AU alumnus runs for mayor

With less than a week from the mayoral election, Democratic mayoral candidate and American University alumna Reta Jo Lewis had been hitting the streets and knocking on doors to make one final push before Election Day on April 1.

Lewis, a longtime Ward 6 resident, is one of eight candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the D.C. Mayoral primary race. The general election is slated for Nov. 4.

“You know, I feel really, really good,” Lewis said, reflecting on her campaign eight days away from the election. “We’ve continued to put our message out there about the experience that I have, the leadership I can bring based on my qualifications and experience. We’ve opened up my vast network to talk about how we can continue to move all these issues forward and to talk about how we move D.C. to the next level.”

She hopes to restore D.C.’s reputation on the world stage by solving key urban challenges including: homelessness, inadequate housing and political corruption.

“D.C. has got to be a city we can be proud of and move itself forward to becoming a world-class global city,” Lewis said.

For Lewis, running for mayor is the next step on a long road of public service. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia, Lewis earned her master’s degree in Administration of Justice at AU and later studied law at Emory University. Lewis became one of the first presidential management fellows (PMF), a leadership development program in the White House, and landed a job in the Drug Enforcement Administration within the Department of Justice shortly after graduating from AU in 1978.

“AU has one of the most outstanding public policy programs in the country, and so I was not only able to get that Master’s in Administration of Justice, but it allowed me to qualify for the PMF program,” Lewis said. “It was a great opportunity for me.”

Over her 35-year career, Lewis has been active in and out of government, notably serving as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton and leading task forces for the 1994 FIFA World Cup and 1996 Olympics under his appointment. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later tapped Lewis in 2010 as a special representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs, where she forged relationships among foreign diplomats and U.S. federal, state and local authorities.

In between her stints with the Clintons, Lewis also held several positions in the private sector, including partnering at an international law firm and serving as the first African-American woman officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Obama-Biden transition team recruited her to serve as the Director of Business Outreach to build relationships among the administration and business leaders across the country.

Lewis believes her position as an outsider can bring about a new era of transparency and accountability to D.C. politics.

“It’s about how we bring economic to all of our wards throughout the District of Columbia, it’s about having a clean and honest government,” she said. “It’s about choice. It’s about having on day one someone who can walk into government and be ready to lead.”

Central to Lewis’ campaign is equitable development and opportunity. Lewis said the city government can do a better job matching D.C. residents with the skills they need for jobs today and tomorrow.

Expensive, inadequate housing is also bringing down the city — a problem that affects the poor, young and elderly, Lewis said, saying she would reach out to faith groups and nonprofits organizations to take a comprehensive approach.

“It’s really about the building of these houses and the building of these homes,” Lewis said.

In her experience, students have been some of the most active advocates in fighting chronic homelessness and poverty. Lewis said harnessing the talents and enthusiasm of university communities is essential in addressing urban problems.

“It’s such a great resource for them to be able to work without residence in issues around adult literacy, to work in our schools, with our young people who are having problems, or leading, coaching, tutoring or mentoring,” she said. “We should be then reaching beyond ourselves and going to the young people in our community who do want to be involved and want to see some direct results.”

Whether it’s volunteering or voting, Lewis urged her students to create their own change.

“It is really about new leadership and new perspectives and a new approach for the District of Columbia,” Lewis said.

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