WESTFIELD, NJ — From substitute teacher to congresswoman? Lisa Mandelblatt says, “Why not?” The Westfield resident has her sights set on Leonard Lance’s seat as District 7’s representative in Congress in the 2018 election.
Born in Springfield, Mandelblatt has lived in Westfield 25 years. She has a law degree from Fordham University and practiced litigation law in New York and Massachusetts. She raised her two now-grown children in Westfield. She’s a member of Temple Emanu-El, where she served as chair of the early education committee and as a trustee. She’s also volunteered for the Downtown Westfield Corporation and served as president of the PTO at Washington Elementary School.
She has worked as substitute teacher in Westfield elementary schools for the past 10 years.
Mandelblatt whipped up the crowd at Saturday’s Women’s March in Westfield.
“My name is Lisa Mandelblatt,” she told them, “and I’m running for Congress because I woke up that November morning to the realization that our amazing country had somehow elected a man who is an insult to women, hard-working immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities, our environment, the entire world. And I did what each and every one of you has done — I rolled up my sleeves and I got to work to make sure that Donald Trump’s agenda is stopped in its tracks.”
But her decision to run for Congress didn’t happen overnight.
“It really started after last November’s election,” Mandelblatt said in an interview with TAPinto Westfield. “I basically gave myself a little time to mourn, and then did what I always do. I kind of, like, rolled up my sleeves and what can I do? And I found Westfield 20/20 and from there the Women’s March [on Washington], which came across my news feed and I was like, ‘I’m going to march.’ I’ve never done that before.”
The march in January 2017 was incredible, she said.
“I got on the bus in Fanwood, pre-dawn,” she remembered. “You could see out of the window on the turnpike, just busses heading down the turnpike, and as the fog started to lift and the light started, you could see little pink pussy hats in the window. We pulled up a rest stop for some reason and all these women were coming off their busses in pink pussy hats.”
The camaraderie at the march encouraged her.
“I got there and there was just this feeling of ‘we’re going to be okay,’” she said. “I felt so safe, and I felt just around so many people that had the same feeling of, like, so desperate and so sad and then just, like, people, we’re stronger together. And it’s just true. So I came back and I was like, okay, what else can I do? And I thought about the fact the way you stop Trump is have members of Congress that will stand up to him. And I knew that Lance was not going to be that member of Congress.”
While she was in college, Mandelblatt worked for Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, who at the time was one of just 25 women in Congress.
“I’ve always very much believed that women very much need to be in the rooms where decisions were made,” she said. “I said, okay, I need to find a woman to run against Lance. Who do I know? And somehow, I went, ‘Would I do this?’ And that’s sort of how it happened.”
Mandelblatt’s story is part of a much larger trend. In an article in TIME this week, Charlotte Alter writes, “There is an unprecedented surge of first-time female candidates, overwhelmingly Democratic, running for offices big and small, from the U.S. Senate and state legislatures to local school boards.”
“It’s happening all over the place,” Mandelblatt said. “I was down at candidate training week in Washington and there were lines in the women’s bathroom. You know, there are so many women that are running. And some of them are already elected officials, but there are so many first-time candidates.”
The 2016 presidential election woke people up to the importance of elected officials, she said.
“I love what we’re seeing in civic engagement. People are getting involved,” she said. “What we saw in 2017, the turnout for local elections and statewide elections — I think it’s so important. I always say, we have a superpower. We can vote. People need to exercise that right and that’s the only way we’re going to really affect change.”
She hopes to build on the success Democrats saw locally in 2017.
Mandelblatt said that her family — husband Gary and her two grown children — have been incredibly supportive. Her daughter graduated from Cornell last year and works for a non-profit in Washington, DC called Platform that ensures that the issues important to young women are heard in Congress.
“So she is so excited. This is really in her wheelhouse,” Mandelblatt said. “I would say I learned everything I know from her.”
Her son is “so supportive, so proud of me. He worries about me a little bit. I think he’s a little bit more protective. He’s worried that people are going to be mean to me,” she said with a little chuckle. “They’re going to come after me, I know that. That’s, unfortunately, the nature of politics and it’s been the nature of politics since politics started.”
Mandelblatt said that people always say, “Who asked you to run?”
“Nobody asked me to run,” she replies. “You know, we can’t wait to be asked. I think that’s really important.”
Mandelblatt’s website is www.lisa4congress.com.