A newcomer to political office, Congresswoman Susan Wild talks about the shutdown, her role in mentoring and how compromise is not a dirty word.
Wild took office after defeating Republican Marty Nothstein in November, and filling the seat of retired Republican Charlie Dent. She is the first woman the Lehigh Valley has elected to Congress. Part of the diverse freshman class, she was among those who experienced a crash course in the longest federal government shutdown of record.
Wild, a Democrat, represents the 7th Congressional District in the Lehigh Valley. Prior to her first political stint, she was a partner at Gross McGinley LLP and was the city solicitor for the City of Allentown.
Lehigh Valley Business caught up Wild with earlier this month for the Women in Leadership newsletter. Here is an edited version of that conversation.
LVB: Tell me about your first weeks in Congress. With the record-breaking shutdown, it’s been anything but normal.
Wild: I don’t have anything to compare it to. There was a lot of focus on that and trying to solve problems, but at the same time different people are doing different things all the time. We were working on a lot bills with a lot of members all while keeping an eye on the shutdown situation.
LVB: What can you share with us about your initial experiences in office?
Wild: I have been pleasantly surprised by the functionality of the place. When you aren’t a part of it it’s very easy to complain that things don’t get done or don’t get done quickly enough. I’ve been very impressed by the processes that are followed, frankly, the quick action that does happen. We don’t get bills passed on a moment’s notice, but the speed with which people act and react and convene hearings and communicate is really pretty impressive. I am working harder than I ever did in my years as a civil litigator, and I didn’t think it was possible to work any harder. I’m not complaining. It’s really a wonderful experience. It feels productive and wonderful to be here. It’s far more productive than the reputation that Congress has.
LVB: A lot of aspiring women leaders will read this newsletter. What can you share now about being a role model and what other women might be able to learn from you?
Wild: I’m 61 years old and I have two kids in their 20s and I was mentored as a young lawyer by both male and female, by people who helped me along the way and invested in my success. It’s very, very important to me to continue that. Now I want to come back to the district and go into the schools to very young people and show them what you can be. I also want to talk to people who are interested in running for public office.
LVB: How has your experience as an attorney helped you with this position?
Wild: When I go into hearings I feel completely at ease because it’s what I have done for so many years and that is questioning witnesses. That is a huge advantage. When I’m in a hearing room, I’m probably in my comfort zone the most. I’m also used to talking to people who are on the other side of an issue. Some of this is innate. How can we work together to find some sort of a solution? I spend a fair amount of time developing these relationships.
LVB: Would you say because you come from the Lehigh Valley that you are also emerging from a conservative base?
Wild: It certainly helps me in terms of understanding issues. When you run in a purple district, you hear from people that have many different points of view. You have to work to represent everybody as much as possible. That’s what you strive for. A lot of people think compromise is a dirty word and I don’t believe it to be. We are not clones of one another.
LVB: What will be some of your passions with the position moving forward? Where do you see your skillset working for you in Congress?
Wild: I am passionate about working for working families. I describe my district as families working paycheck to paycheck, not in a bad kind of way — of course we all wish that we had more savings — but people in our district can know what it’s like to go without a paycheck. They are not trust fund babies, they aren’t corporate executives … they just work for a living.
I also have a passion for working on any issues involving children and issues of income inequality … to the extent that we can level the playing field, I very much want to do that. It cuts across education, health care and job opportunities.
LVB: What are some key business issues for the Lehigh Valley? Where do you see the best growth opportunity?
Wild: I don’t think it’s any question that workforce development is one of our biggest challenges. Transportation is another challenge. We all know what the Lehigh Valley looks like. I moved here in 1988 and one of the things I loved most is that there was no commute time. And of course we all know that that has changed. It’s not only commuting from within the valley, it’s attracting business from outside the valley.
LVB: What can be done to improve transportation?
Wild: In the long run … I do believe that we have to get to rail service. We don’t have many commuter hubs. The corridor between Allentown and Easton has become a real obstacle for people. We have to explore telework so not everyone is leaving their home and getting out on the roads. We need massive investment in our infrastructure. Our roads are just beyond terrible.
LVB: Lastly, tell me about your dog.
Zoey has her own Instagram page, ZoeytheConrgressdog. Please follow it. She goes back and forth with me. She is 7 years old. She is a mini poodle and she is full of fun. For the most part, staff and people who visit the office like to have her around. She’s good therapy. She’s a good stress reliever. She’s occasionally a pain in the neck, but for the most part she is pretty well behaved. There are a lot of members of Congress who have dogs in their office. It’s a very bipartisan thing.
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Zoey liked this sign at the Bethlehem Women’s March.
A post shared by Zoey (@zoeythecongressdog) on Jan 19, 2019 at 10:56am PST