‘Why I run’ panel discussion a success

courtesy of Keely Vandre • From left, “Why I Run” panel event participants Clare Verbeten, deputy political director of the Walz-Flanagan gubernatorial campaign; Huda Yusuf, an inspired audience member, Melanie Leehy, who is serving her first term on the Falcon Heights City Council after her third time running; Lila Eltawely, who ran for House District 53A, moderator Marquita Stephens; and Alberder Gillespie, who also ran for District 53A.

Do Good Roseville, the Roseville Area League of Women Voters and Roseville Area Schools hosted the first-ever “Why I Run” panel event on April 24 at Roseville Area High School. 

Based on positive feedback, this is likely to become a recurring event with various themes to inspire civic engagement. The panel represented a continuum of women from communities of color to discuss their experiences from contemplating running for public office, to campaigning, winning or losing elected positions and the kinds of unique barriers and supports that factor into this process. 

“I didn’t win, but I believe it was a win just entering the space,” said Lila Eltawely, who ran for House District 53A.

“My identities themselves are inherently political — my ability to exist in this world, to feel safe with my skin color,” said Clare Verbeten, deputy political director of the Walz-Flanagan gubernatorial campaign.

There were many salient moments for each guest as moderator Marquita Stephens did not shy away from delving into deep questions, as well as active participation from the engaged audience of well over 60 people. The crowd included Ramsey County District 2 Commissioner Mary Jo McGuire, and Trista MatasCastillo who is currently running to represent District 3 on the board of commissioners, who both echoed the experiences of the panel and asked about ways to make systems more accessible to women of color. 

Many audience members submitted questions during the question and answer section, and many stayed into the evening to mingle and network with the panel and enjoy refreshments donated by many local businesses. Several expressed newfound interest in running for office themselves. 

While each panelist shared that issues of racism, misogyny and more are challenges that are present across party lines and that those barriers are exponentially harder for women of color, the overall message was one of hope and empowerment about the future for others hoping to run. 

They all noted the impact of having support of not just friends and family, but allies in the community willing to stand up and move out of the way for candidates who have not had equal representation, and offer campaign support, not just financially, but through door-knocking, hosting events, providing childcare, etc. 

Alberder Gillespie, who also ran in District 53A, summarized her experience of winning an endorsement but ultimately losing a race as far from a disappointment, because the work led to enrolling more voters, inspiring new candidates and getting record turnout. “We need to re-define what victory looks like,” she said.


— submitted by Keely Vandre

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