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In the Running: Dana Balter

In this series, we interview female candidates who are winning historic primaries across the nation. This week, Dana Balter talks about her run for Congress in New York. If she wins, she’ll be the first woman to represent her district.

portrait of Dana Balter against teal argyle background
Illustration by Osheen Siva

Name: Dana Balter

Age: 42

The Race: New York’s 24th Congressional District

Making History: If I win, I’ll be the first Democrat woman to represent this district.

The Challenge: One of the things that’s really frustrating to me about campaigning is that all I want to be doing is be out there talking with the people who live in my district. I can’t do this job if I don’t hear from the people I’m asking to hire me. But in a campaign there’s actually relatively little time to do that. What you spend most of your time doing is raising money. I think that is a fundamental flaw in our system. It’s one of many reasons that I support real, meaningful campaign-finance reform.

The Best and Worst Advice: The best advice I’ve ever gotten is to trust yourself. Every time I went against my gut, I had a bad outcome. Every time I trusted myself, I was successful. Just because I don’t know everything doesn’t mean I’m not making the right choice.

I get told a lot, “You think too much. Stop thinking so much.” But I’ve always valued being thoughtful. The people who give me that “advice” are telling me that I need to change an important part of myself. I’ve been told that I can’t talk to people about policy — that no one cares about it. Well, campaigns are what we make them. We don’t have to play by the rulebook.

Most Powerful Political Memory: This is the first time I have ever run for office, and the first time I have ever contemplated doing so. I have a younger brother who has cognitive disabilities. I learned early on that it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to make sure that every single person in our society has dignity and access. I want to serve in Congress because I want to work to make sure that those values are at the heart of every policy and every law that we pass.

As a community organizer, I tried to prevail upon my congressman to support the policies that are going to make our communities better and stronger. I tried to get him to stand up to Donald Trump. I tried to get him to engage with his constituents. It was frustrating that he never did. I remember thinking to myself one night, Somebody has got to run against this man and replace him in office. I started listing the qualities that I wanted. Then it occurred to me, Well, that’s me. Why do I need to wait for somebody else to step up and take this on?

Real Talk: Any woman who is going to run for office needs to be prepared to deal with sexism on a daily basis. It is aggravating, and it is exhausting. But it also reaffirms for me why it is so important to have women running, and winning — everywhere. Until we are the ones in power, none of this will change.

Meena Harris is the founder of the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign.