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Credit: Lulu Wang

In her return to campus, 2008 School of Arts and Sciences graduate Kim R. Ford spoke to Penn students in Houston Hall about the difficulties of campaign finances and the importance of representing the community over political partisanship on March 16.

Penn in Washington invited Ford to talk about her campaign experiences while running for Congress. 

Ford served in the Obama Administration, where she assisted in leading the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which had the goal of saving existing jobs and creating new ones as soon as possible. She works locally to better the education system in Washington,D.C. and led community colleges nationally at the United States Department of Education. 

Yet Ford couldn’t shake off the sense that there was more to be done for D.C., the city she’d grown up in. 

During her talk, Ford explained that her running for Congress stemmed from a desire to better serve the community and public service. 

“You have to do things for the people you represent. You have to be genuine and committed," Ford said. "I worked for the vice president, and I vividly remember sitting with him, and I was like, you know, we should be doing more for folks." 

Too often, Ford said, people confused politics and governing with the communities before them. 

“Once I made the switch out of the private sector into the public sector, it has always been about the people, about the mission," Ford said. "If you actually want to be in public service, that should be governing, not politics."

She expressed the financial challenges of campaigning against incumbent Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has held the seat since 1991 and has been largely uncontested. While incumbents have greater name recognition and can more easily garner donations, contestants face an uphill battle in campaign finances. 

“For every ad you run, they run ten. For every mailer, they do 15," Ford said. "But don’t let it discourage you. You certainly always have a chance. Because at the end of the day, what wins elections? Votes."  

College freshman James Nycz echoed the notion that garnering votes and engaging with the community held its own value against money in politics. 

“In the end, it comes down to the individual people—that’s what really matters. If someone cares enough to donate, they probably care enough to talk about you to their friends, go to an event, to go out and do some canvassing," Nycz said. "There was stuff for Conor Lamb to write postcards for every Democratic voter to get out the vote. Those things don’t cost money, but they make a huge impact."  

Lamb is a Penn alumnus who defeated incumbent Republican Rick Saccone this past Wednesday.  

College senior Lawrence Perry, who participated in a program by Penn in Washington, expressed his enthusiasm for the event, one of three events that day that Penn in Washington was hosting. 

“I think more people needed to hear Ford’s message. Hopefully, this is the civic Ivy, and more people will think about running, if not at least getting involved, and if not her congressional side, but listening to her public service side. It’s great that Penn in Washington puts these kinds of programs on,” Perry said. 

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