20 Down-Ballot Women You Should Know

Run for Something
12 min readMar 26, 2021

Every Women’s History Month, we celebrate female icons and leaders who have shattered ceilings and broken barriers across the country. Today, a wave of young progressive leaders are taking the reins of power and ushering in a new era of bold leadership that will define our country for decades to come. In all 50 states women are making incredible strides and working to improve conditions in their community.

As these women fight for working families, LGBTQ+ rights, affordable housing, accessibility for the disabled community and so many other issues, they are also creating a strong bottom-up infrastructure that supports the progressive movement and the Democratic Party. Our recent study found that a strong state and local ticket can improve the performance at the top of the ticket — read: federal and Congressional seats — by up to 1.5%. This is not a coincidence: when every day citizens see representatives that look like them, care about their problems, and are invested in working to support their issues, they are more likely to have faith in the whole system. These are the candidates that will help reestablish faith in our political process after four years of tumult.

Take a look at 20 state and local women making a difference in their communities and learn how you can support more just like them.

1. Shahana Hanif — NYC Council District 38

Focus: affordable housing and gentrification; desegregating and funding public schools; feminist Green New Deal; defunding and demilitarizing the NYPD

Shahana Hanif is a disability and women’s rights activist born and raised in Brooklyn. As a teenager, Shahana was diagnosed with lupus and began a life-long quest to make NYC more handicap accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities. Shahana was also profiled in the New York Times for her work helping a young Bangladeshi woman escape from an abusive forced marriage to safety in a culturally-aware shelter. If elected, Shahana will be the first South Asian and Muslim woman on the council.

Interesting Fact: Shahana began her entry into politics as an intern at Communities Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV) on the Lower East Side in NYC.

2. Sandy Nurse — NYC Council District 37

Amplify Her-NYC/Twitter

Focus: affordable housing; universal health and mental care; free higher education for every New Yorker; NYPD reduction and accountability

Running in a district covering Bushwick and East New York, Sandy is a Panamanian-born Afro-Latina who founded BK Rot, a bike-powered compost service. After working in Haiti for the UN, Sandy moved to Brooklyn in 2010 and worked as a carpenter, retrofitting homes for energy efficiency. Sandy’s platform centers around empowering residents with tools that enable them to push back against gentrification.

Interesting Fact: In 2014, Sandy partnered with a group of coalitions to create Mayday Space — a hub built for grassroots organizing and movement work — in Bushwick.

3. Molly Ooten — Oklahoma State Senate, District 22

Focus: funding for public schools; mental health and allied therapy health services; trauma informed care through the justice system; anti-discrimination bills for LGBTQIA+ community

Native Oklahoman Molly Ooten is a mom and speech pathologist, working with SoonerStart, an early intervention program serving local children and their families. Her work with children and at-risk families struggling to access government assistance inspired her to run for office. If elected, Molly will help flip another seat in the Oklahoma State Senate blue!

Interesting Fact: Molly serves as a deacon at her local church, Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ.

4. Kendra Hicks — Boston City Council, District 6, Massachusetts

Focus: public education; affordable housing; environmental sustainability; police accountability

Jamaica Plains resident Kendra is a first-generation Black Dominican organizer and activist. As a teen, Kendra founded Beantown Society, an organization that unites young people in Boston across race, class, culture, and neighborhood, in an effort to end violence. Today, she is the Director of Radical Philanthropy and the Co-Director of Resist.

Interesting Fact: In addition to her work at Resist, Kendra works as a noted installation artist in Boston.

5. Lisa Smith — Arvada City Council At-Large, Colorado

Focus: transportation and infrastructure; public safety; economic development

Since leaving the Air Force Military Police, Lisa Smith has worked across Arvada, CO providing critical resources and support for people in need. Lisa has created new programs for veterans, low-income, and minority populations, through innovative cross-sector partnerships. She piloted programs such as home sharing and universal referrals for homeless children and joined several boards overseeing federal grant allocations and awards.

Interesting Fact: When COVID started, Lisa manufactured over 120 gallons of free sanitizer in her backyard, donating it to help businesses remain open.

6. Ayomi Obuseh — Madison City Council, District 8, Wisconsin

Focus: crisis assistance; housing rights; racial justice; jail reform; implementing the Green New Deal

UW-Madison student, Ayomi got her start as a youth organizer in Madison West High School, demanding a more inclusive environment for students and staff of color. She continued her social justice work as the co-founder and Executive Director for Impact Demand, a group of Black youth in Madison demanding justice for Black lives and an end to police violence.

Interesting Fact: 20-year old Ayomi moved to Madison with her family in 2016 after living abroad in Germany for six years.

7. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker — Virginia House of Delegates, District 45

Focus: criminal justice; COVID-19 relief; economic development; retention of small businesses; sustainability

Alexandria, Virginia’s current Vice-Mayor is running for the House of Delegates! Elizabeth is a Navy brat, mom, and small business owner. Outside of working to serve the people of Alexandria, Elizabeth runs Together We Bake, a non-profit job training program for women, and Fruitcycle, a business that looks to alleviate food waste and help feed Americans facing food insecurity.

Interesting Fact: Elizabeth served as a Fulbright Fellow and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell University.

8. Aisha Chughtai — Minneapolis City Council, Ward 10, Minnesota

Focus: policing and community safety; housing justice; homelessness; racial justice; labor rights; environmental justice

Aisha is a union organizer and BIPOC activist working to empower working class residents in Minneapolis. At 23 years old, Aisha has already served as the Campaign Manager for Ilhan Omar and founded the Muslim Caucus of the Young Democrats of America. As a renter, Aisha has fought to protect people’s homes, through the important work of Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia (Untied Renters for Justice.)

Interesting Fact: Aisha’s favorite restaurant in Minneapolis is Pimento Jamaican Kitchen, a West Indian restaurant that functioned as a hub for organizing and mutual aid in the summer of 2020.

9. Hosanna Yemiru — Dallas City Council, District 11, Texas

Focus: public health; housing and homelessness; property taxes; public safety; transportation

After immigrating with her journalist parents to Dallas, Texas from Ethiopia at the age of 11, Hosanna watched them take minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. After witnessing the difficulties of working class people, Hosanna entered into a career as a political organizer fighting on behalf of issues such as rent control, public transportation, and care for Dallas’ homeless population.

Interesting Fact: While president of University of Texas-Dallas Democrats, Hosanna focused on youth voter engagement, grassroots mobilization, and local politics.

10. Dr. Aditi Srivastav Bussells — Columbia City Council At-Large, South Carolina

Focus: public health; affordable housing; food insecurity; childcare and education

Dr. Aditi Srivastav Bussells is a researcher with expertise in health disparities, childhood resilience and health policy. Aditi is running for a seat that has been held by the same elected official for 20 years. She currently sits as a board member of the Commission for the Future of Columbia, looking at ways to make the city more equitable and inclusive. Last year, she knocked doors as a member of the Complete Count Committee of the City of Columbia for the 2020 Census.

Interesting Fact: Aditi is a partner and co-founder of Resilient Richland, an initiative of the United Way of the Midlands focusing on training and engaging youth to prevent childhood trauma.

11. Jasmine Harris — Mayor of Omaha, Nebraska

Focus: pandemic response and recovery; public safety; modernizing city services

Jasmine Harris is a nonprofit executive looking to bring her expertise in public health and criminal justice to Omaha’s mayoral office. She’s a proponent of a community policing model that helps people with problems like mental health and substance use disorders, before they encounter law enforcement.

Interesting Fact: While working with RISE, Jasmine helped create Black and Brown Legislative Day, an initiative focused on educating people about criminal justice reform at the state level.

12. Sandra Gonzalez — Waubonsee Community College Board, District 516, Illinois

Jason Crane/The Voice

Focus: tuition cost; resources for students and professors; immunization of faculty and students

Sandra is a former Spanish teacher, community organizer, and current Phd candidate looking to improve conditions for college students and professors during the pandemic. As if she wasn’t busy enough, Sandra is also the co-founder of the Aurora Rapid Response Team, a coalition built to educate and investigate issues of ICE and police brutality on behalf of immigrant and refugee communities.

Interesting Fact: Sandra is the oldest daughter of Salvadoran migrants, who fled the country’s civil war in 1992 while her mother was three months pregnant.

13. Amy Jimenez — Mayor of Compton, California

Focus: infrastructure and green revitalization; public safety; economic development; education and youth civic engagement

Amy Jimenez is a first-generation American born to Mexican immigrant parents in California. As an educator, a mentor, an advocate, and a legislative director, Amy has devoted her life to advancing the success and access of underrepresented students in education. In a city that is 70% Latino/Latinx, Amy would be the first Latina elected mayor in the City of Compton.

Interesting Fact: Amy was a Civic Engagement Scholar working at El Sol, a bilingual elementary school in Kalamazoo, MI.

14. Kim-Khanh Van — King County Council, District 9, Washington

Focus: COVID-19 recovery; equity in public transportation; expanding access to clean water

Kim-Khanh Van is a current Renton City Councilmember, an immigration and injury attorney, a small business owner, and former refugee. As an attorney, Kim has received awards from prominent local organizations for her pro bono services and works as a staunch advocate for increased support and protection for Asian Americans.

Interesting Fact: Kim-Khanh cites a visit from Senator Patty Murray to her 4th grade classroom as her introduction into the political process, specifically the role of women in politics.

15. Rachel Giuliani Hagenbaugh — New Port Richey City Council, Florida

Focus: food insecurity; eradicating biased city policies; creating a citizen liaison department

Environmentalist and stay-at-home mom Rachel Giuliani is running for office to address the needs of city residents. Rachel spent the last year on the front lines, volunteering as a legal observer to protect activists and protestors from abusive law enforcement and vigilantes.

Interesting Fact: Rachel’s demonstrated commitment to ending the racial public health crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic earned her the First Amendment Award from the ACLU of Florida.

16. Jen Rossi — Collingswood Board of Commissioners, New Jersey

Focus: better accessibility to public information; increased opportunities for youth volunteerism; improved community outreach

Digital communications specialist Jen Rossi plans to bring transparency and innovation to the Collingswood Board of Commissioners. Jen serves as the Vice President of The Collingswood Educational Advocacy Group where she supports The CEAG’s website and communications. In her local town, Jen also serves on The Borough of Collingswood’s Police Chief Advisory Committee and Collingswood Public School District’s Equity Committee.

Interesting Fact: If elected, Jen will be the third woman to sit on the Collingswood Board in history.

17. Roxanne Martinez — Fort Worth ISD Board of Trustees, District 9, Texas

Focus: student success and matriculation; racial and economic equity in the classroom; community partnerships

A product of Fort Worth ISD schools, Roxanne is running for school board to champion the needs of all students. As a community advocate, Roxanne dedicates countless hours to improving the well-being of children and families in the Fort Worth community. Some of the organizations she works with include the Diamond Hill North Side Youth Association, the Fort Worth ISD Racial Equity Committee, and Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Interesting Fact: After working over a decade in nonprofit and corporate marketing and emerging from a victorious battle with cancer, Roxanne launched her marketing agency, Roxstar Marketing.

18. Elisa Crespo — NYC Council District 15, New York

Focus: public education; free tuition at CUNY; restorative justice programs; COVID and economic relief; affordable housing

Elisa is a community organizer and activist from the Bronx. Raised by a working-class Latina mother, Elisa and her family had to depend on social safety net programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing to survive. Now, running in one of NYC’s poorest districts, where unemployment is as high as 20% in certain neighborhoods, Elisa wants to reform a number of public institutions including schools and housing. If elected, Elisa will be the first transwoman elected to office in New York State history.

Interesting Fact: If elected, Elisa wants to chair the Civil Service and Labor Committee to implement a Public Option for Employment.

19. Jaslin Kaur — NYC Council District 23, New York

Focus: Public education; taxi medallion crisis; New York Homes Guarantee; public healthcare

Democratic Socialist candidate Jaslin Kaur got involved in local politics after the 2014 taxi-medallion market crash devastated hundreds of immigrant families (including her own) in her Queen’s district. Today, she is fighting to improve conditions for working class folks across NYC. This includes those victimized by predatory lending schemes, gig economy workers and survivors of gender discrimination and sexual violence on college campuses.

Interesting Fact: In 2018 and 2019, Jaslin worked with the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) on reproductive justice issues, including defeating the public charge rule that would harm immigrant women and families reliant on programs like CHIP and WIC.

20. Bethani Cameron — Pittsburgh City Council, District 4, Pennsylvania

Focus: union and labor rights; flooding and irrigation; reallocation of police funds to public safety; environmental safety standards

Single mom and political organizer, Bethani Cameron is running to bring a pragmatic approach to governing in Allegheny County. After working over a decade for several local elected officials, Bethani is ready to usher in a new era of revitalization for South Pittsburgh for the next generation.

Interesting Fact: Right now, Bethani is pushing for the Pittsburgh City Council to issue an eviction moratorium after Pennsylvania’s statewide eviction moratorium ended in September 2020.

Want to meet more incredible women running for office in 2021? Check out RFS’ full candidate directory!



Run for Something

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