|My political mentor, Paula Yensen with Illinois Secretary of State Jessie White and Rep Jack Franks|
It was never a goal or ambition. I spent many years behind the scenes helping other folks get elected and I liked it that way. From the early nineties when I finished college, you could have found me helping the late John Stroger in my ward on his first Cook County Board Presidential race or helping former Milwaukee Mayor John Nordquist retain his office. I took a hiatus from my activism to get married and start my family but was re-awakened during Senator Obama's race to the White House in 2008. That's when I met the recipient of my final big thank you post - McHenry County Board Member Paula Yensen.
Paula and I connected first because of our political ideologies. She was in a race to serve on the McHenry County Board and a tight race it was. We got to know one another through a series of Democratic Party events and by the time the fall of 2008 rolled around, she asked me "walk my neighborhood" with her. No issue. We walked it together for several hours and had lots of fun meeting voters and listening to their concerns. Toward the end of that walk, she asked me something no one before her ever asked.
"Denise, would you consider running for public office?" she innocently asked between door knocks.
It was not something I'd EVER considered. Ever.
But once she put it out there, it never left my mind. I thought about it. Prayed about it. Consulted with my family about it. And while I did not have to make the decision on the spot - it is a moment seared in my mind for its significance.
For the question she posed instantly changed my view of myself from active participant in the political process to possible leader in the political process. The rest of the story is documented many times here in this blog and other places.
I ran and won. Twice.
And while I have no idea what my goals or political aspirations are long term - I am forever grateful to Paula Yensen for challenging me to do something I'd never considered before. I am grateful to her for the time and effort she put forth in mentoring me as a candidate. She helped me make a small piece of history in my village if not our entire county.
Her political push to me that evening forever changed my view of myself and my ability to serve.
Thank You, Paula!
It was super hard to narrow down all the folks I'm grateful to for this series so I'll have an honorable mentions post next week. Tune in to see the runner ups to the three I've honored over the last three weeks.