1997 Wharton graduate Jessica Haller is running as a Democrat to represent the 11th District in the New York City Council in a special election held on March 23.
Haller, who grew up in the Bronx, is running for a seat in one of the city's two new City Council vacancies following the departures of Congressman Ritchie Torres, who previously held the 15th City Council District seat, and former 11th District representative Andrew Cohen, who left to sit as a judge on the Bronx Supreme Court.
“I have been looking for a way to have the biggest impact that I, as mom of four in the Bronx, can have,” Haller told The Daily Pennsylvanian.
That impact, she believes, is running for a seat on the New York City Council, which she said is a council that pushes forward the local and nationwide movement on climate action — an issue at the forefront of her agenda.
Haller is committed to policy issues such as food justice, as she hopes to establish a Food Justice Committee on the City Council and incorporate food education, salad bars and vegetable gardens in all New York City public schools, according to her campaign website.
Another policy issue she plans to tackle if elected is improving the city's affordable housing by integrating and equalizing the distribution of affordable and sustainable housing.
Although she was not involved in politics at Penn, Haller majored in operations and information management — now known as Operations, Information, and Decisions —and served on the boards of Wharton Women and Penn Hillel.
“This is actually something I want to get across through your writing and story, is that I really believe that so much of life is nonlinear,” Haller said.
Haller credits some of her career choices to those made by her mother, an editor for children's books who later went on to work on Wall Street, and father, who had a career in technology and also worked on Wall Street. Applying to Wharton just made sense to her, she said.
After graduating, she worked in business at Coopers & Lybrand, now known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, DoubleClick, and Mastercard, before doing a "180-shift" to working in local politics and environmental activism.
Similar to her mother, Haller said she shifted her career when pursuing a Master in Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University about a decade after her undergraduate years. During this time, she was also in the initial group of former Vice President Al Gore's training class of the Climate Reality Project, a group of leaders working towards a global solution to climate change.
Haller said she then was able to combine her experience in business and climate change to found Svante Scientific, a business that focused on bringing data from global climate models into the business world.
Though she said her business failed, Haller emphasized that they “successfully changed the face of New York City” because, after conducting an analysis on a $3 billion dollar development and predicting it would be underwater by 2050, the development was redesigned to withstand climate change.
Haller said her candidacy is motivated by two factors: fear and love. Looking 10 years ahead, she stressed the importance of using science to ensure that the people of New York City are uplifted, and that no resident is struggling with hunger or facing homelessness.
“I think it’s like fear of the wrong, and then just love—like the planet and the natural world, my faith-based values, and my kids, and family, and everything that we have," Haller said.
Penn Democrats also hosted the alumna on March 8, when Haller provided insight into her history at Penn and running for office. During the event, students participated in a question and answer session with Haller and phone banked afterwards. The student group also had plans to phone bank again for Haller this Saturday.
“[Haller is] running in a moment when New York City is going through a total political upheaval, when the majority of the legislature, the city council, the majority of city government in general, the mayor, all of the races, city officials, are going to be up for election," College sophomore Noah Lewine and political director of Penn Dems, who is currently on a gap year, said. "She provided a lot of perspective on what it’s like to be a politically involved Penn [alumna] and also [into] the races in New York City in general in 2021."