Valerie is a Founding Member Class of 2018 and a member of The Matriots board of directors. Valerie is a brilliant strategic thinker with extensive experience in public policy. She is from the Dayton area and currently serves as the director of exploratory research at the Kettering Foundation.
Before serving at the Kettering Foundation, Valerie served as city manager for the cities of Petersburg, Virginia as well as Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio. Additionally she was a commissioner on the Public Utility Commission of Ohio and the acting chief of staff for Congressman Turner, of Ohio’s 10th district. She has served on several boards, including the House of Representatives Committee on Urban Redevelopment and President Clinton’s Greenhouse Gas Advisory Committee. We are so fortunate to have Valerie as a member and leader of The Matriots PAC!
You are a member of The Matriots board of directors, and serve on several committees, what drew you to our work?
As a career public administrator, my goal was to ensure the organizations I managed were efficient, effective, and economical, the values recognized in the profession as the pillars of good government. As one of the first African Americans and women to serve as city manager, I represented the importance women and people of color brought to the governance process. When I learned about The Matriots and their core belief in the need for more political leadership and participation by women, it resonated with my personal and professional experiences and career. Additionally, professional standards dictate that city managers are nonpartisan, so joining The Matriots has provided me an opportunity to use my knowledge and understanding of local and state government to help encourage and support women who stand for public office. Through our collective power, The Matriots help ensure the interest of women and families will be central to public policies enacted by elected bodies in our state, strengthening our communities and enhancing the quality of life for all.
You served as the city manager for both Cincinnati and Dayton, can you share with our members what accomplishments from your time in office that you are most proud of?
As a city manager, I aspired to achieve the ideals articulated in the Oath of the Athenian City-State to “…transmit this City not only, not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.” I wanted to make a profound difference in the quality of life of those who lived and worked in the cities I managed, and most importantly, to change the order of things so that those who’d been traditionally disenfranchised had a voice and recognized their power to act as democratic citizens.
Building bridges across political, gender and economic divides; finding pathways to success for those who’d been previously marginalized; and promoting women and people of color to key management and leadership positions in local government are some of the relational accomplishments of which I’m most proud.
On an operational level, I’m most proud in Dayton of the (1) redevelopment we began in the downtown of housing and amenities, including, with the approval of the Cincinnati Reds and Major League Baseball, bringing major league baseball to town —the Dayton Dragons have been sold out for the past twenty years and continue to be a major attraction, catalyzing restaurants, housing and other amenities; (2) in a collaborative partnership with Montgomery County and Five Rivers Metro parks, the redevelopment of the riverfront to what is now RiverScape; (3) the construction of a performing arts center in collaboration with many public and private stakeholders; (3) building and renovation of the first market-rate housing in the inner city of Dayton for generations; (4) partnership with Miami Valley Hospital and the University of Dayton that resulted in the redevelopment of the previously disinvested neighborhood anchored by these two institutions, to create new housing opportunities for residents and students and a new small business corridor; (5) development of an innovative program, in collaboration with Sinclair Junior College, to train minorities and women for positions in the city’s public safety forces (unfortunately, not sustained) and (6) the creation of innovative development financing tools, including the port authority.
In Cincinnati, it was (1) the successful implementation of the Collaborative Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to change police practices, policies and procedures in response to allegations of racial profiling and the use of force against people of color; (2) creation of a development financing authority to lead and finance redevelopment in the downtown and Over- the-Rhine, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC); (3) related partnerships with other institutional partners including the University of Cincinnati; (4) retaining key headquarter companies in the downtown; and (5) supporting and financing neighborhood redevelopment.
You were also appointed commissioner by Governor Taft and Governor Strickland to the Public Utilities Commission. Can you share with our members what your role was and why the commission’s work is important?
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is important because it affects every household in Ohio through its regulation of utility service providers, including electric and natural gas companies, local and long distance telephone companies, water and wastewater companies, rail and trucking companies. As commissioner, you approve the rates utilities can charge end users, help ensure utility system reliability and the incorporation of renewal energy resources into the energy mix. During my term as commissioner, we implemented the competitive retail markets for electricity and natural gas. I also served as president of the Organization of MISO States, a regional state compact that was established to represent the collective interests of states and local utility regulators with the operator of the bulk wholesale power transmission system operator.
Now you are the director of exploratory research at the Kettering Foundation, a nonprofit foundation conducting research focused on what people can collectively do to address problems affecting their lives, their communities and their nation. Kettering’s primary research question is: what does it take to make democracy work as it should? In your opinion, what does it take to make democracy work as it should?
The Charles F. Kettering Foundation studies how to make democracy work as it should and our research is conducted from the perspective of citizens and what they can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities and their nation. Our core insights suggest that a robust democracy requires responsible citizens who can make sound decisions about their future and can act on these decisions in democratic and complementary ways with government to produce public goods. We define citizenship not as a legal status, but as a practice that is more than voting and serving on juries. Citizens are more than consumers, constituents, clients and customers—they are people who work collectively with government to address shared community problems.
Now for something fun: Tell us about a family member, hobby or a personal interest.
The joy of my life is raising our twelve year old grandson. He is a delightful, happy, sensitive young man who lights up our life. For a class project, he and two classmates created a business—they sell keychains they designed and 3-D printed along with baked goods they make. Their in-school enterprise is so successful they’ve hired two classmates to work for them! Aden loves sports, playing Forte Night and watching You Tube videos and his active life keeps my husband and me engaged and active!
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.
On January 16, we convened our 2018 cohort of endorsed candidates for a working dinner with our board of directors and endorsement committee. We discussed how The Matriots was helpful last year and how we can improve our support of women candidates moving forward. It was incredibly stimulating and informative to have so many of our 2018 candidates–-incumbents and future challengers; women in statewide, county and local office—gather together to offer us their feedback. And, as exciting, to support each other moving forward.
This is how we will succeed: by lifting each other up.
Check out some of our favorite pictures from the event below and a special thank you to Dara Pizzuti, who helped facilitate this fantastic event.
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!
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!
Did you know that the Ohio General Assembly passes a bill each year known as a Christmas tree bill?
In a rush to finish up business before adjourning for the holidays lawmakers at the state and federal level work to pass legislation known as a Christmas tree bill. The Christmas tree bill gets its name not for its holiday spirit, but rather for the the additional amendments, or “decorations,” tacked on to a single piece of legislation. In 1956, Senator Clinton Anderson commented in Time Magazine about a bill with more than 100 amendments, saying, “This bill gets more and more like a Christmas tree—there is something on it for nearly everyone.” Often amendments or riders attached to Christmas tree bills are connected only by the goal of passing the legislation quickly so lawmakers can head home for the holidays.
This year the Ohio General Assembly decorated Senate Bill 51 with millions of dollars in appropriations to repair the Ohio Governor’s Mansion, rebuild the Statehouse parking garage, and improve flood control efforts in the the Findlay area. In particular, this Christmas tree bill made headlines for the $15 million appropriation to build a new stadium for the Columbus Crew.
Check out our most recent Hive newsletter, where each month we feature a did you know section. Want to receive our newsletter? Sign up here!
The Matriots PAC conducts first “State of Women in Ohio Elected Office” report detailing numbers of women in political office – from school board to Governor.
Columbus, Ohio – According to a new research report that provides the first formal measurement of women in Ohio office, out of 17,616 elected offices at all levels of government in Ohio, just 29% of the positions are held by women. Sponsored by The Matriots PAC, the research includes a review of offices from school boards to village, city, county, and governor to create a more accurate picture of the number of women in political office. Prior to this report, female representation in office has never been formally accounted for by the Ohio Secretary of State.
Using data from the 2016-2017 term for local government and 2017-2018 for federal, state, county and judiciary, this study shows the highest proportional representations of women in Ohio office at the school board level with 36% of total positions held by women. However, this percentage consistently decreases the higher the level of government with just 22% representation at the state level and 16% at the federal level. It further highlights female representation in specific roles such as council member, sheriff, and fiscal officer, and throughout Ohio’s counties with Portage and Monroe showing the highest at 40% and Mercer at the lowest with 12%.
“It’s time we measure what matters. The Matriots’ long-term goal is to see 50% of all political offices in Ohio held by women, but it’s hard to achieve this if we don’t know what the current state looks like,” said Sally Crane Cox, Matriots board chair. “This research helps us better understand how much work is left to be done. Working toward equal-gender political representation benefits not just the 51% of the state’s population that is grossly underrepresented but will lead to more legislation and policies that support families and communities throughout Ohio.”
The Matriots PAC, a statewide nonpartisan political action committee, formed in 2017 with the mission to elect more women to office in Ohio who will support an economy in which women can thrive and prosper. The organization quickly grew to one of the most powerful PACs in Ohio after raising $1 million in contributions, pledges, and in-kind in its first year. In the recent 2018 general election, 16 Matriots-endorsed candidates won their races, contributing to the highest percentage of women in Ohio’s general assembly in the state’s history.
The list of officeholder names included in the study was gathered from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. As gender information is not collected on Ohio’s voter registration forms, when gender was not readily available, it was estimated using names and a statistical computing software, GenderizeR, that predicts gender based on first names. The research allows for a 4% margin of error for each level of government.
“This research is exciting because not only does it finally give us a real picture of the numbers of women who are working hard to better our communities through the work they are doing at the school board, village, county, and state levels, it helps us prioritize our efforts, as an organization, around future outreach and elections,” said Elissa Schneider, Matriots executive director. “At 29% representation, we’ve got some work to do, particularly when it comes to higher level offices.”
On Wednesday, November 21st 2018, after counting 11,000 provisional and absentee ballots, the Hamilton County Board of Elections officially announced that Matriots endorsed candidate Jessica Miranda leads her opponent in the race for Ohio House district 28.
Miranda holds a 56 vote lead over her opponent Jonathan Dever, who on election night Miranda trailed by 303 votes. These results will trigger an automatic recount.
Ever wonder who created The Matriots bee logo, or maybe our popular car magnet? Meet the Matriots Kirsten (left) and Mairead (right) of Reddy or Knot design. Mairead (rhymes with parade) studied graphic design in Waterford, Ireland and has over 25 years of design and print production experience. She speaks cmyk fluently and has great Photoshop skills to boot! Kirsten (K-ear-sten) is a wordsmith and a graphic designer and loves to help clients communicate powerfully with just the right images and words. Reddy or Knot is a small firm creating big ideas for companies like Marriott International, Aloft Hotels, Element Hotels, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Mastercard and Columbus College of Art and Design – and of course, The Matriots PAC! We are incredibly grateful to have Kirsten and Mairead’s support, both as members and graphic designers.
You have very generously supported The Matriots PAC with your creative design and branding work at Reddy or Knot since even before the organization filed as a political action committee. What about the Matriots’ work appeals to you?
Most of our work is for corporations, so we’re excited when we get to work on smaller brands with a worthy cause. It means we get to be in on something that we feel is important and help create it from the ground up.
Have there been particular experiences that have informed your personal journey as feminists?
Kirsten: I remember that my elementary school curriculum was mostly project based. For one project I dressed as Geraldine Ferraro and for another Harriet Tubman. I come from a long line of feminists, so it was no surprise that I always chose women to emulate and idolize.
Mairead, you are a native of Ireland. What are your observations about women’s leadership in America?
For 21 years of my life (from 1990 to 2011) we had back-to-back female presidents in Ireland. I’m not saying those two women didn’t face loads of discrimination—and maybe I’m naïve—but I don’t feel women are on quite such uneven footing in much of Europe. People’s differences, whether it’s their race, gender, sexuality, disability, etc. are not used against them in the same way that they are in the States.
Kirsten, your company has top-name clients, from Starwood Hotels to Mastercard. Have there been challenges unique to being a woman business owner?
As a certified women-owned business, larger corporations look favorably on doing business with us. And in our field, the clients we work with at those companies are typically women so I can’t say that we have experienced challenges unique to being women. We’ve been quite fortunate in that respect.
Now for something fun: Share with us an anecdote about yourselves, a hobby or a personal interest.
We both love to play tennis. Mairead discovered the sport for the first time recently, and I rediscovered it after loving it as a kid but not playing for 30 years. Mairead’s enjoying it so much, in fact, that she played on Halloween dressed as Billie Jean King. The hair got in the way after a while.
Nickie Antonio, Ohio Senate – District 23
Kristin Boggs, Ohio House – District 18
Marilyn Brown, Franklin County Commissioner
Randi Clites, Ohio House – District 75
Erica Crawley, Ohio House – District 26
Teresa Fedor, Ohio Senate – District 11
Tavia Galonski, Ohio House – District 35
Brigid Kelly, Ohio House – District 31
Mary Lightbody, Ohio House – District 19
Beth Liston, Ohio House – District 21
Jessica Miranda, Ohio House – District 28
Allison Russo, Ohio House – District 24
Carolyn Rice, Montgomery County Commissioner
Christiane Schmenk, Union County Commissioner
Stephanie Summerow Dumas, Hamilton County Commissioner
Sandra Williams, Ohio Senate – District 21