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Local Native Set To Become State Senator

January 1, 2019
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Local Native Set To Become State Senator

President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 bumped up Lindsey Williams’ plans.

The Wyoming Borough native, lawyer and Democrat hoped to run for public office someday, just not so soon.

Even though Trump won over many working families, his election left Williams feeling as if they would get left out.

“It was more that I wanted to see people fighting for working families, that’s what upset me,” Williams said. “I wanted to see actual movement to protect unions, to protect teachers, to fight for funding for education, to fight for an increase in the minimum wage.”

That turned her into a candidate for the state Senate.

Today, after a tough election and a bit of post-election controversy, Williams, 35, will take the oath of office as the new senator representing the 38th state Senate District, which covers communities outside of Pittsburgh in Allegheny County’s North Hills.

Her district includes all or part of nine boroughs and townships that overlap with the 33rd House District represented by state House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, a 1969 Abington Heights High School graduate.

Williams, who lives in West View, graduated from Wyoming Area High School in 2001, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology from Dickinson College in 2005 and a law degree from Duquesne University in 2008.

From there, she went to work as director of advocacy at the National Whistleblower Center in Maryland, but got fired in November 2012 as she and another lawyer aimed to unionize the center’s workforce. They took their case to the National Labor Relations Board, which issued an unfair labor practices complaint against the center for firing them because they tried to form a union, according to a December 2015 New York Times story.

Effectively, they blew the whistle on the whistleblower center.

Williams and the other lawyer eventually settled the case against the center for an undisclosed sum. She moved on to join the Teamster union as a campaign strategist in Washington, D.C., she said.

In October 2014, she accepted a job at the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. On Nov. 6, 2014, she said in a sworn affidavit, she moved in with friends in the 38th district until she could find her own apartment. She also came home to visit her parents, Jack and Nancy Williams, a weekend earlier, signaling her intent to move to the state, she said.

That was critical because Nov. 6, 2014, is exactly four years before her election. The state constitution requires a state senator to live in the district he or she represents for at least four years before being elected.

After a brutal campaign, Williams defeated Republican Jeremy Shaffer by 793 votes — 62, 361 to 61,568 — or 0.64 percentage points, out of almost 124,000 votes cast.

Her win helped Democrats trim the Republican advantage in the Senate to 29-21 from 34-16 and represented the only Republican-held district in western Pennsylvania that Democrats flipped to their side in the 2018 election.

While the results became official earlier this month, it wasn’t clear until Friday that Senate Republican leaders would allow Williams’ swearing in.

They questioned whether she lived in the district the minimum four years. She convinced them by providing the sworn affidavit about moving in with friends and more than 100 documents, including tax returns and bank and credit card statements, she said.

She trained in 2016 to run for office in Emerge Pennsylvania, a program that educates women on how to run.

Knowing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the 38th district, Williams saw an opportunity to run earlier than expected.

“It was an opportunity where people were excited and paying attention and I thought that I had a lot to offer as somebody who spent my career fighting for working families and decided that it was time to my name on the ballot,” Williams said.

Last February, she began knocking on doors.

“I knocked on thousands of doors. Honestly, that’s my favorite part, that’s where I come from, that’s how I started as a volunteer was knocking on doors,” she said. “That’s the best way to know your voters and earn their vote to really talk to them on their porch about the issues they care about.”

Her father helped, traveling each Thursday to Pittsburgh and staying through the weekend knocking on doors. Jack Williams is a retired member of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 542 District 3 in Plains, and unions were big supporters, she said.

“I think it’s hard to feel that (confident of victory as a campaign unfolds),” she said. “I think you have really great days and you have days where you get beat up a little bit. But for me when I was feeling a little beat up, that’s when I spent some more time door knocking. Those were the conversations that get you through, where somebody tells you what’s been happening in their community and you get to really learn.”

She started organizing her Senate office this month and has already signed on as a co-sponsor of bills that would require health insurance companies doing business in Pennsylvania to live up to the Affordable Care Act in case the United States Supreme Court declares the law unconstitutional.

Contact the writer:

bkrawczeniuk@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9147; @BorysBlogTT

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