As it currently stands, less than 20 percent of U.S. Congress members are women. In New Jersey, women fare slightly better, with nearly 30 percent representation in both the state Senate and Assembly.
However, the election of President Donald Trump in 2016 may, ironically, be helping women achieve 50 percent in all political offices faster than anticipated. According to Ready to Run, a nonpartisan program with the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, admission to its women-oriented training sessions on how to run for office has consistently doubled since the election and sometimes has even closed out.
Linda Weber, the 2018 Democratic candidate seeking election to the U.S. House to represent New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District, said she is not surprised.
“Like many New Jersey residents and Americans, I am deeply disturbed by the direction in which the Trump administration is taking our country,” Weber said. “My oldest son, Theo, graduated from college this year, and I am concerned about the world that he is facing — the divisiveness, the crushing student debt, the income inequality, the dismantling of environmental protections and the growing disregard for facts and accountability.
“I want a better future for both of my sons, so I decided that it was not enough to be concerned or outraged — I needed to work and fight for the change that I want to see.”
Prior to her current position as a senior vice president at IDB Bank in New York City, Weber spent 30 years in banking and software, holding senior executive positions at companies including Fiserv Inc., CoreStates Bank and Chase Manhattan Bank.
In 1997, Weber, then pregnant, was featured on the cover of the American Banker newspaper as one of the youngest senior vice presidents in banking in the country.
Weber also managed to find time over the last three decades to act as president of the Berkeley Heights Parent Teacher Organization and raise millions of dollars for cancer patients and research as the five-time chair of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in northern Union County.
Now, Weber returns to her educational roots with this campaign, having graduated from the University of Rochester with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and community health and a Master of Science in health policy analysis.
She is challenging incumbent Republican Leonard Lance for the seat he has held since 2009.
“I will advance policies to rebuild our neglected transportation infrastructure, safeguard our health care, protect our air and water, and preserve a woman’s right to make her own health choices,” Weber said.
NJBIZ spoke with Weber to discuss her early campaigning efforts and what she hopes to accomplish if elected in 2018.
NJBIZ: What do you believe initially shaped your political affiliation?
Linda Weber: I am fortunate to have grown up in a household with two parents who placed a high value on community and public service. My mother was, and still is, very involved in her service with the Girl Scouts and the church, and my father is a community leader and activist. My parents encouraged me to stand up for myself and for others, and, by example, they taught me to serve. … My first foray into political activism was circulating a petition at age 9 that required our church to allow girls to be altar servers. It was childhood experiences like this that helped shape my principles and my political identity.
NJBIZ: What do you believe is happening within the Democratic Party today, and do you have any ideas on how to promote better bipartisanship in Congress?
LW: The Democratic Party is open to bipartisanship, particularly around issues like improving our infrastructure. When there is a train derailment in our region, it does not just affect Democratic or Republican commuters — it affects all commuters. If elected, I would make issues that we all agree on, like infrastructure, a high priority. … New Jersey used to have a tradition of moderate Republicans, like Tom Kean Sr., but as the national party has moved to the extreme edge, New Jersey Republicans have fallen in line. Someone has to hold the far right wing of the Republican Party at bay. ... When the extremists are held in check, then we’ll have a real chance for progress.
NJBIZ: As a senior vice president at IDB Bank in New York City and a mother of two, what skills, records and knowledge do you believe give you an advantage in this election?
LW: I built my career in finance and technology by leading teams and collaborating to create new products and services. I am proud to have been one of the first women leaders in internet banking. By working in this space early on, I learned the value of challenging the status quo, thinking big and creative problem solving. I also learned how to get things done through consensus building, listening and surrounding myself with diverse talent and perspectives. … When I began my career in banking and technology, I often was the only woman at the table. I learned how to effectively advocate for myself and others by using my position and platform to ensure that other women and people of color had equal access to opportunity. … And, like all working mothers, I have become skilled in time management and focusing on the priorities that matter.
NJBIZ: What do you think your challenges might be?
LW: I am running against an incumbent politician and incumbents have inherent advantages, like name recognition. I obviously am working hard to increase mine, but I do not have the advantage of holding public office. … The other challenge is that running for Congress in New Jersey requires spending a significant amount of time raising money, which limits the time that I can devote to meeting and listening to voters. As an aside, this is one of the many reasons that I support campaign finance reform. Money in politics is one of the biggest problems facing our democracy.
NJBIZ: So, in the year and a half prior to the election, what sorts of things are you working on?
LW: I am actively campaigning and fundraising. I am also spending a lot of time listening to voters in the district and working as if the election is two months away instead of a year. We’ve built a 75-town strategy, so my goal is to campaign in all 75 municipalities in the district. We are building our campaign infrastructure by recruiting terrific volunteers and hiring strong professionals.
NJBIZ: What would be your immediate and long-term goals for the state?
LW: Like many in my district, I commute into New York, so I know firsthand how bad our infrastructure is. It is shameful that we’ve let our bridges and tunnels and roads get to this point. It is not just an issue of function — there are also serious safety concerns. Repairing our aging and unsafe infrastructure would create well-paying, middle class jobs for workers and financially benefit a multitude of business sectors in New Jersey. … Health care also is a pressing issue. Everyone deserves access to affordable and quality health care. I would prioritize protecting Medicare and Medicaid and strengthening the Affordable Care Act through a Medicare opt-in. … Additionally, I would work to strengthen environmental protections by sponsoring and supporting legislation that combats climate change and protects the air that we breathe and the water that we drink. While we may have fairly strong environmental laws in New Jersey, pollution travels. Many of us remember a time when New Jersey beaches were closed due to medical waste washing up on the shores. Small businesses were devastated and families could not enjoy the shore; we do not want to go back to those days. … Supporting public education, addressing the student loan debt crisis, protecting a woman’s right to choose and building a more inclusive economy also are high priorities for me.
NJBIZ: Is it different running against another woman, fellow Democrat Lisa Mandelblatt, as opposed to running against Democratic challenger Peter Jacob or Lance?
LW: I am glad another woman is running. … Ultimately, I am running on a platform based on the needs of the district and my values and principles. That will not change, no matter who I’m running against.
NJBIZ: What advice would you give to other women who are considering mixing one’s jobs, parental responsibilities and politics?
LW: If you look at all of the activism that is taking place around the country, it is primarily being led by women, and it is proving to be extremely effective. Mothers are particularly good at balancing multiple responsibilities, which is invaluable in leadership. … I also would warn women that running for office has its challenges, so be prepared. Nonetheless, it is definitely worth it, and our country will be better for it.
NJBIZ: When it comes to women’s issues in particular — equal pay and opportunity, parental leave, maternity and reproductive health care — what should both men and women be doing to move the needle faster and further?
LW: We need more women seeking elected and appointed office and on the judicial benches. It is also essential that more men begin advocating for these issues. The reality is that men dominate the upper echelons of the public and the private sectors, so we need more influential men to be vocal and to take action.
NJBIZ: What would you say are the marks of a successful woman, either in business or in politics?
LW: I would say the mark of a successful woman in politics or business is the ability to get things done while remaining true to one’s values and principles. I admire many women, especially those who paved the way for women like me. My grandma, Stella, ran a tavern outside of Buffalo, back in the days when she probably would not have been called a businesswoman. But she was. Not only did she successfully run the bar and restaurant, she took care of a large extended family, was incredibly generous and gave it all away in the end. She is truly one of my heroes. Another key mentor in my career was Rosemarie Greco, one of the first women CEOs of an American bank. She taught me the value of focus and really getting to know people, both employees and customers. She was a great motivator. And, because I’ve been fortunate to have key women mentors and role models, I make it a priority to mentor others.
NJBIZ: What advice would you have for young women in today’s political climate?
LW: Women still earn less than men, our right to make our own health care choices is under constant attack and we are still underrepresented in Congress. None of this will change unless we make it change. I would advise young women to learn the process so that they can either successfully run for office or help another woman running for office. Moreover, if you attain a position of influence, make sure that you open the door for other women — especially women of color.