view of politics?

I could write a book on this one.  I learned so much. First off, many folks complain about the work around running for office.  But, if you have the right attitude, it can be fun. Our family was all in and we had a blast.  We liked the campaigning. And we liked being able to stand up for our values, particularly in this time of Trump.  While Rick did not win his race, we did get to participate in taking back the house, particularly since Rick ran against the chair of the NRCC.  Despite the loss, this was a huge win for our democracy. Democracy works, but not for the lazy. We got to show our kids that first hand. No regrets.    

What motivates you and Rick to be so politically active?

Rick is a peace corps guy.  He took an oath to uphold the constitution.  He has community in his DNA. For me, I had some dark days in my life dealing with my sexual orientation.  I had an awakening as I navigated through that process. I am deeply connected to a sense of WE versus ME. I resonate with leaders who fight for all of us.  I want to be that type of leader too. So, I usually say yes to opportunities that show up around social justice and community. And a lot of those opportunities are political in nature.  

Now for something fun: Tell us about a family member, hobby or a personal interest.

Given that we had to fight for the right to marry and adopt our kids, family is everything to me.  I love spending time with my kids. And I love being goofy with them. The best times are blaring Alexa to kids bop and 70’s disco songs and singing and dancing our hearts out.  This gay boy is un-stereotypically a very bad dancer, just ask my girls. But those are the best times ever!

Meet a Matriot: Harriet Warm

1) You were among the first of the Cleveland-area people to join The Matriots PAC, and signed on as a Founding Member. What about The Matriots’ work appeals to you?

Having attended a girl’s school, a women’s college and been on the all-female board of a hospital, I know how effective women can be. I was dismayed by the limited number of women running for office, even in 2018.

When I was introduced to The Matriots, I immediately felt they could be my proxy. They could sort out the abilities of Ohio women running for office, something I could not do effectually as an individual.  The fact that they focused narrowly on Ohio and offered a range of support to candidates seemed to me a recipe for success over time.

2) You moved to Ohio several years ago from New York City, where you worked at Citibank.  What is your view generally on politics in Ohio?

Politics in Ohio seems much more personal. New York City is so large that it is difficult to have an impact.  Because it is predominantly Democratic, the action is usually in the primaries.  In Ohio one often personally knows one or more candidates and there is a feeling that individual support can truly make a difference.

3) What are your observations about the differences between Cleveland and Cincinnati politically?

When I grew up in Cincinnati there was no Democratic Party. There was only the Republicans and the Charterites.  My father ran as a Charter candidate one year. They needed someone to put on the ballot and, as a young lawyer, he agreed to do it. Of course he lost, but as a child I remember listening avidly to the tallies as the votes were counted.

4) You have a particular passion around the arts, have been a board member of Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, the founder of the Leadership Council at the Cleveland Museum of Art and now work on a larger scale through the National Museum of Women in the Arts. How does your work in the arts support your belief in women’s leadership?

Both MOCA and NMWA were founded by women and have had powerful women directors for many years. The CMA has a growing number of women in key roles and three recent major exhibitions featured women artists or were female inspired. Working with all three of these institutions how can I not see how much women can accomplish?

5) Now for something fun: Tell us about a family member, hobby or a personal interest. 

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a zest for travel. I’ve hiked the Annapurna route in Nepal, spent time in Bhutan, visited India multiple times, toured Europe, South America and much of Africa. Now I’m especially focused on family trips. I am traveling in January, with my two daughters, to Sri Lanka, and in February to Charleston for a long weekend.  It’s a rare treat to explore new territory with them and see how they support each other.  I’m fortunate to have this kind of fun in my life!